Recently, Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Arabic neighborhood in East Jerusalem, has experienced an exacerbation of violence due to Israeli evictions. The neighborhood was raided by Israeli forces, with 87 Palestinians from 18 families being forcibly evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, sparking yet another wave of violence against Palestinian residents.
The decision to deport Palestinian families in favor of Israeli settlers was made by an Israeli district court, and yet another seven families have been ordered to evict their houses in the area by August 1. The residents in Jerusalem confirmed hearing air raids, sirens, and blasts shortly after 6 p.m. local time when the ultimatum was set to expire. As such, Sheikh Jarrah has become the emblem of the Palestinian struggle against Israel. Anti-eviction protests have taken place in Palestinian cities across the West Bank, as well as by Arab Israelis in Haifa and Nazareth. As a result, over the past two weeks, intending to disperse the protesters, Israeli police have fired a foul-smelling spray known as skunk water.
The communal violence between Israelis and Palestinians has been surging since April (read our report in Italian here), with videos of street vandalism and several attacks between the two communities being posted online. Further, hundreds of far-right Israelis marched down the city shouting “Death to Arabs,”. The tensions between Palestine and Israel have escalated further with the violence that has spread in the Gaza Strip. Militant groups operating from the Gaza Strip have been firing rockets into Israel, with the latter responding by strikes against the coastal territory. The rocket attacks came as a result of an ultimatum released by Hamas, which demanded Israeli security forces’ withdrawal from the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in the Old City. As a result of the air raids against the Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry, 20 Palestinians, including children, have been killed, and hundreds have been injured.
Setting the Stage: The Source of Violence
Even the name of the city refers to the personal doctor of the Muslim conqueror Saladin, who is thought to have conquered the city for Christian crusaders in 1187. After the 1948 War between Israel and the Arabs, and the exodus of a wider population of approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees, some Palestinian families from West Jerusalem and Haifa went to the West Bank, which was then administrated by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The Palestinian families were settled in the area since 1956 when Jordan re-housed them. However, after the 1967 War between Israel and the Arab armies, the West Bank was captured by Israel, which remains occupied today.
Since then, several successful lawsuits were filed to expel the Palestinians from the area by Israeli settler organizations. For instance, 43 Palestinians were evicted in 2002 from Jerusalem, while their homes were taken by Israeli settlers. The al-Kurd family was also removed in 2008, the Hanoun and Ghawi families were evicted in 2009, and the Shamasneh family was evicted in 2017. Accordingly, by using settler organizations, Israel’s leadership has downplayed any state involvement by describing the conflict as a private real estate dispute without any political rationale behind it. Further, under Israeli law, Israelis who can assert a title from before the 1948 fighting that followed Israel’s establishment can reclaim their properties in Jerusalem. However, no such law exists for Palestinians that were also displaced in the same period due to the war.
It becomes evident that the evictions from the area are a part of Israel’s settlement strategy, known as Holy Basin. The latter concerns the geographical region covering and containing Jerusalem’s ancient Old City; the basin and its walled enclosure together form the bulk of the city’s holy sites for Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. As part of the settlement strategy, the plan required the abolishment of the Palestinian houses from the area. Additionally, the Holy Basin has seen unprecedented excavations in recent years, accompanied by major spending to transform antiquity sites into tourist destinations and establish new Jewish worship sites. These excavations are remaking the historic city, erasing non-Jewish elements, while emphasizing Jewish ones, especially during the First and Second Temple periods.
The Role of the International Community
With the absence of a reaction from the international community, the violence will continue to escalate. Specifically, the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that “the significant upsurge in violence in the West Bank, in and near Gaza and in east Jerusalem needs to stop immediately”. The EU may have intensified its call for all sides to refrain from violence but lacks the political will to further engage in finding a solution. Moreover, the United Nations Security Council held emergency consultations on the worsening violence in east Jerusalem and was considering a draught resolution calling on Israel to stop evictions and to respect for “the historic status quo at the holy sites”.
However, none of these statements are enough to terminate the violence between the two communities. The underlying cause of the recent violence remains unchanged: for decades, the gaping wound of the unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians remains, a sword of Damocles hanging over them today. As such, despite the best of intentions, for an agreement to be reached, both parties, Israelis, and Palestinians, must be willing to compromise on several issues. In conflict resolution and negotiation, the notion of ripeness, which refers to the timing of the resolution, is the key to any possible viable agreement between the opponents.
Apart from the right to self-determination granted for the Palestinians, with a percentage of more than 20 percent being Arab and identifying themselves as Palestinians and with a natural reproduction rate that is double that of the Jewish population, Israel will have eventually to compromise to a political solution that is acceptable to them. Such a solution will be either accepting the two-state solution or adapting to the one-state reality. If the expansion of settlements continues, an eventual one-state solution will be the outcome, with Israel facing a fight for equal voting rights for Arabs akin to that of South Africa.
Until then, to minimize the violence between Israelis and Palestinians, the international community has been called to engage in minimizing the violence by introducing a monitoring mechanism to be used when one of the parties fails to follow up with their promises and ensure that both sides are held accountable. Both parties, Israeli security forces and militant groups, should exercise maximum restraint and calibrate their use of force.