There are two separate Sheikh Jarrah stories. One is read about and watched on the news, the other receives little media coverage or due analysis.
The obvious story is that of the nightly raids and violence meted out by Israeli police and Jewish extremists against Palestinians in the devastated East Jerusalem neighborhood. For weeks, thousands of Jewish extremists have targeted Palestinian communities in Jerusalem’s Old City. Their objective is the removal of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. They are not acting alone. Their riots and rampages are directed by a well-coordinated leadership composed of Zionist and Jewish extremist groups, such as the Otzma Yehudit party and the Lehava Movement. Their unfounded claims, violent actions and abhorrent chant “Death to the Arabs” are validated by Israeli politicians, including Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir and the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King.
Here is a little taste of the political discourse of Ben-Gvir and King, who were caught on video shouting at and insulting a wounded Palestinian protester. The video starts with MK Ben-Gvir yelling disparagingly at a Palestinian who was apparently wounded by Israeli police, yet returned to protest against the evictions planned for Sheikh Jarrah.
Ben-Gvir is heard shouting, “Abu Hummus, how is your ass?”
“The bullet is still there, that’s why he is limping,” responds Deputy Mayor King, who continues, “Did they take the bullet out of your ass? Did they take it out already? It is a pity it did not go in here.” He points to his head.
Delighted with what they perceive to be a whimsical commentary on the wounding of the Palestinian, the politicians’ entourage of Jewish extremists laugh.
While “Abu Hummus”, wounded yet still protesting, is a testament to the tenacity of the Palestinian people, King, Ben-Gvir, the settlers and the police are a representation of the united Israeli front aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians and imposing a Jewish majority in Jerusalem.
Another important factor in the ongoing Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign in the occupied city is Israel’s court system, which has provided a veneer of legality for the targeting of Palestinian inhabitants of Jerusalem.
The legal basis of the Jewish settlers’ constant attempts to steal more Palestinian properties can be traced back to a specific 1970 law, known as the Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which allowed Jews to sue Palestinians for properties they claim to have owned prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. While Palestinians are excluded from making similar claims about the properties from which they have been driven since 1948 — this is what apartheid looks like – Israeli courts have generously handed Palestinian homes, land and other assets to Jewish claimants. In turn, these homes, as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah and other Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, are often sold to Jewish settler organizations to build yet more colonies on occupied Palestinian land.
In February, the Israeli Supreme Court awarded Jewish settlers the right to have Palestinian homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Following a Palestinian and international backlash, it offered Palestinians a “compromise”, whereby the families relinquish ownership rights to their homes and agree to continue to live there as tenants, paying rents to the same illegal Jewish settlers who have stolen their homes in the first place, but who are now armed with a court judgment.
However, the “logic” through which Jews claim Palestinian properties as their own should not be associated with a few extremist organizations. After all, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 was not the work of a few extreme Zionists. Similarly, the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967 and the massive settlement enterprise that followed was not the brainchild of a few extremist individuals. Colonialism in Israel was, and remains, a state-run project, which ultimately aims to achieve the same objective as that being carried out in Sheikh Jarrah: The ethnic cleansing of Palestine and Palestinians to ensure a Jewish demographic majority.
This is the untold story of Sheikh Jarrah, one that cannot be expressed by a few sound bites on the news or in social media posts. However, this most relevant of narratives is largely hidden. It is easier to blame a few Jewish extremists than to hold the entire Israeli government and establishment accountable. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is constantly manipulating the subject of demographics to advance the interests of his Jewish constituency. He is not only a strong believer in an exclusive Jewish state, but also fully aware of the political influence of Jewish settlers. For example, shortly before the 23 March General Election, Netanyahu gave the green light for the construction of 540 illegal settlement units in the so-called Har-Homa E Area — Mount Abu Ghneim — in the occupied West Bank, in the hope of acquiring as many settler votes as possible.
Hence, while the Sheikh Jarrah story is garnering some attention even in mainstream U.S. media, there is a near-complete absence of any depth and context to the coverage, including the fact that Sheikh Jarrah is not the exception but the norm. Sadly, as Palestinians and their supporters try to circumvent widespread media censorship by reaching out directly to civil societies across the world using social media platforms, they are often censored there, as well.
“Yakub, you know this is not your house,” Muna says outside her home, addressing the settler.
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“Yes, but if I go, you don’t go back,” he replies. “So what’s the problem? Why are you yelling at me? I didn’t do this. I didn’t do this. It’s easy to yell at me, but I didn’t do this.”
“You are stealing my house.”
“And if I don’t steal it, someone else is going to steal it.”
“No. No one is allowed to steal it,” insists Muna.
That, in a nutshell, is the untold story of Sheikh Jarrah and of Jerusalem; in fact, of Palestine. Muna is Palestine, and Yakub is Israel. If Muna is ever going to get justice, she must be allowed to reclaim her stolen home, and Yakub must be held accountable for his crime.
— Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the editor of The Palestine Chronicle