Displaced Palestinians: Doomed or Damned?
The most recent clashes between Israel and Hamas were prompted by protests in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Since 2008, 13 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have been fighting eviction by settlers in Israeli courts. The situation deteriorated further when Israeli authorities illegally ordered the displacement of 1,500 Palestinians living in Silwan.
Jerusalem is at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel seized control over West Jerusalem after the first Arab-Israel War in 1948 and East Jerusalem after the Six-Day War in 1967 and since then, it has been asserting sovereignty over the entire city, overriding Palestinian claims of East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. This runs against international law, which asserts that East Jerusalem is occupied land and subject to the applicable laws of occupation and believes that its status should be resolved as part of a final Israel-Palestine settlement. Despite this, Israel has been strenuously trying to hold onto the status quo.
Looking back at the Trump administration’s “get-out-of-jail-free card” policy for Israel, it only encouraged Israel to continue its policies regarding Palestinians, thereby expanding settlements. By forcefully evicting Palestinians from East Jerusalem, Israel has been working towards expanding its authority.
Israeli property laws
Israeli land and property laws regulate the treatment of property belonging to Palestinians who left or were forced to flee during the 1948 war. These laws work as the legal means for transferring Palestinian property into the ownership of the State of Israel.
Further, in 1970, Israel enacted legislation which allows Israelis to claim land and property previously owned by Israelis prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
The recent order to displace 1,500 Palestinians from their homes in Silwan is a pure ethnic issue as Israel is targeting Palestinian homes to make way for Israeli parks, homes, and neighbourhoods. According to international law, the Israeli government should not have any presence in East Jerusalem but they are attacking Palestinians and they are using legal gymnastics. The graveness of the issue can be understood by examining legal property rights in Israel which depends on ethnic background, as Israeli land and property laws allow Jewish Israeli citizens to move into homes that Palestinians have fled.
In recent years, these laws have been arbitrarily used to evict Palestinians from their homes. Further, any person who is Jewish irrespective of their nationality can argue they have rights as an Israeli, but the Palestinians, who have been living on their land for generations, don’t have basic property rights. Thus, the legal system which was built to empower Jewish Israelis and clean out Palestinians could be argued to empower Israel to conduct policies which could be characterized as ethnic cleansing.
Israel’s highest court: Protector or punisher?
While Israel is notoriously infamous for its discriminatory laws, meant to suppress Palestinians, the Israeli Supreme Court acts as a puppet in the hands of the Knesset. Instead of being a defender of Palestinian rights, it acts as the Knesset’s accomplice in suppressing Palestinians. The court’s record speaks volumes, exhibiting unequivocally how the Supreme Court consistently rejects petitions filed by Palestinians, while providing a stamp of legal approval to human rights violations, including forcible transfer and blanket impunity to Israeli security forces. The recent 30-day postponement in deciding the displacement of 13 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah is seen as nothing but a delay.
Notwithstanding, the Supreme Court prima facie looks like a mere guardian of the Knesset, but it is impotent on a closer look. The Absentee Law was a product of the state of emergency that was imposed post-war, however, Israel never ended the state of emergency that keeps land and property laws in force.
Hence, the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Israeli Supreme Court to do right by the Palestinians, however arduous the task may seem, it isn’t impossible.
Role of international players
The U.S. has been encouraging Israel by providing it with handsome financial and military aid which is utilised by Israel to suppress Palestinians. Furthermore, Washington prioritised the Israeli-Palestine issue lower on its foreign policy priority list and has “largely failed” to hold Israel accountable for human rights violations against Palestinians. The United States also impedes UN Security Council action, with the U.S. often standing alone in shielding Israel from criticism.
On the other hand, numerous European and other states have developed close ties with Israel, while supporting the failed “peace process,” constructing the limit of the PA, and separating themselves from and at times condemning explicit oppressive Israeli practices in the occupied territories. This methodology limits genuine denials of basic freedoms by regarding them as impermanent indications of the occupation that the “peace process” will before long fix.
This has emboldened states to divert the kind of responsibility that a circumstance of this gravity warrants, permitting politically sanctioned racial segregation to metastasize.
A way forward
Instead of allowing Israel to roll over Palestinian rights with impunity, there should be a joint effort to address Palestinians’ precise abuse and dispossession. To do as such, countries ought to set up an international commission of inquiry, via the UN, to investigate inherent racial discrimination in the occupied territories to ensure that the perpetrators are held to account.
Israel, on the other hand, should cease the unlawful implementation of its home-grown laws and regulations in occupied East Jerusalem and should nullify its draconian property laws. The Knesset should immediately cease its systematic implementation of policies that are designed to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes. Israeli authorities should also cease building settlements and dismantle existing ones and otherwise provide Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with full regard for their human rights as it grants to Israelis.
Concerning Israel’s highest court, there are different ways it could follow. In 2015, the court set a precedent when it permitted a West Bank Palestinian to reclaim his property in Sheik Jarrah and disregarded Jewish claims to that property. It expressed that Israeli officers should abstain from utilizing these laws except in the most extraordinary of conditions. Further, Israel’s Declaration of Independence contains a provision ensuring total fairness of social and political rights for all occupants, regardless of religion, race, or sex. Hence, Israeli courts and justices should live up to those values.
All this finally brings home the idea that the Palestinians aren’t doomed but damned, which can be reversed by the collective efforts of the Knesset, and the Supreme Court of Israel, in tandem with the international community.
Shruti Yadav is a first year law student pursuing a B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) at DR. RML National Law University, Lucknow. Her areas of interest include Constitutional and International Law, human rights, foreign relations and diplomacy. She loves spending her time debating and rest of the time reading to find new material to debate upon.
Vrinda Singh is a first-year law student at Dr Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, and member of Legal Aid Committee, her primary interest lies in the fields of Constitutional and Criminal law.