Last May, Jerusalem’s District Court ruled that at least six Palestinian families would have to vacate their homes in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
The forced expulsion of Palestinian families in favour of Israeli settlers is nothing new, and like many others, this attempt was met with resistance. Protests erupted in the area, led in part by twin activists and Sheikh Jarrah residents Mohammed and Muna El-Kurd. Not long after, demonstrations were taking place across Jerusalem and in more than 20 cities, including in the occupied Palestinian territories and in the Gaza Strip.
Mounting tensions peaked with an Israeli military assault on the Gaza enclave, which left 260 Palestinians dead—66 of them children. Residents in more than 150 cities worldwide took to the streets to show their solidarity with Palestine, an estimated 200,000 marching in London alone.
When the ceasefire came into effect, though, the issue that had fuelled the initial unrest remained unsolved. In August, it fell to the Supreme Court of Israel to decide the outcome of what the Israeli authorities maintain is a real estate dispute.
A final verdict was deferred, but the court suggested a ‘compromise’: Palestinian residents would pay an annual fee of 1,500NIS (£335) to the Nahalat Shimon company, a settler organisation that lower courts had declared the rightful owners of the disputed properties, to remain in their home as tenants with ‘protected status’. In other words, Palestinian residents would be putting money into the pockets of the settlers usurping their land.
Months on, this week has seen Sheikh Jarrah once again making headlines as Israel makes another forcible expulsion.
Israeli police stormed the home of the Salhiya family in the East Jerusalem district on Monday, ordering them to evacuate their property. Family members refused and barricaded themselves on the roof with gas canisters, with some media outlets reporting that Mahmoud Salhiya threatened to set himself and his home alight if the order was carried out. The family have been facing eviction since 2017, when the land on which their home sits was allocated for the construction of a school.
In response to the resistance, Israeli forces erected metal barriers along the road overlooking the Salhiya home, blocking the street. Activists, journalists, and UN workers were barred from entering the area, and Instagram reportedly blocked Muna El-Kurd from live-streaming the attempted eviction to her 1.6 million followers.
Though Israeli forces backed down on Tuesday afternoon, it was only delaying the inevitable. Early the following day, hundreds of Israeli police officers violently evicted the Salhiya family into the cold and the rain. Yasmin Salhiya said that some of the family had been assaulted, including her nine-year-old sister. Other Sheikh Jarrah residents present said police used rubber bullets and detained about 25 people, including five members of the family.
The Salhiya home was demolished.
The Ongoing Nakba
The Nakba, an Arabic word meaning ‘catastrophe’, is associated with the formation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the violence that occurred in the run-up, which saw 750,000 people made refugees, hundreds of villages destroyed, and thousands killed.
But the violent dispossession of land and near-total destruction of Palestinian society is not confined to 1948. It has been the modus operandi of successive Israeli governments and remains the cause of the ongoing Palestinian struggle in the face of colonial domination. And although Sheikh Jarrah has become a particular flashpoint, the evictions taking place there are just one strand of the brutality Palestinians still suffer at the hands of Israel’s settler colonial project.
In fact, while the struggle for Sheikh Jarrah raged this week, Palestinians in the Naqab (Negev Desert) were protesting a forestation campaign by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) threatening the livelihood of the Bedouin communities who have long cultivated the fertile al-Naqe area. Since December, the JNF has been razing Palestinian land and uprooting trees belonging to these communities, which protesters say is yet another effort in a sustained campaign by the state to dispossess them of their land.
In characteristic style, these destructive efforts have received the full support of the Israeli authorities. Dozens of officers, military vehicles, dogs, and horse units have been deployed to crush the protests and protect the JNF’s workers and bulldozers.
And where Israeli authorities are not actively engaging in violence and land theft, they legitimise and enable it. Settler violence in the occupied territories has dramatically risen in the last two years: in the first half of 2021, 416 anti-Palestinian incidents were reported—more than double the figure for the first half of 2020, and more than all of 2019. In 66 percent of cases of settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli forces did not go to the scene. When they did, they often chose not to intervene or actively joined in.
The violence in which state forces casually engage has been epitomised most recently by the recent death of Suleiman al-Hathaleen, also known as Haj Suleiman. The 75-year-old veteran anti-occupation activist succumbed on Monday to wounds sustained to his skull, spine, ribs, and hips when an Israeli police tow truck ran him over two weeks ago. Suleiman had witnessed the confiscation of his family’s land in 1981, which was then given to settlers.
Suleiman’s murder is not an anomaly—it is a familiar tale, and there are likely to be no lessons learned from his death. He is reportedly the fifth Palestinian to be killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers since the beginning of this year.
Whether it’s the illegal confiscation of land or the relentless settler violence that Palestinians have to deal with, the strategic objective on the behalf of the Israeli state remains unambiguous. With the Salhiya family left homeless and tensions in Sheikh Jarrah once again flaring, many are wondering how much more it will take before the world calls this assault what it is: the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.