11 May 2021   Leave a comment

There has been a sharp escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. The conflict is rooted in passionately held views over the control of territory in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The immediate cause of the current violence stems from an attempt by Israel to evict Palestinians from the homes in East Jerusalem in a neighborhood known as Sheikh Jarrah. There are 7 Palestinian families who have lived in those homes since the 1960s but the Israelis claim that the home was previously owned by Israeli Jews. Those Jewish families lost their homes when the state of Israel was created in 1948 and the United Nations declared that the city of Jerusalem would be under international control:

“With the increase in violence in 1947 and the all-out war between the two communities in 1948, which
was joined by the neighbouring Arab States, Jerusalem was placed at the heart of the conflict and its
control became an essential goal of the fighting parties. In an attempt to find a permanent solution, the
United Nations adopted in 1947 the Partition Plan for Palestine which, while dividing the country into
Arab and Jewish States, retained the unity of Jerusalem by providing for an international regime under
United Nations control.”

That plan was never fully implemented and Jerusalem was divided into West Jerusalem under Israeli control and East Jerusalem under the control of Jordan. The division collapsed after Israel took control of all of Jerusalem in the 1967 war. The world, however, did not recognize Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem until US President Trump moved the US Embassy into Jerusalem in 2017. Even now, however, most of the world recognizes East Jerusalem as Occupied Territory subject to the rules of the 1907 Hague Convention and the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The International Committee of the Red Cross outlines the responsibilities of the Occupying Power:

“The duties of the occupying power are spelled out primarily in the 1907 Hague Regulations (arts 42-56) and the Fourth Geneva Convention (GC IV, art. 27-34 and 47-78), as well as in certain provisions of Additional Protocol I and customary international humanitarian law.

“Agreements concluded between the occupying power and the local authorities cannot deprive the population of occupied territory of the protection afforded by international humanitarian law (GC IV, art. 47) and protected persons themselves can in no circumstances renounce their rights (GC IV, art. 8).

“The main rules of the law applicable in case of occupation state that:

  • The occupant does not acquire sovereignty over the territory.
  • Occupation is only a temporary situation, and the rights of the occupant are limited to the extent of that period.
  • The occupying power must respect the laws in force in the occupied territory, unless they constitute a threat to its security or an obstacle to the application of the international law of occupation.
  • The occupying power must take measures to restore and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety.
  • To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards, as well as the provision of food and medical care to the population under occupation.
  • The population in occupied territory cannot be forced to enlist in the occupier’s armed forces.
  • Collective or individual forcible transfers of population from and within the occupied territory are prohibited.
  • Transfers of the civilian population of the occupying power into the occupied territory, regardless whether forcible or voluntary, are prohibited.
  • Collective punishment is prohibited.
  • The taking of hostages is prohibited.
  • Reprisals against protected persons or their property are prohibited.
  • The confiscation of private property by the occupant is prohibited.
  • The destruction or seizure of enemy property is prohibited, unless absolutely required by military necessity during the conduct of hostilities.
  • Cultural property must be respected.
  • People accused of criminal offences shall be provided with proceedings respecting internationally recognized judicial guarantees (for example, they must be informed of the reason for their arrest, charg ed with a specific offence and given a fair trial as quickly as possible).
  • Personnel of the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement must be allowed to carry out their humanitarian activities. The ICRC, in particular, must be given access to all protected persons, wherever they are, whether or not they are deprived of their liberty.

Most importantly, the Hague and Geneva Conventions prohibit the confiscation of private property. The controversy over the evictions is complicated by the inequities in Israeli law, as explained by The Economist:

“The land on which their homes sit was owned by Jews before Jordan occupied the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1948. Jordan used it to resettle Palestinian refugees from the western part of the city, which had been taken by Israel. Under Israeli law the heirs of the original owners, as Israelis, can reclaim the property. The Palestinian families have no such rights over their former homes in West Jerusalem. In fact, all property once owned by ‘absentee’ Palestinians was expropriated by Israel and can no longer be claimed by its original owners.

One can review the arguments of the state of Israel defending its control over all of Jerusalem and the counter arguments defending the city’s status as Occupied Territory. My own view is that the city of Jerusalem remains Occupied Territory until an agreement over the status of Jerusalem is determined by an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The evictions have led to the spiraling violence as explained by The Guardian:

“A month ago, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, and Palestinians have complained of what they say are unnecessarily severe restrictions by Israeli police, who prevented them from gathering on steps outside the Old City – an unofficial tradition after evening prayers.

“Amid rising tensions, there was an increase in communal violence, with videos shared online of street harassment and several attacks between Jews and Palestinians. Events came to a head in late April when hundreds of far-right Israelis marched down city streets chanting ‘death to Arabs’ and confronted Palestinians.

“Anger built ahead of an Israeli court ruling, which was due on Monday, on whether authorities would evict dozens of Palestinians from the majority-Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and give their homes to Jewish settlers.

“On the same day, thousands of flag-waving Israeli nationalists were due to march through Muslim neighbourhoods in the Old City in a provocative parade that celebrated Israel’s capture of the city in 1967.

“By Monday, the court date had been delayed and the march was rerouted, but by that point, the situation has already spiralled.”

The violence now involves rocket attacks launched by Hamas from the Gaza Strip and Israeli counterattacks by air against targets in the Gaza. The rocket attacks have been against civilian population centers such as the city of Tel Aviv, attacks which clearly contravene the laws of war. Similarly, Israeli aerial attacks have been targeting military targets, but the close proximity of civilian centers to those targets have rendered the distinction moot, and many civilians have been killed in the strikes.

It would be foolish to try to predict how the violence will unfold in the immediate future. The last overt violence was in 2014 and it lasted 7 weeks. But the Israeli government is still not settled despite 4 elections in the last two years and the settler movement is a powerful constituency in determining the coalition that will ultimately govern Israel. And the Palestinian Authority, divided among Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has not held a legitimate election since 2006.

Finally, the US government does not seem to want to be involved in the dispute. It is not clear how the US can avoid involvement, but it is safe to say that President Biden does not seem to have a plan of action. It is doubtful, however, that wither the Israelis or the Palestinians would pay much attention to anything that President Biden might say.

Posted May 11, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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