Israel Continues To Pursue Evictions In East Jerusalem’s Silwan Neighborhood

In the last few weeks, a recurring source of tension in the contested neighborhood of East Jerusalem has sprung up: another eviction deadline for Palestinian residents approaches. Israeli courts ruled in favor of the Jewish settler organization Ateret Cohanim multiple times in the previous few years, affirming the assertion that houses and property of Palestinian residents in the Batn al-Hawa area of Silwan are rightfully Jewish property. According to Al-Monitor, settlers point to documents which claim that the presence of a Yemeni Jewish community in the late 19th century justify the eviction of Palestinian residents in the area, with the goal of creating a historical park as well as the continued settlement of the area by Jews.

While the court ruling supporting the eviction of Silwan residents has been delayed multiple times, a June 27th deadline looms large as many families have been ordered to demolish their own homes or have them demolished by Israeli authorities while residents are charged for the cost. The situation in Silwan mirrors the dynamics of other areas of East Jerusalem, notably Sheikh Jarrah, which has garnered international attention as Jewish settlers encroach on Palestinian homes with the backing of Israeli police. Broadly, these actions are described as the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, whereby settlers and the Israeli state use evictions to alter the demography and geography of the city through land purchases and coercion.

While settlement in East Jerusalem has been ongoing for decades, the recent decision by Hamas to engage in hostilities based on Israeli actions in Jerusalem has made clear that further evictions could bring about war going forward whereas previously the conditions in Gaza, Jerusalem, and the West Bank have been treated as separate. In this new environment, addressing settlement and dispossession directly is not just an imperative given the legal and humanitarian issues at hand, but one of preventing armed conflict and preventing casualties due to military escalation.

In early May, prior to escalating conflict in Gaza over evictions and incursions at the Al-Aqsa compound, the United Nations spoke out on the issue of upcoming evictions in East Jerusalem. Rupert Colville, the spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office, said, “Given the disturbing scenes in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few days, we wish to emphasize that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which International Humanitarian Law applies. The occupying power must respect and cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory.” Colville further emphasized that applying Israeli law in illegally annexed East Jerusalem is against international law.

The state of evictions in East Jerusalem and settlement there and in the West Bank pose one of the greatest threats to a rules-based, peaceful international order. Since seizing control of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Israel has taken on the role of a military occupier, a status which makes Israel “forbidden from using state land and natural resources for purposes other than military or security needs or for the benefit of the local population.” In contrast, Israel’s policy of annexation and de facto or de jure support for settlement are geared towards “permanently establishing Jewish Israelis on occupied land.”

While a clear violation of international law on annexation of land and applying civil law, Israel’s actions go largely unpunished. According to Middle East Eye, during this same period, the United States’ State Department said that it had “deep concerns” over the planned evictions, while the European Union’s envoy to Palestine said that the EU was “extremely concerned.” While pressuring Israel to comply with international law and making condemnations can bring a global profile and attention to the violations on the ground, stronger actions and clear lines need to be established in order to prevent further dispossession.

Without doing so, Israel will continue to operate outside the boundaries of international law and will continue to demonstrate the tenuous grounds on which implementing international law is based, with the potential for legitimizing crimes elsewhere. While certain offices in the United Nations and NGOs may speak up on the consequences of violating international law, sovereign nations with greater decision-making power and leverage over Israel must change their approach and actions in order to affect change and reel in Israeli settlement and eviction.

Israel’s decades long occupation and settlement policies have created a situation on the ground that has rendered the paradigm for the peace process unusable. Since the Oslo Accords, the last major agreement reached between a major Palestinian political group and Israel, the prospects of a two-state solution has faded while a one-state reality has settled in. According to B’Tselem, Israel today controls 60% of the West Bank designated as “Area C” under the Oslo Accords, utilizing a complex system of roads and military outposts to exert definitive control over all aspects of Palestinian life by restricting travel and commerce.

Furthermore, Israeli surveillance, arrests, and targeted killings in the West Bank have increased, and with Israeli expansionism consistently on the rise, the prospects for a legitimate two-state resolution dim as settlements carve up the West Bank into an archipelago of small Palestinian bantustans which cannot realistically constitute a state in any meaningful sense. As this reality has set in over the last two decades, international diplomatic efforts and dialogue have failed to adapt and change their approach in the face of new circumstances, opting to continue pushing for a revival of the “peace process” with no clear aims and no methods of accountability.

The Palestinian Authority has also reached a low point in legitimacy as its inception is tied to the failures of the post-Oslo era in which it has become a bona-fide security contractor for Israel as well as an authoritarian force in and of itself, plagued by corruption and a distaste for internal criticism. Both actors traditionally poised to take part in dialogue contribute to the material inequities, displacements, and repression that plague the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this new state of affairs, international actors must reorient their goals towards changing policy on the ground rather than relying on an archaic “peace process” model to magically deliver a just outcome.

Instead, concerned countries should create tangible consequences for specific Israeli actions in order to prevent the slow creep of settlement and Jewish supremacist policies. These can also extend to the most consequential economic activities Israel engages in, notably weapons sales and surveillance technology sales. International actors should also implement similar defined steps to reduce aid to the Palestinian Authority’s security forces which according to the Al-Shabaka policy network accounts for more of the PA’s budget than education, health, and agriculture spending combined. Most recently, PA security forces have cracked down on protests in the West Bank against settlement and evictions, shut off social media, and killed the political critic Nizar Binat during an arrest. International actors may have even more leverage to change the PA’s actions given its reliance on donor support, but so long as the securitized Oslo framework prevails the reaction to all conflict will continue to emphasize a return to a long-defunct process rather than holding the guilty accountable.


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