Sheikh Jarrah is Israel’s Self-Destruct Button
Shir Hever

The Israeli colonial system is losing its lustre and legitimacy amid fresh evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, but violence spreads quickly beyond Jerusalem.

The struggle in Sheikh Jarrah is over a decade long, and is fought on many levels – legal, political and in the media. The story of a well-organised group of Jewish Israeli colonists who wish to dispossess Palestinian families of their homes is not unique to Sheikh Jarrah. It has happened thousands of times, since the Zionist movement started the colonisation of Palestine in the late 19th-century.

It’s not the location of Sheikh Jarrah, so close to the Old City of Jerusalem, that makes it a special case. Nor is it the timing, during the holy month of Ramadan or the brutality of the annual “Jerusalem Day” celebration of the conquest of 1967, carried out by extremists drunk on nationalism on 10 May. What makes Sheikh Jarrah stand out is that it exposes the international contradictions in the Israeli strategy of domination, and lays bare how vulnerable Israeli apartheid has become.

It started with the argument made by the colonists in the Israeli court. They contended that some of the houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood were owned by Jews before the 1948 war, so the colonists have a claim to that property. I participated in the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah against the evictions back in 2009 to 2010, but I felt uncomfortable there. Many of the fellow protestors, Jewish Israelis like myself, were not there out of respect for Palestinian rights to their homes, but because they were afraid that if the court recognises the colonists’ demands to regain the property from before the war (which it did), millions of Palestinian refugees would have a strong claim to their homes inside Israel, which had been taken over by the Israeli authorities after the war. The demonstrators spoke with two voices. Some called the ethnic cleansing of Sheikh Jarrah an atrocity, others called it stupidity.

The Israeli colonial system is losing its lustre and international legitimacy. Support from former US President Donald Trump made Israelis euphoric and created a sense of invulnerability. The Palestinian resistance movement was ridiculed and the minister that was assigned to fight the boycott movement against Israel was fired. Nevertheless, the protests at the Al-Aqsa Mosque that came in the summer of 2017 proved to Palestinians that stubborn and dedicated resistance can break the resolve of the Israeli authorities. The Israeli authorities devolved into squabbles over how best to preserve their honour and not show any weakness in the eyes of the restless natives. The secret police warned that security cameras and metal detectors installed at the entrance to the mosque would trigger protests that would spiral out of control, but the government was trapped in its own machismo, demanding repeatedly that Palestinians must be taught a lesson. Eventually, they surrendered and removed the cameras and metal detectors. Palestinians knew that it will end like this, but the Israelis acted impulsively and predictably.

This year, both the largest Israeli human rights organisation B’tselem, and the international organisation Human Rights Watch, published landmark reports about the Israeli apartheid system. Illusions of Israeli democracy were further shattered when the Palestinian Authority was denied the right to hold elections in East Jerusalem, in violation of the Oslo Agreements, and President Abbas decided to cancel the elections altogether. In a country of 14 million people, only two-thirds of citizens have the right to vote and only half are Jewish with full citizen and national rights. Palestinians know, just as Black South Africans under apartheid knew, that there is no path for them to take to fight for their rights within an apartheid system. They have no choice but to shatter the existing structure and build a new democratic system to replace it.

On 11 May, Haaretz journalist Yossi Melman quoted the famous book by historian Barbara Tuchman, The March of Folly. As an expert on Israeli intelligence, he lamented the irrationality and hubris which drives the Israeli authorities to self-destruction. Why provoke a religious conflict in Jerusalem during Ramadan? Why allow far-right thugs to run amok in Jerusalem shouting “death to Arabs”? Why unleash the police at the holy Haram al-Sharif?

Violence spreads quickly beyond Jerusalem. Israeli forces are spread thin to crush the resistance from Gaza, which took the Israelis by surprise. The methods are the same ones which were tried countless times before: collective punishment, indiscriminate bombing of civilian neighbourhoods and wholesale killing of defenceless people. It didn’t work in the past and it is not working now. It’s not just Jerusalem and Gaza though. Palestinians everywhere feel outrage at the ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the Israeli security forces are not trained or equipped to deal with a large-scale uprising. They count on Palestinians remaining cowed and afraid.

Do Israelis know how fragile their system of privileges has become? At least one Israeli does – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He receives regular reports from a network of Israeli intelligence organisations and can tell the difference between rational strategy to prolong Israeli colonialism and populist acts of vengeance. At the moment, Netanyahu tries to prevent his political opponents from forming a coalition so it’s in his interest to create a security crisis and keep his seat during the state of emergency. He knows how to create the spark that will set-off the powder keg and no one can stop him.

In 2002, Netanyahu’s wife Sarah was recorded saying that Israel cannot survive without her husband. But if he can’t be prime minister, she and he will leave. “The country can burn, as far as I’m concerned,” she added. Indeed, it is burning now.


Photo Credit: Cms-archiv / Pixabay 
Shir Hever

Shir Hever

Dr. Shir Hever is a graduate of the Free University of Berlin. He is an independent scholar and journalist, and a board member of the Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East. His most recent book is The Privatization of Israeli Security, by Pluto Press, 2017.

More from us