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The agony of Palestinian dispossession

Civil society activists hold placards and march as they take part in a demonstration in support of Palestine during an anti-Israel protest rally in Islamabad on 20 May 2021. [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images]
Civil society activists hold placards and march as they take part in a demonstration in support of Palestine during an anti-Israel protest rally in Islamabad on 20 May 2021. [AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images]

What basically led to the latest Israeli military offensive against the Gaza Strip is very simple: the ongoing Israeli policy to grab as much land in Palestine as possible; it's a decades-old policy that has been unstoppable. This policy is a tool for Israeli expansionism, which produces more displaced Palestinians on an almost daily basis. On this occasion, as often in the past, it is embedded in the illusion that successive Israeli governments, regardless of their political leanings to the left or right, are simple and innocent administrations upholding the law in a fair and impartial manner. This is another way of saying that Israel, by reinforcing the rule of law, is indeed sticking to democratic principles like any other democracy. Which it isn't.

It should not be forgotten that one of the main drivers of the current aggression against Gaza was the planned eviction — ethnic cleansing — of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a suburb of occupied Jerusalem. Their homes are intended to be handed over to illegal settlers, who are the foot soldiers of the land-grab policy. All of this is carefully camouflaged by misleading claims that justice is being delivered through an independent and fair judicial system.

The international community, particularly the United States and Europe, tend to back off from commenting on such court rulings on the assumption that the Israeli judiciary operates independently and judgements must be respected. Legal challenges, they insist, should take place within the same system. That assumption fails to pass close scrutiny.

As time goes by most rulings of the Israeli courts become routine, and are never to be discussed again. This has happened again and again, and the latest court battle over Sheikh Jarrah is no exception. A group of settlers, encouraged and protected by the Israeli government, claimed ownership of Palestinian homes, took the case to court and won. After losing such court battles the Palestinian families usually end up on the streets. The Dajani family is a prime example. It has been embroiled in legal battles in the courts for decades trying to hold on to the home in which they have lived since the 1950s, long before Israel occupied the area in 1967. They have lost the fight and have been ordered to leave by 1 August.

READ: The struggle for our rights in Palestine must continue until the occupation ends

Emboldened by this victory, the settlers moved to help others lay claims to more homes in the neighbourhood. The same pattern has been repeated since the 1970s, and the victims are always the same: the Palestinians, for whom a legal victory is extremely rare. Keep in mind that under international law Israel is the occupying power in Sheikh Jarrah, and its courts have no jurisdiction over the Palestinians in the occupied territory, and no legal sovereignty over the land itself. Court judgements, therefore, are invalid.

Israeli police support Israeli settlers in their theft of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem

Israeli police support Israeli settlers in their theft of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The Israeli legal system is an apartheid-style code favouring Jews, even when they are recent immigrants from other countries with no connection to Palestine whatsoever. Nevertheless, the unjust and actually illegal judgements are always passed, providing a legal veneer that enables more land to be taken from its rightful owners, the people of occupied Palestine. Anything land-related faces similar "legal" difficulties. It is almost impossible, for example, for Palestinian citizens to obtain building licences, which forces them to build or extend their homes without permission from the illegal authorities occupying the land. The same Israeli occupation authorities then order the owners to demolish the buildings themselves, or pay Israel to do the job on their behalf. Such demolitions are always backed by a court order, from a judiciary which has no legal jurisdiction in the area.

Moreover, a demolition order can also be accompanied by the withdrawal of the residency permit "granted" by the occupation authorities to the Palestinians born and raised in Jerusalem. This is how the courts — the courts with no actual jurisdiction — are used to accelerate Israel's Judaisation of the city through enforced demographic change; it's yet more ethnic cleansing.

It's a similar story with public land and spaces. The land is confiscated by Israel on the pretext of "national security", "public benefit" or "disputed ownership". Either way, the indigenous Palestinians always lose out.

Israel and its lobbies in capitals around the world have pushed this fake narrative so successfully that western decision-makers in particular accept it without question. In their eyes, Israel is indeed a democracy applying the rule of law equally to all of its citizens. The flaws overlooked by Washington, London, Berlin and Paris are that Palestinian citizens of Israel are discriminated against at every level, and laws are enshrined to enforce this; and the Palestinians under occupation are subject to a military regime — the bizarrely-named "civil administration" — and are not citizens at all. The international laws and conventions that should protect them are brushed aside as irrelevant.

READ: Egypt will never be an honest broker for Palestine until facts really change on the ground

In reality, therefore, the entire Israeli legal system, all the way to the Supreme Court, is a sham, because it disregards the fundamental fact that Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are legally and practically occupied territory. Any legal system which operates as if this not the case is fatally flawed, and fundamentally discriminatory, and thus deserving of no respect.

The people of occupied Palestine, not least those in Sheikh Jarrah (the situation of which is not an exception, it is the norm), have no other recourse than to the system that is basically corrupt and complicit in their predicament in the first place. What other option do they have other than to take to the streets in protest? Faced with such protests recently (put down with great brutality by the Israeli police), Israel's Supreme Court postponed its decision on the evictions, but it is only delaying what seems to be inevitable.

The situation in Sheikh Jarrah is a reminder that unless the world takes a strong stand, over and above the usual bland condemnations, the cycle of ethnic cleansing will be repeated. Israel wants, at the very least, a 70:30 ratio of Jews and Palestinian Arabs in the neighbourhood, so the latter will continue to face the apartheid courts until it is achieved. Palestinian dispossession will continue until Israel is made to understand that its ethnic cleansing of Palestine carries with it a cost to the apartheid state. If that doesn't happen, then the prospects for long-term peace and justice are remote.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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