Sheikh Jarrah: The fiery property disputes of East Jerusalem
As the hostility between Israel and Palestine continues to escalate, a violent clash occurred in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem on May 6. This violence follows a controversial history of forced evictions of Palestinian families from the affluent Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in order to allow Israeli settlers to move into the region. In the protests which took place outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, more than 200 Palestinians have been wounded as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and tear gas towards civilians who were protesting against the evictions.
What went down?
Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right Israeli politician and Member of Knesset (the Israeli Parliament) set up a “parliamentary office” on the evening of 6th May in a tent in Sheikh Jarrah, where tensions have been rising lately. Pro-Palestinian protesters had been meeting for nightly iftars—the meal held after breaking the day-long fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan—at long tables set up across the street where the MK set up his tent.
Violence broke out soon after an Israeli from Itamar Ben Gvir’s group sprayed pepper spray at the Palestinian iftar table. The Palestinian protesters clashed with the Israelis in the early hours of 7th May. People hurled rocks at each other and a car was set on fire. The violence was soon met with police interference. The protesters were attacked with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, which injured many. 15 Palestinians were arrested by the Israeli police in an internationally condemned move.
An Indian woman was also killed in a rocket attack by a Palestinian Islamist group on Tuesday. Her body has reached India.
These tensions have raised fears of retaliation by the Pro-Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel-Palestine’s ongoing conflict
The conflict between Israel and Palestine began in the early 20th century, ever since the Zionist movement came into being and publicly declared the region of Palestine as a Jewish homeland. After almost two millennia of the Jewish diaspora residing in various countries without a national state, the Zionist movement was founded in the late 19th century by secular Jews, largely as a response to rising antisemitism in Europe. The common denominator among all Zionists is the claim to Israel as the national homeland of the Jews. It is based on historical ties and religious traditions linking the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
The claims of the Zionists were met by heavy opposition by the Palestinian-Arab nationalists. This marked the beginning of the Arab national struggle which expanded into the Arab-Israeli conflict later on. In 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolution 181(II), which partitioned the state of Palestine into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the city of Jerusalem.
However, the actual division differed from the proposal and Jewish Israelis occupied most of the regions partitioned for Palestinian Arabs as well. This led to the Arab League interfering and gave birth to the main phase of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The overall fighting resulted in ceasefire with Israel still holding territory from the mandate, but Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank and Egypt took over most of the Gaza Strip. This led to the formation of the All-Palestine government. However, the All-Palestine Government was completely abandoned by Egypt in 1959.
In 1964, however, a new organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), was established by Yasser Arafat. It immediately won the support of most Arab League governments and was granted a seat in the Arab League.
Israel and Palestine continued to have multiple conflicts, uprisings and unsuccessful negotiations throughout the 20th century. The late 20th century also saw the rise of multiple extremist movements such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad who launched a series of attacks against Israelis and led to Israel speeding up peace processes, which were objected by Israeli extremists. In 1995, the Prime Minister of Israel, Rabin, was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic who opposed the peace accords. This led to future governments backing off from peace agreements.
In 2006, the Hamas was elected to form the Palestinian government. The Hamas rejected Israel’s propositions which included that they accept previous Israel-Palestinian agreements, forswear violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist. This led to escalating tensions between Israel and Hamas.
What led to the attacks?
Since the 1948 agreement, many Palestinians have been forced to flee their homes in Jerusalem and neighboring regions to pave the way for Israeli settlers. Following these events, several Palestinian families settled down in Sheikh Jarrah hoping they would not be asked to leave their homes again.
However, earlier this year, the Israeli Central Court in East Jerusalem approved a decision to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in favour of right-wing Israeli settlers. This move was heavily criticized and appealed by the families. The Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to issue a ruling on the evictions on 6th May amid the protests.
A 1970 law is being used to argue that the owners of the land before 1948 were Jewish families, and so the current Palestinian landowners should be evicted and their properties must be given to Israeli Jews. Palestinians say restitution laws in Israel are unfair because they have no legal means to reclaim the property they lost to Jewish families in the late 1940s in what became the state of Israel.
The hearing and MK Itamar’s deliberate instigation of the protesters were the main causes that led to the violence that erupted in Sheikh Jarrah. The location of the protest, Al Aqsa Mosque, is also significant as it is considered the third holiest site in Islam. However, the mosque is located in close proximity of other historical places significant to Judaism and Christianity, hence making it a region of high sensitivity. Most notably, it is close to the site of the Second Temple, which is widely considered the holiest place in Judaism.
Itamar’s actions, although highly condemnable and bring about a negative reputation to Israel’s lawmakers, were backed by the government. The state of Israel has been accused multiple times by the UN of having ties to state terrorism groups. Far right extremism has lately been on the rise in Israel, with more people taking on highly anti-Arab stances.
During Israel’s recent election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu encouraged voters from his own Likud Party to vote for the anti-Arab Religious Zionist slate. Although it was a move taken in desperation to maintain his position as the Head of State, Religious Zionism won six seats in the Knesset.
The Religious Zionism preaches “Kahanism” which is the teachings of the ultranationalist rabbi, Rabbi Kahane, who was placed on the US terror list in 2004. More Israelis are speaking of Kahanism in the recent times. Even though in 1988, the Kach Party, which was the political arm of Kahanism was banned from running in the elections for the Knesset, the Religious Zionism being elected now says different things as times are changing now.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has been criticized for years by international human rights organizations for their treatment of Palestinian civilians, especially children. Thousands of Palestinian children are arrested every year by the IDF according to Defense for Children International.
Future of Jerusalem
The UN rights office urged Israel to call off the forced evictions following the uprising in Sheikh Jarrah. In addition to this, multiple world leaders and governments have spoken in support of the Palestinian families and condemned Israel’s rulings on the evictions. Officials from the United States have also spoken on the issue and called for immediate steps to de-escalate the tensions.
Itamar Ben Gvir was urged by the government to leave Sheikh Jarrah as soon as possible, following the violence. He agreed to move in return for a stronger police presence in the region. The Prime Minister of Israel, Netanyahu compelled Itamar to leave in order to avoid being targeted by Hamas’ airstrikes.
The hearing by the Israeli Supreme Court which had been rescheduled for 10th May had been postponed yet again. The case itself, which has been ongoing for decades, is being scrutinized by many and the law being used to justify the evictions is being questioned by the UNHCR, who remarked that the transfer of Israeli citizens into occupied land could be considered a war crime.
The Hamas are retaliating with airstrikes in Jerusalem. An airstrike on May 11th killed 22 civilians. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said that the rocket strikes would continue until Israel stops aggression in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, long term solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict are still being deliberated by experts, who claim the conflict is one of the most intractable in recent times, and very complex to deal with. Some have suggested a one state option, which would enable Israel and Palestine to merge into one nation, with a single government, with accommodations for both Israelis and Palestinians in the government and remain a Jewish state with an Arab minority. However, many have protested against this for ideological issues and in fears of oppression of the minorities.
Both Israeli and Palestinian citizens wish for peace from both sides, and Jerusalem remains a central element in the quest for peace. Jerusalem is significant in many ways, it is as Israeli as it is Palestinian, it is equally important to Islam, Jewism and Christianity and is one of the world’s historically and culturally richest locations. As such a valued location to the world, its sanctity also remains a global concern. All hope for solving the crisis and establishing peace in Israel-Palestine does not only depend on the situation at Jerusalem, its rich heritage itself could hold the key to amity.
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