What is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is the micro-management of Israel’s macro discriminatory policies across Palestine, says Human Rights Watch’s Yasmine Ahmed.
The Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem has existed for more than nine centuries under different dynasties and states. But the Israeli state wants to change its demography and Judaise the entire area.
But this time around, Palestinians raised their voice against Israel in unison, showing that they would resist any Zionist attempts to Judaise their beloved neighbourhood.
The global public opinion suggested that Israel struggled to sell its old, monotonous narrative on Palestine — that has always portrayed any form of Palestinian resistance as "terrorism". The videos and witness testimonies that first came out of Sheikh Jarrah and then Gaza proved that Israel has been brutalising Palestinians using all available means. Israel couldn't filter the narrative with the help of its powerful friends and lobbies in Washington DC and elsewhere. It became puerile to put Palestinians, who have very limited military capabilities, on the same footing as Israel, which has the fourth largest army in the world.
Sheikh Jarrah as a native Palestinian neighbourhood has emerged as a perfect example of Israeli discriminatory policies against Palestinians amid many dark images of the decades-old conflict, showing the world the ugly side of what’s going on in the Holy Land.
“What is the cause of the violence that we need to treat? What we need to treat is the system of Apartheid that Israeli authorities impose on Palestinians in occupied territories. That leads me into the question of Sheikh Jarrah and the use of force by police personnel around the Al Aqsa [Mosque] at the time,” says Yasmine Ahmed, the UK director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The HRW has investigated Israeli war crimes against Palestinians for decades. The human rights group has come up with a recent report as incidents around Sheikh Jarrah get more and more intense. Their research clearly showed why Sheikh Jarrah is a good example of Israeli discriminatory policies and its Apartheid nature against Palestinians.
“Based on decades of research”, which have been backed by very intense groundwork done in the last two years, “analysing the Israeli law”, the HRW found that the Tel Aviv government is “committing against humanity of Apartheid and persecution,” Ahmed tells TRT World.
“We did not come to this conclusion lightly. We came to that conclusion based on three elements,” which require to define a state as a particular Apartheid according to international criminal law, says Ahmed.
‘Intent to dominate’
The first element refers to “the intent to dominate”, meaning one particular group aims to establish total control over another group. “In this circumstance, it’s the Israeli Jewish population dominating over the Palestinian population. We went through a number of different [Israeli] policies that demonstrate that intent,” says Ahmed.
According to Ahmed, one of the main examples of Israeli intent to dominate over Palestinians is its Basic Law, which was passed by the Knesset in 2019. The law talks about self-determination as a right exclusively reserved for the Jewish population, describing the Israeli state as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Prior to the approval of the law, Amir Ohana, the head of Knesset’s House Committee, described the discriminatory law as “the law of all laws” in Israel.
“It is the most important law in the history of the State of Israel, which says that everyone has human rights, but national rights in Israel belong only to the Jewish people. That is the founding principle on which the state was established," Ohana said.
The HRW also looked at the Israeli policy of “managing demographic threat that Palestinians pose” by supporting illegal settlements in occupied territories and forcing Palestinians to live in very tightly-controlled enclaves. Israeli state also aims “to separate those enclaves that they [Palestinians] could not have consistency and hold territorial integrity,” says Ahmed.
With recent expulsions of Palestinian families from their centuries-old homes in Sheikh Jarrah, it’s clear that Israel aims to ensure a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem by bringing settlers with extreme right-wing ideologies there.
There are also discriminatory residency laws; they favour Israelis over Palestinians, says Ahmed. Sheikh Jarrah is also a clear example of that policy of favouritism.
‘Systemic nature of discrimination’
The second element of an Apartheid regime refers to the systemic nature of its discriminatory policies. According to the HRW research, that element is also obvious in Israeli conduct, which provides two different sets of laws to Palestinians and Israelis, living in the same territories.
“We looked at the Palestinians living in occupied Palestinian territories, particularly the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are subject to the military law,” says Ahmed, while Israeli settlers living in the same areas “are subject to a completely different law.”
The HRW also looked at the use of freedom of movement from one place to another for both people. There are various restrictions on the movements of Palestinians in occupied territories while Israeli citizens and settlers are allowed to move without much restrictions in the same areas, the HRW found.
In terms of citizenship rights, there is also a huge difference between Israelis and Palestinians. Israeli Jewish people in occupied East Jerusalem have no real legal limitations to have residency “whereas Palestinian people are subject to a number of limitations in terms of their residency rights,” says Ahmed.
“Obviously, we have seen that erupting in Sheikh Jarrah,” she says.
The third element of an Apartheid regime is its constant and severe inhumane acts. Israel is also not short of showing those inhumane acts against Palestinians in the eyes of the world public.
Israel has long exercised massive restrictions of movements and other civil rights over Palestinians. “We have obviously a litany of inhumane acts” committed against Palestinian people by Israel, says Ahmed.
Even after a ceasefire largely enforced by international pressure over Tel Aviv, Israeli police has reportedly continued to harass Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, forcefully dispersing protesters, showing a number of “inhuman acts” generously to prove its Apartheid nature.
In light of these three elements of the Apartheid regime, “Sheikh Jarrah is in fact a very good example of discrimination. It really does highlight it,” Ahmed observes.
“Essentially, Sheikh Jarrah is part of occupied territory. It was annexed unlawfully by Israel, but the annexation is not recognised and it’s still considered to be occupied territory,” Ahmed underlines.
The current land dispute in Sheikh Jarrah is related to the 1948 War. In 1970, after occupying East Jerusalem and other Palestinian territories following the 1967 War, Israelis passed a law which allowed Jewish people who had previously lived in the old quarter, to reinstitute their properties.
But the same law stays silent about Palestinians who were forced to leave West Jerusalem after the 1967 War. According to statistics, prior to 1948, there were 2,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem while 60,000 Palestinians lived in West Jerusalem, experts say.
Following their leave, all Palestinian properties were confiscated by Israeli authorities and transferred to the Absentees’ Property. Under current Israeli law, they have no way of getting their homes back. But the same legal system allows Jews to seek property restitution in East Jerusalem in a clear discriminatory fashion, experts say.
“Now what we have seen in the context of Sheikh Jarrah is not the people who held keys to that property, but essentially syndicates of Israeli people, who are trying now to reclaim those lands,” says Ahmed.
This whole scheme of Israeli settlers’ move to Sheikh Jarrah is “part of the system of depriving Palestinians of land and dealing with a demographic threat,” explains Ahmed. As a result, it’s part of Israeli state policy to have a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem and other areas, according to Ahmed.
“It’s emblematic of the situation for Palestinians and emblematic of the system of Apartheid,” Ahmed concludes.