Sheikh Jarrah & the settlers’ court

By Louis Frankenthaler

Israel’s High Court of Justice recently issued a ruling that could lead to the expulsion of  dozens of families from the East Jerusalem Palestinian area of Sheikh Jarrah.  This is a section of Occupied East Jerusalem that has gained increased attention over the past year as Israeli settler organizations, supported by Israeli courts, have made ownership claims over pre-1948 properties in which Jews lived but which are now inhabited by Palestinians.

The courts have accepted these claims and the result is that Israel’s government, the Jerusalem municipality and settler organizations expel Palestinian men, women and children from their homes so that Israeli civilians can take over these properties and set up house.  This injustice is compounded when we realize that Palestinian cannot make similar claims over properties they lost in 1948 or in 1967 in what is now West Jerusalem; nor can they get justice for the families who continue to be expelled from their homes in East Jerusalem – in blatant violation of international humanitarian law..  This is the story of the occupation and it is the story of Israel’s Supreme Court, which sits as the High Court of Justice, and its consistent support of settler claims over those of Palestinian civilians.

In response to the injustice in Sheikh Jarrah as elsewhere in occupied Palestinian territories, Israeli, international and Palestinian activists have taken up the struggle through regular demonstrations and other actions to interrupt the normal flow of the occupation.  These non-violent efforts are often met with violence from Israeli security forces.  The weekly demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah are examples of democratic and human rights based activism against the cooption of the police, the courts, the army, politicians and so many others the into the structural and physical violence of the occupation. Sheikh Jarrah is one small pocket of this system but it is also a pocket of resistance, sometimes subtle and sometimes more effervescent but always an expression of an enduring struggle to change the way that the hegemonic forces of injustice operate.

For too long the Israeli take-over of East Jerusalem, the building of settlements in the middle of Palestinian communal life has continued with Israeli public acquiescence and silence. Activists and the human rights community are now left to fight for democracy against the far Right, who prefer the oppression of the occupation to a just and democratic city at peace.

Israel is a society that has reached a dangerous level of moral and political bankruptcy. Israel’s leadership, in a disturbing reincarnation of manifest destiny, defends settlements and maintains its perceived metaphysical right to colonize at will while damning any chance of peace to a slow and festering death.  Israel continues to descend dangerously into ultra nationalist de-democracy led by an extreme right wing government. There is little optimism left except in those pockets of resistance that wave the flag of democracy and human rights instead of the flags of nationalism and violence.

Sheikh Jarrah, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, should  not be a battleground. Yet the Israeli courts and Israeli officialdom grease the hands of extremism.  In Sheikh Jarrah a new paradigm led by Jews and Palestinians who “refuse to be enemies” is being realized. It is the paradigm of level headed, patient and just struggle by people who have moved beyond co-existence to mutually-assured-existence. It is a paradigmatic struggle that will infiltrate and subvert the forces of occupation and denial of basic human rights that Israel’s Supreme Court recently allowed.

Louis Frankenthaler is a PhD candidate and activist who works for The Public Committee Against Torture. He lives with his family in West Jerusalem.