In 25 June 2020, BBC reported that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could annex parts of the occupied West Bank that summer, along with Donald Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. The news station predicted a “hot-summer of boiling tension” as much of the global community looked on with growing concern over what they saw as a clear violation of international law. While the warnings didn’t boil down to Summer 2020, it could be well true for Summer 2021.
With an Israeli appellate court order, 8 Palestinian families who have lived there for generations in Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem – a part of the West Bank, were forced to be evicted by May 02. The Palestinians live in houses built on Israeli-occupied land claimed by Jewish settlers that courts have ruled were owned by Jewish religious associations before the establishment of Israel 1948.
In the following days, Israeli government implemented the court decision, and was met with resistance by residents and protesters which led to physical violence between civilians and forces. The aggression in the area sky-rocketed with Israeli police’s deployment at Temple Mount on May 7. The Temple Mount is considered holy by both Muslims and Jews. The site contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third holiest site in Islam — and is revered by Jews as their holiest site, where both biblical Temples stood.
Thousands of Palestinian worshippers packed into the mosque on the final Friday of Ramadan, and many stayed on to protest in support of Palestinians facing eviction. Al-Jazeera reported that Israeli security forces on horseback and in riot gear deployed stun grenades and water cannon against Palestinian youth who threw stones, lit fires and tore down police barricades in the streets leading to the walled Old City gates. Majority of civilians undertook severe injuries, while policemen were slightly injured as well.
Palestinian Authority – President Mahmoud Abbas – condemned Israel after the clashes at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and the tension continues today on Jerusalem Day – Israel’s annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places. Defense minister of Israel has reportedly called for police to alter annual parade by nationalists, so that it avoids flashpoint Old City areas, in bid to avert further clashes with Palestinians.
(Photo Courtesy: Times of Israel – Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount compound on Jerusalem Day, May 10, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
The West Bank – which has always been controversial in nature – is a chunk of land located on the west bank of the River Jordan and bounded by Israel to the north, west and south and by Jordan to the east. This has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, but decades of difficult on-off talks between Israel and the Palestinians – both of whom assert rights there – have left its final status unresolved.
According to BBC, between 2.1 million and 3 million (sources vary) Palestinian Arabs live in the West Bank under both limited self-rule and Israeli military rule. And the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) is also home to some 430,000 Israeli Jews who live in 132 settlements (and 124 smaller “outposts”) built under Israel’s occupation. The vast majority of the international community considers the settlements illegal under international law.
When Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan was outed, the Palestinian leadership, along with almost 50 experts appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, said it would formalize a system of “apartheid” in the West Bank – where two societies ruled by one state in the same space with unequal rights. In practice, Israeli laws already apply to settlers, though not to Palestinians, who are subject only to Israeli military orders and Palestinian laws, so there would be little noticeable change in that respect.
Some Israeli opposition figures from Jewish majority parties viewed the plan as a nightmare, being carried out carelessly. They see little gain from unilateral annexation, while leaving Israel’s global image tarnished. Israel had also been pre-warned by friend and foe alike, not to go ahead with annexation. The UN’s Middle East envoy warned in June 2020, that Israeli annexation and Palestinian counter-steps “would dramatically shift local dynamics and most likely trigger conflict and instability in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip” which is evidently happening as of now.
The four members of the Middle East Quartet – the US, Russia, the EU and the UN – have expressed “deep concern” over the violence in Jerusalem recently. The UN’s human rights office (OHCHR), on Friday, called on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, as well as to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security there, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law. The OHCHR spokesperson also said that forced evictions could violate the rights to adequate housing and to privacy and other human rights of those who are evicted.
While the forthcoming situation is yet foggy, the Supreme Court of Israel held a hearing yesterday and justices granted attorney general’s request to postpone today’s hearing on pending removal, after an appeal by the exposed families. A new hearing date will be determined within the next 30 days. In the meantime, until further notice, the court order approved by appellate court will not be carried forward.