For the past five decades, both legal and physical battles have ensued in the occupied territory of East Jerusalem. The fight began in 1972 when Israeli settler groups told Palestinian families living in the annexed city that they were trespassing on land historically owned by Jews. It has since culminated into war in the courts and streets; efforts by the Israeli judicial system to evict the Arab families that live in East Jerusalem have been met with protests and violence. In the spring of 2021, the long-running tribunal case issued expulsion orders for 36 Palestinian families living in three different neighborhoods. An appeal from the residents led to a proposal that would allow the Palestinians to stay in their homes on the condition that they pay an annual rent and acknowledge Jewish ownership of the land. On Monday, August 2nd, the four families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem that were offered this deal denied it. This proposition represents a broader debate concerning the issue of fairness and civil rights.
This issue of evictions in the Middle Eastern country has stretched across both time and land. It goes beyond the few families that were involved in the court’s offer; Peace Now, an Israeli activist group, approximates that over 3,000 Palestinians are at risk of expulsion and about 20,000 Palestinian homes are in danger of being demolished. Threats like these are a result of Israel’s determination to reduce the number of Arabs in its occupied territories. According to Human Rights Watch, Israel’s discriminatory policies include the confiscation of property and containment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and other areas. Various laws, including one that permits Israeli settlers to reclaim land owned by Jews before Israel’s establishment in 1948, have aided in forcefully pushing Palestinians from their residences.
The unilateral and inequitable actions taken by Israel have unsurprisingly encountered opposition. Palestinians have reacted to the edicts of involuntary eviction with extensive protests and physical confrontations. In response, Israeli police and far-right groups have escalated the violence, clashing with the dissidents in bloody brawls. At the height of the riots in April and May of 2021, the New York Times reported the utilization of stun grenades, rubber-coated bullets, and severe beatings by Israel’s armed soldiers. Many Palestinian demonstrations, including peaceful ones, have been handled with unlawful force and mass arrests.
The maltreatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories of Israel extends far past court-ordered expulsions and police brutality. As Israel continues to act in the interest of a Jewish majority, the subject of human rights in the nation, or the lack thereof, has drawn an increasingly large amount of attention. In 2020, Amnesty International stated that Israeli forces unlawfully killed 31 Palestinians, of which included nine children, in the annexed zones. Additionally, Palestinian civilians have been subjected to collective punishment, detained without cause, and restricted from crossing borders even for medical emergencies. Israeli armed forces are recorded to have used torture on those imprisoned and were subsequently granted state impunity for their inhumane actions. Furthermore, a report from the Human Rights Watch condemned Israel for committing crimes against humanity, which included persecution and apartheid, against Palestinians in the region.
Numerous actors have expressed concern over the rise of humanitarian abuses in Israel. The United Nations, European Union, multiple human rights organizations, and a long list of countries have all denounced the Israeli government and its discriminatory practices. Despite distress over the Palestinian suffering, little action has been taken to protect them; most of the replies to Israel’s crimes amounted to little more than lip service. This lacking response is especially salient on the part of the United States, one of the major entities involved. The U.S. was the first country to recognize Israeli statehood in 1948 and has since remained a strong supporter of Israel. Even as the Western nation attempts to bring about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is often in vain. The priority of the United States lies in maintaining its bilateral relationship with Israel instead of rectifying the humanitarian crisis, thus creating a position that bolsters harmful U.S. policies.
Idealistic reprimands of the Israeli government’s discriminatory violence are not enough to resolve the issue. Israel has not abided by international law or met its legal promises. Few actors have held them accountable to a consequential degree.
The threat of large-scale combat or an expansion of human rights violations would not send small ripples either. According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, between Israel and the occupied territories, Palestinians comprised a sizable population of 6.6 million people in 2019. Supporting a peaceful and ethical conclusion to the conflict is crucial, as additional aggression could leave hundreds of thousands at risk. Moreover, economic plights, systematic prejudice, and a lack of security forces leave Palestinians with little protection. This power imbalance is further illustrated by the looming shadow of Israel’s military might, highlighting the Palestinians’ immense need for foreign assistance. Security and stability are essential for a safe future and must be the focus of any long-term solution.
Israel’s attitude, combined with international inaction, makes an alternative approach necessary. The Israeli government upholds Jewish interests instead of those representing the extended populace. They avoid the negotiation of any bilateral compromise or collective reconciliation and only pursue the deconstruction of Palestinian lives. Such practices cannot be allowed to continue, which is where external actors ought to be involved. Many countries, including the United States, carry responsibility for the current status of Israel. They need to use their power to influence the nation’s domestic affairs and create real consequences for the humanitarian crimes Israel commits. While the two-state solution, where Israel and Palestine each have their own recognized territories, is still the optimal goal, the path towards it needs to change.
To find an answer to the housing and human rights crises in Israel, there must be a shift in the responses of every associated institution. This would begin with national policy revisions on the part of the Israeli government. Israel’s unlawful annexation of territories would have to be rescinded and proper boundaries restored. Securing a successful resolution to the conflict demands time and compromise, both of which can only be achieved in a peaceful environment that Israel must work towards. This internal movement would require international aid as well. Other states and organizations need to devote resources towards managing the crisis and ensuring that Israel is abiding by international law and humanitarian agreements. These governments and groups must promote moral standards and global norms, a process that involves reviewing their own policies to determine if they are inadvertently supporting Israel’s human rights abuses. Altogether, a multilateral operation is integral to the conflict’s conclusion.
The friction between Israelis and Palestinians necessitates attention and quick action—the lives of too many have already been afflicted by this ethnic war. Israel’s claim to control does not justify their human rights violations or the conquests they have undertaken in the pursuit of land. International organizations and countries from around the world need to be involved in the protection of Palestinian homes and civil liberties. Ineffectual responses must not continue, lest the conflict escalates and results in increased devastation. Israel’s domestic tactics have only perpetuated the violence that impairs their social development. For this fight to be resolved, change has to occur on multiple levels. The suffering of Palestinians cannot be allowed to persist while something can be done about it.