By Ramzy Baroud
A Palestinian man, Atef Yousef Hanaysha, was on Friday killed by Israeli occupation forces during a weekly protest against illegal settlement expansion in Beit Dajan, near Nablus, in the northern West Bank.
Although tragic, this news reads like a routine item from the Occupied Territories, where the shooting and killing of unarmed protesters is part of the daily reality. Ever since right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in September 2019 his intention to formally and illegally annex nearly a third of the West Bank, tensions have remained high.
The killing of Hanaysha is, however, only the tip of the iceberg. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a massive battle is already underway. On one side, Israeli soldiers, army bulldozers and armed settlers are carrying out daily missions of evicting Palestinian families, displacing farmers, burning orchards, demolishing homes and confiscating land. On the other, Palestinian civilians, often disorganized, unprotected and leaderless, are fighting back.
The territorial boundaries of this battle are largely located in East Jerusalem and the so-called “Area C” of the West Bank — nearly 60 percent of the territory’s total size — which is under complete and direct Israeli military control. Nowhere is a better microcosm of this uneven war than the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
On March 10, 14 Palestinian and Arab human rights organizations issued a “joint urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on forced evictions in East Jerusalem” to stop Israeli evictions in the area. Successive decisions by Israeli courts have paved the way for the Israeli army and police to evict 15 Palestinian families — 37 households totaling about 195 people — in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni area of Sheikh Jarrah and Batn Al-Hawa neighborhood in the town of Silwan.
These imminent evictions are not the first, nor will they be the last. Israel occupied East Jerusalem in June 1967 and formally, though illegally, annexed it in 1980. Since then, the Israeli government has vehemently rejected international criticism of the occupation and has instead dubbed Jerusalem as the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel.”
To ensure its annexation of the city is irreversible, the Israeli government in 2000 approved a master plan to rearrange the boundaries of the city in such a way that would ensure a permanent demographic majority of Israeli Jews at the expense of the city’s native inhabitants. The master plan was no more than a blueprint for a state-sponsored ethnic cleansing campaign, which saw the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes and the eviction of numerous families.
The innocent families that are now facing the imminent risk of forced eviction are reliving their ancestors’ nightmare of the Nakba — the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine in 1948.
Two years after the native inhabitants of historic Palestine were dispossessed of their homes and lands and ethnically cleansed, Israel enacted the Absentee Property Law of 1950. The law, which has no international legal or moral validity, simply granted the properties of Palestinians who were evicted or fled the war to the state. Since those “absentee” Palestinians were not allowed to exercise their right of return, as stipulated by international law, the Israeli legislation was state-sanctioned wholesale theft. It was aimed at achieving two objectives: Ensuring Palestinian refugees do not return or attempt to claim their stolen properties in Palestine, and giving Israel legal cover for permanently confiscating Palestinian lands and homes.
The military occupation of the remainder of historic Palestine in 1967 necessitated, from an Israeli colonial perspective, the creation of fresh laws that would allow the state and the illegal settlement enterprise to claim yet more Palestinian properties. This took place in 1970 with the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which ensured that only Israeli Jews were allowed to claim lost land and property in Palestinian areas.
Many of the evictions in East Jerusalem take place within the context of these three interconnected legal arguments: The Absentee Property Law, the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, and the 2000 master plan.
Taken together, one is easily able to decipher the nature of the Israeli colonial scheme in East Jerusalem, where Israeli individuals, in coordination with settler organizations, work together to fulfill the vision of the state.
In their joint appeal this month, the Palestinian human rights organizations describe the flow of how eviction orders issued by Israeli courts culminate with the construction of illegal Jewish settlements. Confiscated Palestinian properties are usually transferred to a branch of the Israeli Ministry of Justice called the Israeli Custodian General, which holds on to the properties until they are claimed by Israeli Jews, in accordance with the 1970 law. Once Israeli courts honor these individuals’ legal claims to the confiscated Palestinian lands, they often transfer their ownership or management rights to settler organizations. In no time, the settlers utilize the newly acquired properties to expand existing settlements or to start new ones.
While the Israeli state claims to play an impartial role in this scheme, it is actually the facilitator of the entire process. The final outcome is a predictable scene, in which an Israeli flag is triumphantly hoisted over a Palestinian home and a Palestinian family is assigned a UN-supplied tent and a few blankets.
While this picture can be dismissed by some as a routine, common occurrence, the situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has become extremely volatile. Palestinians feel they have nothing more to lose and Netanyahu’s government is more emboldened than ever. The killing of Hanaysha, and others like him, is only the beginning of an imminent, widespread confrontation.