East Jerusalem and Protest

Submitted by AWL on 18 May, 2021 - 5:51 Author: Martin Thomas
East Jerusalem

On Tuesday 18 May there was a Palestinian general strike across Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

Since the bombs and rockets started, some Palestinian mobilisation in Israel has been turned to reactionary mirror-images of the Jewish-chauvinist outrages, with attacks on synagogues. But also there, dominant before, and with chances of being dominant in future, is mobilisation for democratic rights, jointly with Jewish protesters.

There have been Jewish-Arab protests against evictions or threats of eviction in the Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah for many years, and with increasing tempo in the weeks before the rockets and bombs.

Sheikh Jarrah is a district of East Jerusalem near the Old City in which many Arab grandees built their houses in the 19th century. Some of those houses are now luxury hotels or the like.

Within the district is an area around the ancient Jewish tomb of Shimon haTzadik. That land was bought by Jewish rabbis in 1876, and they built some houses in it (before Zionist colonisation as such started).

Jerusalem was a Jewish-majority city from the early 20th century. In the 1948 war which established Israel, Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from many areas won by the Jewish forces. There were smaller areas won by Arab armies where Jews fled or were expelled, including East Jerusalem.

The Jordanian government’s “Custodian of Absentee Property” took over the area round the tomb, and housed Palestinian refugees there.

In the 1967 war Israel took East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli government immediately annexed East Jerusalem to Israel, but not the West Bank. The Palestinian population of East Jerusalem were not granted Israeli citizenship, unlike the 20% or so Arab minority in pre-1967 Israel. Their status is “permanent residents”, with access to public services (in fact poorer than in West Jerusalem) and only municipal voting rights. They can apply for Israeli citizenship, but few do, and fewer are accepted.

From the start there were channels for Jews to “reclaim” East Jerusalem properties lost in 1948, yet none for Palestinians to “reclaim” West Jerusalem properties lost then. Israeli authorities were cautious about reclamations.

In 1972, two Jewish religious trusts bought the tomb area. In 1982 they started attempts to evict the Palestinian tenants from the houses. The bemused tenants accepted an out-of-court agreement which recognised the trusts’ ownership but “protected” their tenancies.

Formally, the moves for eviction since then have been on grounds of the tenants breaching the agreement, by building additions or such. In 2003, the land was bought by a Jewish-settler organisation, Nahalat Shimon, headquartered in the USA.

Families were evicted in 1999, 2008, and 2009. Some 13 families now face immediate threat of eviction. Court hearings have been postponed.

The background here is a growth of the chauvinist far right in Israeli Jewish society. Avigdor Lieberman, one of the leaders of the anti-Netanyahu opposition in Israeli politics, and by no means the most right-wing of them, has long advocated forcible transfer of Arab-majority of northern Israel to a (hypothetical) Palestinian state and making “loyalty oath” a condition of citizenship for remaining Arabs. Further-right politicians talk crudely of expelling Arabs.

There was quick Jewish settlement (by new-build) in East Jerusalem after 1967, and by the early 1990s East Jerusalem was almost half-Jewish. Since then the Palestinian majority in East Jerusalem has increased, and the Jewish-Arab proportion in Jerusalem is now little different from what it was in the 1920s.

Jewish settlements have been built round the hinterland of East Jerusalem, cutting it off from the West Bank, and threatening the Palestinian aspiration to an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. East Jerusalem Palestinians have also suffered from the building of the “Separation Wall”, which cuts through East Jerusalem and puts many of them on the wrong side of checkpoints.

75% of the East Jerusalem Palestinians live under the official poverty line, reliant on work in construction, trade, and education. Jerusalem’s Jewish population is also poorer than the Israeli average (29% under the poverty line): 34% of it, much more than in any other Israeli city, is ultra-Orthodox.

Palestinians from Israel proper have joined protests in Sheikh Jarrah and become more assertive in recent years.

Netanyahu’s policy has been to try to “manage” the Palestinian population of Israeli by economic concessions while blocking Palestinian national rights. Many more Palestinians get to Israeli universities, for example. Those changes have not reconciled Palestinians to inequalities, but rather increased their will to act against injustice and indignities.

• More on reshaping Israel

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