BY ANNISA ESSACK
Over the past few days on social media live streams, the world has watched in horror the forced expulsion of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah. The Al-Ghawi family home was forcefully taken over by Israeli settler’s who promised the same to the rest of the community. Ideologically fanatic and armed, the settlers were under the protection of the Israeli police and had legitimate backing through lawsuits in Israeli courts. The current hearings on the evictions of the Sheikh Jarrah families, which the courts ruled in favour of the settlers in December, have now been delayed.
If the petition the families filed with the Supreme Court is denied, and the Israeli Supreme Court decides in favour of Israeli settlers, the ownership of the houses will be handed over to a settler organisation. Eight other families in the neighbourhood are set for the same fate later this year. The families’ outcry has ignited and led to a widespread campaign to save the neighbourhood.
Since the 1970s, Sheikh Jarrah has been coveted by settler organisations to increase private Jewish residency in strategically located areas of occupied East Jerusalem. Nahalat Shimon International, a right-wing nationalist settler organisation, based in the United States, has filed the most recent eviction demands. It is also one of two settler organisations implicated in the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah. It intends to demolish the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and replace it with a 200-unit Israeli settlement. The other organisation is Ateret Cohanim, a branch registered as an American charity in the United States.
Nahalat Shimon, in the past few years, has filed several lawsuits against the families of Sheikh Jarrah. The families have lived there since 1956, all of which have been upheld by Israeli courts.
Aryeh King, the current deputy mayor of Jerusalem and founder of the Israel Land Fund, has the goal of settling East Jerusalem with a Jewish population. The Israel Land Fund lists Sheikh Jarrah as an “investing opportunity” on its website under the name “Nahalat Shimon Residential Plots.” For Jerusalem’s deputy mayor and settler activist Aryeh King, the Palestinian families are “squatters or are renting.”
In a recent viral encounter, Jacob, a settler, tells Muna El Kurd of Sheikh Jarrah that if he did not steal her home, someone else would. This adds further weight to the aims of the Israel Land Fund that states one of its chief goals is to realise “the desire of Diaspora Jews to take a more active role in redeeming the land of Israel, especially in Jerusalem.”
Further credence to the claim of ethnic cleansing is a 2015 Haaretz Report that found that over 50 organisations registered as tax-exempt charities in the US funnelled over $200 million to the Israeli settlement enterprise.
Some question that the world should be asking:
- Why is it acceptable for a settler organisation to freely operate in the United States of America whilst Palestinian charities have been accused of providing support for terrorism?
- How are settlers, many of whom are American citizens, allowed to travel to Jerusalem and other parts of occupied Palestine to partake in violations against international law, including settling occupied land?
Thanks to the Oslo Accord signed in 1993, Israel recognised the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) as representing the Palestinian people. The PLO, in return, agreed to recognise Israel. Oslo was meant to be the first step to a peace treaty, but it was unsuccessful.
However, the settlement enterprise has been allowed to continue unchecked thanks to the Oslo paradigm. The US manipulated the Palestinians to continue pursuing a peace process, which Israel did not comply with within the slightest. Palestine, made dependent on American aid, had to fulfil the parameters of Oslo. It also meant that the Palestinian Authority would ensure Israel’s safety and security if they ever wanted to qualify for a state. Palestinians were reprimanded if they did not sufficiently meet their Oslo requirements. Yet, Israel continued building settlements, one of its stipulated Oslo requirements.
The Apartheid system and infrastructure that keeps Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem comfortable has gobbled up the same land that the United States insists would one day constitute a Palestinian state. Whilst settlements surrounding the remaining Palestinian land and its inhabitants are still subject to Israeli military rule; there is less than 22% of the occupied territories entirely in Palestinian sovereignty,
No American administration has been serious about ending the settler enterprise. US tax dollars are working to keep the security standing guards at the Al-Ghawi house and the settlers jeering at the Sheikh Jarrah families from inside.
Funding received from the most extensive military aid package to Israel, passed by the Obama administration promised $38 billion over ten years, is used to arm the Israeli military and security forces. The same troops defend illegal settlers committing war crimes and human rights violations whilst making life hell for Palestinians in Hebron, Jerusalem, and the rest of the occupied territories.
Now let us shift the lens to other countries, asking how complicit we are in keeping the Israeli hold over Palestinians. If progressive individuals, policymakers and governments must be serious about saving Palestine and not just Sheikh Jarrah. What is required now is not just statements and talk but concrete action.
The town of Sheikh Jarrah has become the latest international talking point relating to Israel. Still, it is the symbol of the conflict, not the conflict itself.
Saving Sheikh Jarrah means saving hundreds of Palestinian neighbourhoods from a similar fate. But to ensure that Israel must have reason to fear repercussions for its actions.
Inside Palestine, a new generation of young and uncompromising Palestinians leads the struggle for Sheikh Jarrah with social media, seeing them better connected than ever before. Most have not had a chance to vote, but they are fed up and disillusioned by the ageing Palestinian leadership.
Young activists and supporters are harnessing the power of social media to gain international solidarity and organise internally. Social media allows Palestinians who cannot enter Jerusalem to connect with others across walls and borders, building a support system among them. They harnessed the practical and global appeal of the internet and social media in innovative ways, e.g., to stream protests live on Instagram with influencers on the platform, multiplying the number of viewers. Censorship on these platforms has only motivated more creative methods by activists to flood the internet.
A recent Human Rights Watch report concludes that young Palestinians are growing up to find themselves targets of Israeli Apartheid. They have chosen to reject this fate squarely. Is it not time for the world to accept this too?