In his recent visit to the UK the US President Mr. Donald Trump was received with a huge London protest organised by a number of organisations and activists. London’s protesters criticised Trump’s racist remarks, his policies against refugees and migrants and many other human rights problems he has caused in the US and abroad.
The Palestinian people have been one of the victims of US foreign policy over the past decades, but Trump has made it significantly worse. The US has been the main broker of the “peace process” in the Middle East, but unfortunately it has worked hard to maintain Israel’s regime of occupation, colonisation and apartheid against any justice demands by the Palestinians. Trump’s administration introduced a new reality, in which the US even stopped pretending to be a peace broker. Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem two months ago presents the most important symbolic step expressing this reality.
The embassy move presents an outrageous deviation from a long-standing and almost unanimous UN position. Since the UN intervened in the Palestinian cause in 1947 by recommending through a General Assembly resolution to partition Palestine into two states and assign Jerusalem a “corpus saparatum” administered by the UN, the international community has consistently refrained from recognising Israeli sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem. After Israel’s occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza in 1967, and its annexation of East Jerusalem, the UN General Assembly and Security Council confirmed on several occasions that Israel’s measures to change the status of Jerusalem from an occupied territory to become part of Israel are illegal. When Israel issued a declaratory law in 1980 according to which it announced that Jerusalem was its unified and eternal capital, the UN Security Council resolution 478 expressed that the Israeli legislation was contrary to international law, and was hence, null and void. It confirmed that Jerusalem was occupied, and decided to call upon all states that had “established diplomatic missions in Jerusalem to withdraw” them.
Despite the UN’s consistent position to refrain from recognising Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, Israel has developed a special regime in the holy city that has inflicted serious harm to the population living therein. Since the day Israel was established, its regime focused on controlling the demographic balance in Jerusalem to maintain a Jewish majority in the city. While this regime is not unique to Jerusalem, since the Israeli army and state institutions have applied several measures over the whole territory of historic Palestine, these measures have been intense in Jerusalem and have affected its Palestinian population severely.
Back in 1948 when Israel was first established in the aftermath of the UK’s decision to end its mandate and the eruption of a war between settler Jewish militias, Palestinian militant groups, and a number of Arab armies, Israel occupied the western part of the city and totally depopulated it from its Palestinian inhabitants. Since that day, those who were displaced from that part of the city and their decedents have not been allowed to return or reclaim their homes.
In 1967, Israel occupied the eastern part of the city and also managed to displace a significant number of its population during and immediately after the war. However, Israel did not suffice with these displacements, but rather developed regulatory measures that limited the Palestinians’ right to live in Jerusalem.
While Israel annexed the land in Jerusalem, it did not annex the population. Soon after the annexation, the occupying power decided to consider the Palestinians living in Jerusalem, most of who are decedents of families that had lived in Jerusalem for centuries, permanent residents. They excluded all those who happened to be abroad when the war erupted and never allowed most of them to return to their home. From its point of view, these were mere foreigners. The permanent residency status that those who stayed were given was one that can be revoked. Over the past few decades the Israeli state institutions, most importantly the ministry of interior and the Supreme Court, have developed the revocation regime to make it more difficult for Palestinians to protect their right to live in Jerusalem. The majority of the victims of this policy have been Palestinians who live outside the areas that Israel considers part of its sovereign territory which includes not only foreign countries, but also the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Furthermore, Israel has limited the right of Palestinian Jerusalemites to register their newborn children as residents, effectively revoking their right to live in Jerusalem, and also limited the right of Jerusalemite families with a member from the West Bank or Gaza Strip, as well as four other countries, to acquire the residency status that would allow such spouses to live in Jerusalem. All these restrictions are limiting the number of Palestinians living in the city.
In addition to all of that, the Israeli Jerusalem municipality has been actively demolishing Palestinian houses based on several justifications. The main justification is that these houses were built without a permit, which is almost impossible to get in many cases because of the discriminatory way Israel zoned Jerusalem after the occupation. Another shameful justification for home demolitions, which has been approved by Israel’s Supreme Court, is “punitive home demolition,” which is a measure taken to punish innocent family members of a person who is accused or convicted of carrying out an attack against Israelis. What makes this collective punishment even worse is that Israel uses it even when the alleged attacker had been killed or imprisoned by the Israeli authorities.
While this is how Palestinians are treated in Jerusalem, Israel is continuously building new colonial Jewish settlements to increase the number of Jews living in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.
These measures are only part of the complicated regimes under which Palestinians in Jerusalem live. Despite all the criticism that this regime has received from local and international human rights organisations, and in spite of the UN’s consistent condemnation of this regime, the unconditional support Israel receives from the world’s powerful countries, most importantly the US, has emboldened Israel to continue with its colonial agenda. The US embassy move to Jerusalem will only be seen as a reward to Israel for refraining to abide by international law. Most human rights professionals, including the current author, believe that this will only embolden Israel to continue to colonise Jerusalem and to upgrade the persecution of its Palestinian population.
Unfortunately, even when Trump leaves office, it is not foreseeable that a future US president will reverse any of his interventions in the Palestinian-Israeli issue. This is because the Zionist lobby in the US is very powerful and will most probably manage to block such actions. This leaves the burden of brokering a peaceful and just end of the conflict to other players who must, as a first step, take action to bring about an end of the persecution regime that Palestinians in Jerusalem face.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.