Aimen Ayaz is an International Relations graduate from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad. She is an avid reader and a believer in the advocacy of human rights. She also practices environmentalism and hopes to contribute to the creation of a safer world for children, women, the planet, and perspectives too.
Social Media Outrage
Since the beginning of May, social media witnessed an outrage against Israeli forces pushing Palestinian families in Occupied East Jerusalem out of their homes to make room for Jewish ‘settlers’. They targeted 6 families by May 2021. In reaction to this, Palestinians across East Jerusalem came out on the streets in the Holy month of Ramadan to peacefully protest such forceful expulsions.
The Israeli forces responded to the protests with armed attacks. On Friday, 7th May, an assault on worshippers gathered in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy site common to Muslims, Christians, and Jews, killed nearly 200 people. Forced displacements are no stranger to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the events of Sheikh Jarrah represent a more alarming situation because it comes after additions made to the Israeli laws that allow all Jewish people access to such options.
In summation, #SaveSheikhJarrah is not just a hashtag supporting the outcry against the atrocities taking place currently in East Jerusalem, it also represents Israel’s plan to occupy all of Palestine. The article, thus, looks into how Israel, through amendments in its constitution, is systemically taking over Palestine while violating international laws and peace accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).
The Nation-State Law of 2018: An Amendment to Israel’s Basic Laws
Israel has no written constitution; it has Basic Laws as it believes that the state is still incomplete, therefore, setting a rigid constitution is not needed. Hence, the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) makes laws as it sees fit; laws that may be temporary and unique to each government. The underlying requirement, however, is that the main body, also referred to as Basic Laws, remains intact; very few permanent additions have been made to it so far.
Each addition, however, always has serious repercussions. The present developments following through in East Jerusalem can be attributed to such constitutional changes too. The latest permanent addition to the Basic Laws is the 2018 nation-state law. The amendment comprises 11 articles, each highlighting Israel as a nation-state fitting to be recognized because it completes the criteria of statehood as outlined by the 1933 Montevideo Convention.
The most troubling articles, considering present events, are articles 3, 5, and 7.
- Article 3 declares Israel as an independent nation-state with Jerusalem as its capital. In addition to making Jerusalem its state capital, the amendment points out that Jerusalem “complete and united” is to become the state capital; a phrase highlighting Israeli intentions for the disputed city with clarity.
- Article 5 reinstates one of the most rigid Israeli laws which is to keep the state open for Jewish immigrants from all over the world. Such measures are taken to make sure that the Jewish diaspora sticks together.
- The next article in point is Article 7. It grants Jewish settlement to all ‘Jewish people’ and puts such action as a ‘national value’, unique to the Jewish people of Israel; therefore, it only allows the Jews living in Israel to exercise the right to self-determination.
The above-mentioned articles are key to understanding the forced evictions currently underway in Sheikh Jarrah, a settlement in East Jerusalem. They are important because they constitutionalize such actions; hence, the government allows all measures to safeguard actions seen as a national value. In addition to this, the government will also back organizations that facilitate such actions. Hence, the Jewish settlement organizations, and the district courts fall in line with them.
Thus, Sheikh Jarrah is not another instance of forced displacement underway in East Jerusalem; it is rather the systemic replacement of Palestinian property and ownership with that of the Jewish. The major aim is to acutely cleanse the Palestinian people out from the “complete Israel”; a land only for the Jewish.
Setting the Stage for Sheikh Jarrah
After the forced creation of Israel in 1948, Jerusalem was to remain under the international community due to its religious importance to Muslims, Christians, and Jews. However, to curb any violent intentions, it was divided into East and West; the East remaining with Palestine and the West allocated to Israel. As for the rest of the land, what was given to Israel remained theirs, while Palestine was given the areas of West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, with strict principles that disallowed any Jewish settlement in these areas.
After the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, Israel annexed a large chunk of Jerusalem and began to allow Jewish settlements to grow inside the city as well as in the West Bank and near Gaza Strip; everywhere it was not supposed to. In response, the Palestinians never stopped protesting; they continued to raise their voices.
In 2019, following the parliamentary elections in Israel which re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu as the Prime Minister, the majority parties in the Knesset forming the government, namely Likud and the Blue Alliance, agreed to initiate annexation of more Palestinian lands starting July 2020. This alliance was rooted in the Nation-State law which institutionalized such acts as ‘systemic ethnic cleansing’ as a national value.
What made matters worse was former US President Donald Trump’s extension of recognition towards Israel’s sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and Occupied West Bank. This, in turn, allowed the self-imposed ‘state’ to further its occupant intentions on thousands of Palestinians inhabiting the lands.
The new annexation plan was to go underway with the help of Jewish settlers’ organizations, that is, the Regavim, Gush Emunim, and the Yesha Council, making use of the Israeli courts to systemically declare the Jewish ‘right’ over these lands. These plans were, however, delayed by the pandemic.
The Israeli Jewish nationals protested loud against this delay, demanding Netanyahu to step down as the Prime Minister. The Palestinians, too, did not hold back. Sensing the new changes, they raised their voices higher against these racist and colonist ambitions of the Israeli government. During the peak of the first wave of Covid-19, Israel used coercive measures against Palestine.
The latter’s resistance made attempts to defend themselves and tried to garner global attention to the crucial situation. However, amidst battling the pandemic, the world became oblivious to these cries. Regardless, the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem continued to fight to keep their respective systems alive.
Israel and Palestine, today, stand at an extreme disparity. The Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) has several countries funding the defense budget; it has allowed it to appoint 170,000 active personals and acquire advanced weapons including nuclear weapons and a billion-dollar Iron Dome defense system.
On the other hand, the Palestinian Liberation Movement is restricted from developing any technology that aids them against IOF; PLO is only allowed 83,000 active members with restricted and outdated weaponry. With the world busy in its fights, the time, hence, became ripe for Israel to begin executing its plans.
Israel planned to launch its Operation Annexation as soon as it could manage its pandemic situation. Israeli Settlers’ Organization chose East Jerusalem, specifically the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, for playing their part in the bigger plan. Sheikh Jarrah’s location is prime for its proximity to mainland Israel.
The Israeli Settlers’ Organizations took the matter to Israeli courts, claiming that there were Jewish families that needed safe homes to ‘settle’ in. The courts, as per their required role in the process, empathetic of these ‘homeless’ Jewish families, gave the verdicts that a total of 13 families were to leave their households to make space for the Jewish families.
Out of these 13 households, 6 were to be ‘evicted’ in May and the remaining 7 were to be evicted in August. Only decisions regarding displacements were made and no attempt was made to relocate the evicted families. As May 2021 settled in, the operations for the forceful expulsion of these families began.
So far, 4 families have been expelled out of their homes. In response to this, the entire East Jerusalem and increasingly the rest of Palestine, has come out in peaceful protests in the Holy month of Ramadan against the blatant cleansing of the neighborhood of the Palestinian families living there for decades.
Protestors have gathered in front of these families’ homes and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Israeli police have gone to all lengths to ensure the newly ‘settled’ families are protected; therefore, they have attacked the peaceful protests with skunk water (a chemically enhanced sewage water) and rubbered steel pellets.
Worshippers gathered for prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on 7th May had been assaulted with open fires resulting in 200 Palestinian casualties. In addition to this, the injured have not been allowed access to medical assistance. Red Cross Palestine is making efforts to attain access to medical facilities for the injured Palestinians. In a nutshell, all actions by Israel during this entire period are no less than war acts.
Following the Al-Aqsa attacks, the Palestinian resistance in Gaza made attempts to defend their fellow Palestinians, in reaction to which Israel opened airstrikes on Gaza. These airstrikes have continued despite the desperate calls for a cease-fire from all over the world. The IOF has tried to sell the narrative of ‘self- defense’ to shut down the critique. However, no argument can hide the human losses of these past months.
In Gaza, over 200 Palestinians have been killed in these incursive airstrikes including 60 children and 38 women. Over 1200 have been severely injured and nearly 10,000 displaced from their homes. The offices of international media houses like Al-Jazeera have also been openly bombed so that Israel can forward their narrative by Hasbara (Hebrew for public diplomacy), in which the tactic they have selected is censorship.
Now, the Israeli courts have delayed further dispossessions for 30 days, mainly because of the intense reaction that their illegal notices are met with. Nevertheless, these reactions have unmasked matters of irreplaceable significance. One such instance is the attacks on Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel, while being aware of the religious importance the Mosque holds for the Muslims, has used it against them whenever Palestinian demonstrations are carried out on large scale. With massive outrage in Sheikh Jarrah, attacks on Al-Aqsa are a tactic used regularly by the Israeli police and military.
The additional tactic this time around is the restriction in accessing medical care; if the injured do manage to acquire it, the medical tents are blown up with stun grenades by the Israeli military. As these protests are being openly recorded and shared on all platforms, the world has joined Palestine in this outcry against their systemic ethnic cleansing. Israel, however, has simply responded that these court decisions were made considering the illegal occupation of these lands by the target households, such that they lacked the Israeli permits to stay there.
The Israeli permits are only allowed to Jewish Israeli citizens and not to Palestinians. This restriction mentioned in the Basic Laws and the 2018 Nation-State Law has only made it more prominent. The Israeli foreign ministry has gone so far as to claim that these are just domestic real estate issues that are being exaggerated in the media to portray Israel as the villain.
This, of course, is not the first time that Israel has made such statements. They have, now and then, hid their colonist, racists, and occupant ambitions behind the narrative of domestic issues, self-defense, and national integrity; using the said terms to legalize the human rights violations they keep making against the Palestinians.
The Israeli political structure has been designed to perpetuate violence against Palestinians, depriving them of their economic, civil, and political rights is in the political culture of Israel. Currently, Sheikh Jarrah is a symbol of the heightened tensions between Israel and Palestine and an emblem of the extent to which Israel aims to annex Palestinian land. The question, however, remains: what can the international community do to stop these illegal evictions in Sheikh Jarrah?
Taking a Stand for Sheikh Jarrah
The Sheikh Jarrah incident and the ongoing Gaza attacks have been compared to the Nakba, that is the forced creation of Israel in 1948 when millions of Palestinians were displaced from their homes; a result of colonial decisions made irrespective of the ground realities of the locals. However, the difference today is that with technological advancements, the world is witnessing the atrocities live as they take place.
All social media platforms are stormed by activists around the world spreading the word on the current crisis. They are calling out on all world leaders to unite against these acts of terror being committed by Israel. Organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are joining thousands in this outcry against the systemic cleansing of Palestinians.
The Palestinians abroad have made their mission to help their families at home. Social media has become a platform educating people of the crisis, calling out on their governments to stand for Palestine, and sharing ways to help Palestinians including disinvestments in pro-Israeli companies.
Amongst the states and multilateral institutions, the United Nations and the European Union have called out Israel on these forced expulsions and their violent military handling of peaceful protests. Jordan soon followed the global condemnation by pledging to support the Palestinian families by providing proof of the legality of these households.
Saudi Arabia and UAE also called Israel out for its unjust actions. Meanwhile, Washington criticized the handling of the protests by Israel. Now, post the attacks on Gaza, the entire Muslim world has come out in support of Palestine with Turkey, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia taking the lead. The Turkish President Recep Erdogan has gone on to suggest a “Protection Force” for Palestine in an emergency OIC meeting.
China, Russia, Estonia, Tunisia, Ireland, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and France are some of the countries that have called out Israel for its offenses. Furthermore, efforts have been made in the United Nations Security Council to call a ceasefire, but those have been barred by the United States who has openly supported Israel in their airstrikes.
The Biden Administration has approved of a $735 million weapons sales agreement with Israel amidst the genocide the latter continues to commit. Other countries in favor of Israel include Colombia, Brazil, Germany, Georgia, Guatemala, Ukraine, Canada, and Australia. The action taken by the international community has been limited to criticism only; no concrete decisions have yet been made on stopping the atrocities, and the repercussions that Israel must pay for its actions.
However, the entire episode has highlighted an important notion: the world is no longer a stranger to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and the military incursions into their lands by Israeli forces. Furthermore, it has uncovered the US’s backing of Israel through annual funding of 3.8 billion dollars to the latter, equipping it with the capacity to continue its terrorizing activities.
The case of Palestine is a staunch portrayal of apartheid. Israel is violating countless UN resolutions in Palestine, but the ones that stand out the most are the 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute. These 2 documents outline the criteria for apartheid which includes:
- An intent by one group to dominate the other.
- Systemic oppression by one racial group over another.
- More than one inhumane act.
The actions of Israel, unfortunately, duly follow through with all three conditions.
It is the year 2021 and Palestinians continue to struggle to hold on to their legal identities and ownerships. Amidst the pandemic, the Sheikh Jarrah episode has highlighted the colonist intentions of Israel, particularly through its violent reactions to curb non-violent protests by the Palestinians. By using its state institutions, Israel continues to constitutionalize such actions.
The reality, however, remains unchanged: the Sheikh Jarrah incident is evidence of Israel’s plans to annex Palestine to achieve a complete state of Israel with no room for the Palestinians. Hence, the international community must come together and take swift action to counter the ongoing situation and alleviate the plight of the Palestinians.
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