The Fight for Palestine’s Sheikh Jarrah Isn’t Over

The Israeli Supreme Court’s verdict on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions, which set off huge protests in Palestine earlier this year, was deferred this week. But the deal offered to Palestinians shows that Israel is still intent on dispossessing them.

Demonstrations in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood demand an end to Israeli settlement activity and displacement on July 30, 2021. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)

In May this year, the Israeli Supreme Court threatened to uphold the eviction of six families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem in favor of Israeli settlers.

This injustice had a galvanizing effect among supporters of the families, giving rise to mounting protests in the local region, in pockets of the occupied Palestinian territories, and, later, around the world. The court postponed the hearing as a result.

When the anger intensified and the demonstrations increased, the Israeli security forces reacted with the language of aggression in which they have become proficient. Israeli forces stormed Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque — a sacred site in Islam — during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, firing tear gas and stun grenades at stone-throwing Palestinians.

When Hamas fired retaliatory rockets, Israel embarked on an eleven-day pounding of the isolated Gaza enclave. A Human Rights Watch investigation concluded that Israel’s violence amounted to war crimes. At least 248 Palestinians were killed and many more injured as homes and vital infrastructure in the impoverished territory were obliterated, compounding a paralyzing state of affairs for its residents, who have already spent fourteen years under Israel’s blockade.

Fast forward a few months and a court hearing regarding the small Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem is again at the center of spiking tensions.

On Monday, a final verdict on the expulsion of Palestinian families was deferred. However, Israel’s highest court proposed an offer whereby the Palestinian residents would be granted a form of protected tenancy and avoid being evicted on the condition that they relinquish any claims of ownership over the homes and land in the district. Simply put, Palestinian people living in Palestinian houses are being told by the Israeli court that to avoid being evicted they must effectively become paying tenants to Israeli settlers.

The Times of Israel newspaper referred to the court decision as a “compromise.” The reality is that the proposal corroborates the consensus of an increasing number of human rights organizations that Israel is an apartheid regime which seeks to monopolize control over the Palestinian demographic.

When Palestinians are not forcibly displaced, their experiences are made deliberately punishing. Today, Sheikh Jarrah remains under blockade, with endless restrictions intended to suffocate the lives of the Palestinians who reside there. Armed settlers roam freely, often using their privilege to stoke violence. In June, Israeli settlers injured at least nine Palestinians, including four girls, sparking further disorder which then injured at least another twenty Palestinians. Local Israeli police joined in, using stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets and spraying skunk water.

Their experience is not an anomaly. The situation in Sheikh Jarrah is a microcosm of the experience of all the Palestinians living under Israel’s uncompromising settler-colonial project — and these events take place at the behest of the authorities, not despite them.

In fact, a common theme in areas with a big settler presence is the Israeli state working in tandem with the settlers to make the lives of Palestinians uncomfortable and humiliating. A new report has shown that Israel’s security forces are complicit in a “drastic surge” of violence committed by settlers against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Meanwhile, Israel’s government regularly plays down any state involvement on matters pertaining to eviction, working to portray the matter as a real estate dispute between private parties. But the state’s colonial dispositions are entrenched within all such actions — so even if the state is technically out of the equation, laws exist which keep the status quo in check, and other institutions singing from the same discriminatory hymn sheet assume responsibility. The outcome is usually the same: injustice.

Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law of 1950 is a case in point. It regulates the treatment of property belonging to the 750,000 Palestinians who were forcibly displaced in 1948, meaning they have no legal avenue for reclaiming property left behind. Jews, on the other hand, are able to regain property they owned prior to 1948, especially in East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli authorities are then more than happy to facilitate the process by evicting Palestinian residents and paving the way for settlers. Sometimes living neighborhoods are demolished to clear space for other types of facilities: as Leila Sackur recently wrote in Tribune, residents of East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood recently received demolition orders — which require them to destroy their own homes or face fines of around $6,000 — to make way for a biblical theme park.

In healthy democracies, judiciaries are supposed to be independent from the government and have a constitutional responsibility to provide fair and impartial justice. But Palestinian justice is anathema to the Israeli courts — and those courts’ institutional discrimination and expansionist laws, coupled with their state’s propensity for violence, has instead fertilized and sustained an ecosystem of colonial domination.

The fight to save the homes of the families in Sheikh Jarrah has not yet been lost. Even if it is, we must continue to push for justice — for them and for all the Palestinians who have endured this pain for far too long.