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Opinion: Jerusalem expulsions are a microcosm of Israel’s apartheid – justice requires action

Chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign Fatin Al Tamimi says international governments cannot ignore Israeli settlements any longer.

09 April 2021 Jerusalem: Israeli and Palestinian activists during a protest against the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes at the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
09 April 2021 Jerusalem: Israeli and Palestinian activists during a protest against the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes at the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Image: DPA/PA Images

FROM TODAY, 2 May, Israel plans to forcibly evict eight Palestinian families, a total of 87 people, from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of occupied and illegally annexed East Jerusalem. 
 
These families, refugees since the Nakba – how Palestinians refer to the 1947-49 expulsion and forced exile of over two-thirds of the population by Zionist-Israeli forces – and denied their UN-mandated right to return home, now face renewed dispossession and homelessness.  
 
The evictions are mandated by a court ruling under a discriminatory law that allows Israeli organisations – such as the settler organisation behind this case – to seize ownership of lands and homes that were reportedly Jewish-owned prior to the creation of the Israeli state. 

Not only is there is no corresponding law whereby Palestinian refugees can regain ownership of homes to which they have keys and deeds, but the application of domestic Israeli law to occupied territory is also a violation of international law; and that East Jerusalem is occupied is the position of the United Nations, the European Union and the Irish government.  
 
Notwithstanding that the previous ownership remains disputed – Jordan, which administered the area prior to the 1967 Israeli conquest of the city, has seemingly provided documents that prove Palestinian ownership – these evictions would constitute a grave violation of international humanitarian law and the laws of war. 
 
The proposed evictions are in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states that an occupying power is not permitted to forcibly displace civilians in or to transfer part of its civilian population to, a territory it occupies.
 
Israel’s plan to ‘de-Arabize’ Jerusalem
 
However, these evictions are not an isolated phenomenon; since it seized control of East Jerusalem the Israeli state has sought to reduce the area’s Palestinian population and expand the illegal Israeli settler presence by means of isolating East Jerusalem from the West Bank, land theft, and discriminatory policies in planning, construction and budgeting.  

35% of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem has been confiscated and handed to the more than 200,000 illegal settlers there, while 300,000 Palestinians can build in only 13% of the city.

Over 70% of Palestinians in the city live below the poverty line and only 10% of the municipal budget is allocated for Palestinian areas, despite Palestinians constituting almost 40% of the overall population of the city.

According to Israeli NGO Ir Amim, around 600 evictions are currently being sought; in the Silwan area of the city alone, another 21 families are facing the demolition of their homes on 11 May to make way for an Israeli tourist site.

These policies and actions – that according to Israeli professor Oren Yiftachel aim to ‘Judiaze’ and ‘de-Arabize’ Jerusalem – are just one part of the wider system of apartheid that Human Rights Watch this week said Israel inflicts upon the Palestinians.

Israeli agenda laid bare

In a landmark report, entitled ‘A Threshold Crossed’, the leading international human rights organisation stated that Israel is committing the dual “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution” of the Palestinian people and that the state has “demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”

The report makes clear that the oppressive regime Israel imposes upon the Palestinian people is neither accidental nor temporary, but rather is calculated, systematic and permanent, purposely designed to ensure Palestinians remain in a position of perpetual subjugation.

Of course, that Israel is overseeing an apartheid regime is not news to Palestinians who have been stating precisely this for decades. Nor is it news to veterans of the South African freedom struggle like Archbishop Desmond Tutu or Ronnie Kasrils. It is not even news to Israeli human rights organisations like B’Tselem and Yesh Din who have published similar conclusions over the past year.

It is, however, apparently news to many in the international community, and powerful states remain reluctant to recognise the reality staring them in the face – and are unwilling take action to end it.

The HRW report addresses this failure directly, saying that “widely held assumptions, including that the occupation is temporary, that the ‘peace process’ will soon bring an end to Israeli abuses, that Palestinians have meaningful control over their lives in the West Bank and Gaza, and that Israel is an egalitarian democracy inside its borders, have obscured the reality” of Israel’s apartheid policies and practices.

Time for justice – governments must act

The report also comes with a raft of recommendations, from urging an International Criminal Court investigation, to calling on the UN to “establish an international commission of inquiry”, through to calling on private entities to cease “activities that directly contribute to the crimes of apartheid and persecution.”

It also demands both collective and unilateral sanctions from states, from “travel bans and asset freezes” to restricting “arms sales and military and security assistance”.

Significantly, it calls on states to unilaterally screen “agreements, cooperation schemes, and all forms of trade” for any that contribute to the crime of apartheid, and where it is not possible to mitigate the human rights harms, to “end [these] activities and funding”.

While not yet formally recognising that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, the Irish government has nevertheless been vocal in opposition to Israel’s human rights abuses and international law violations. 

While welcome, words are not enough; Ireland, as a member of the UN Security Council and as a widely respected international actor, must both champion and, crucially, act to defend Palestinian rights. Yet Ireland has not taken an ounce of meaningful action to help end the manifold crimes committed against the people of Palestine.

So we ask the Irish government to study the HRW report carefully, to act upon its recommendations, and, more immediately, to act to end the expulsions in Jerusalem.

It is time to end Israel’s impunity.

It is time for Palestinians to enjoy freedom, justice and equality.

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Fatin Al Tamimi is Chairperson of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

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