Watching war crimes in Jerusalem
It is a special kind of malicious cruelty that has armed Israeli police evicting a family of 12 people, including five children, from their home in the middle of the night in freezing winter. Yet this is what happened last week in East Jerusalem.
If only this was an uncommon occurrence. A few years back, just prior to one of the worst snowstorms in recent history, I remember going to the site of an Israeli demolition, where a Bedouin family already with next to nothing had their shack flattened. They could have chosen any day, but the night before the snowstorm was clearly vindictive.
But for the now-homeless Salhiye family, this is not new. For them, this is the continuation of the Nakba. They were first evicted from Ein Kerem to the west of Jerusalem in 1948. They are not allowed to return to their homes or reclaim their property as they are Palestinian, even though Israeli Jewish settlers can claim titles for properties in eastern Jerusalem, as is happening in Sheikh Jarrah.
Members of this Palestinian family did not just lose their home, but also got beaten, arrested and thrown into jail to boot. Their garden nursery business was destroyed. The five who were arrested cannot even return to Sheikh Jarrah for 30 days. The Jerusalem municipality claims it will build a special needs school there for Arab residents. Who knows if this will ever happen, but it does not render this legal. All this takes place in the shadow of the British Consulate in East Jerusalem in an area crammed full of diplomats.
Yes, this is one home, one family, so what is all the fuss about, argue the anti-Palestinians.
Well the actions of the Israeli authorities will make such events even more commonplace. The Palestinian presence in this area and others will suffer “death by a thousand cuts,” as a leading Israeli expert on Jerusalem, Danny Seidemann, explained to me. In the pipeline are other demolitions and forced dispossessions. Next in line may be the Salam family, who are due to get their marching orders on Jan. 29, though the signs are that this may be delayed.
The destruction and forced displacement has a trajectory. It covers the holy basin around the old city, from Sheikh Jarrah in the north to Silwan in the south. Palestinians will be forced out either directly or as a result of their lives being made so miserable that they have little choice. If the occupier’s law courts do not do the trick, Israeli civilian violence carried out by settlers and their supporters will finish the job off.
Unlike in many conflicts, where events occur far from witnesses, monitors and mobile phones, what happens in Jerusalem is observed in detail. The facts are clear. The evidence overwhelming.
Nothing illustrates this better than the photo the EU mission tweeted on Jan. 17, the day Israeli forces attempted the dispossession for the first time. A line of just over a dozen European diplomats were there observing. For Palestinians, this sums it up. The international community has become nothing more than a curious bystander, acting as a witness but doing nothing. One usually excellent non-European representative to the PA tweeted: “I bought many a plant at that shop. Sad to see it demolished and another Palestinian family lose their home.” This makes it sound like a favorite corner shop has simply closed down, not that an egregious breach of international law has just occurred.
In fairness to the diplomats on the ground, the problem with the international community is not with them. It is the inaction and disinterest in capital cities. Distracted by COVID-19 and Ukraine, none wants to go 10 rounds with their Israeli counterparts to prevent such actions. Palestinians will be doubly nervous if Russia does invade Ukraine. Israel has a history of exploiting international crises elsewhere to crack down on Palestinians while the world’s attention is diverted.
That said, Israel will continue its plans regardless. The coalition government is malfunctioning. Its different factions are pursuing their own agendas and the extremists in Jerusalem, like the pro-settler deputy mayor, proceed step by step with eviction plans with nobody to stop them. Left-wing ministers are posturing but doing nothing. Yair Lapid, the foreign minister, likewise only does something if absolutely forced to.
The incredible thing is that, in terms of a future political solution, the forcible evictions and demolitions are arguably far from the most dangerous step being carried out. To the south, Israel has pushed forward with the Lower Aqueduct settlement plan that links Har Homa to Givat Hamatos and then on to pre-1967 Israel. This is all part of a strategic Israeli plan to produce a concrete necklace that will further cut off Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Nearby, Israel has also moved forward with building a settlement, Givat Shaked, on the lands of the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Safafa.
Unlike in many conflicts, what happens in Jerusalem is observed in detail. The facts are clear. The evidence overwhelming.
This is not all. Last month, Israel’s General Custodian revealed plans for six new neighborhoods, all within existing Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem. Only those with a desire to exacerbate tensions and cause mayhem would push ahead with this. Usually these enclaves are the result of settler actions with tacit official approval. For the first time, it is the Israeli authorities pushing this forward.
Credit where credit is due, international pressure, not least from the Americans, did press the pause button on the two most lethal settlement projects at E1 and Atarot. When completed, the former will seal off north Jerusalem from south Ramallah, while the latter will split the West Bank into two. In terms of chances of peace, both are referred to as doomsday settlements, of which there is an increasing number.
The lid on the two-state solution’s coffin is being closed so tightly it is hard to imagine it can be reopened. Worse, it is not clear that anyone in power can be bothered to try. Only Palestinian and international civil society organizations keep this on the agenda. It is these stalwarts who have put the neighborhood of Shaikh Jarrah on the international map.
Seidemann says that we have moved to “the reality television stage of the conflict — you need to show blood and guts.” The international actors barely bother to condemn the settlements or other peace-smashing projects, let alone take action. Interest is only generated when there are clashes and bloodshed. Even then, it vanishes almost immediately.
Who knows when it might happen exactly, but the consequences of international apathy when confronted with Israeli crimes will be felt on the streets of Jerusalem as it was last year. The bonfire is well and truly primed once again and the pyromaniacs are circling.
- Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU). Twitter: @Doylech