The goal of this series is to combat the sphere of misinformation to which the most pacifistic groups of Americans are uncharacteristically vulnerable: the distortions pertaining to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One cannot possibly track them all. These are a few.
When I began researching this series, I tried very hard to look beneath what many on the left declaimed as “Israeli propaganda”. I wanted to determine the “real story” behind Israel’s side of things.
What I found made me more sympathetic to Israel and the IDF, more sympathetic to the Palestinian people, more sympathetic to the Iranian people, and more outraged against their oppressors in Hamas, Fatah, and the Iranian regime.
I am not going to tell you that the Israeli government is innocent. Nor am I going to try to vindicate whatever portion of your salary is being spent on Israel (or Palestine, or Iran, or…). I am simply going to try, as best as I can, to give you information that is difficult to come by in most Western news outlets. Over four posts, I’ll cover:
Territorial Sovereignty and Encroachment
Ethnic Cleansing and Postponing Elections
Death Tolls and Holy Sites
The IDF, the Press, and the “Moral High Ground”
Part Two, Questions 2–6: Ethnic Cleansing and Postponing Elections
Question 2. What’s this thing about Jews ethnically cleansing Arabs from their neighborhoods?
The neighborhood of event is Sheik Jarrah, an ethnically Arab quarter that served as the cornerstone of the fighting in the Israeli War of Independence (discussed in Part One). “During the war”, Jason Harris notes, “the Arabs seized the neighborhood and proceeded to ethnically cleanse the Jews that lived there.”
So, almost right on the ethnic cleansing bit—but backwards. At least historically.
Like ultra-nationalist Palestinians, however, ultra-nationalist Israelis are intent on purging Palestinians from the quarter. Ultra-nationalists are decidedly not the civilian majority among either group.
After purging the Jews, Sheik Jarrah became the de facto border separating East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem. At the time, the Kingdom of Jordan was in charge of Palestine. Jordan, not Israel, was thus in charge of East Jerusalem; and East Jerusalem was demarcated by Sheik Jarrah.
Sympathetic toward the Arabs, the Jordanians allowed Sheik Jarrah to remain an Arab stronghold and supported the eviction of the remaining Jews.
Question 3. So the Israeli Jews were evicted by the Palestinian-Jordanians then, but the Palestinians are being evicted by the Israeli Jews now?
Some Jewish families have asserted that, since they (or their relatives) were cast out of their homes in Sheik Jarrah’s ethnic purge, their families should be permitted to reenter; and the Palestinians should be forced to leave. Depending on where you get your news, there are either four or nine households in contention here.
Many Jewish Israelis aren’t too agitated over the Sheik Jarrah issue either way. The Palestinian authority, however, which envisions East Jerusalem as Palestine’s eventual state capital (once Israel is eliminated), are threatened by any attempt that any Israeli family makes to move into the area.
The Palestinian Authority has therefore made selling land or housing to Jews a capital offense (that is, an offense punishable by death). No such penalty exists under Israeli law.
There is, however, an Israeli law that stipulates Israelis have a right to seek financial damages for property lost during the Israeli-Palestinian War. To that end, Israeli courts have ruled that Palestinians can remain in these homes as long as they pay rent to Israeli claimants.
Question 4. Is that fair?
It has to do with something called “the right of return”; and it gives Israelis the unquestionable advantage in these particular land disputes.
There are two reasons for this: first, it’s an Israeli law; so, from a national sovereignty perspective, it’s understandable, if it isn’t unimpeachable.
Second, the right of return ostensibly exists to keep the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, whose political program rests on the obliteration of Israel and the “liquidation” of its people, from seizing Jerusalem in its entirety and engaging in another round of ethnic cleansing (another pillar of its political program).
Could that happen? Seeing as Palestinians and Jewish Israelis are almost one-for-one as far as population statistics go (aggregated between Palestine and Israel)—in theory, yes.
Another reason it’s possible is that, while the law isn’t equal here, neither is either nation’s penchant for government-officiated ethnic cleansing. The vast majority of both Palestinian and Israeli citizens (save, again, for a handful of far-right ultra-nationalists on either side) do not wish death on either group of people. The Israeli government, since Israel’s inception (save, again, for a handful of far-right ultra-nationalists), have supported and made repeated efforts to devise some form of a two-state solution—whereas the Palestinian authority, since Israel’s inception, has not.
To quote Fatah documents: “of this Zionist colonialist barbarism… the crime was consummated by the partition of Palestine and the establishment of the Zionist entity state in 1948”.
Many Palestinian civilians have peaceful relations with Israeli civilians. When assessing the threat of “ethnic cleansing,” then, our point of distinction needs to be between Palestine and Israel’s official government policies as well as the number of their regional military allies (although, as discussed in Part One, there are some things military allies just can’t do).
The Palestinian families at the heart of the current civil dispute in Sheik Jarrah refuse to pay the rent ordered by the courts. Recently, a lower Israeli court determined that these Palestinian families could indeed be evicted for failing to pay; the case was appealed; and just before it was set to be heard, violence broke out.
These protests were multi-pronged. Partly in solidarity with either the Jewish plaintiffs or the Palestinian defendants, the unrest was also likely due to Palestinian president and Fatah member Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to cancel Palestinian elections (again) as well as opportunistic agitation from Fatah’s rival faction, Hamas (we’ll get to their motivations shortly).
Owing to the violence, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed its review of the Sheik Jarrah case until next month, which might have given things a chance to cool down–or it may have made things worse.
This is where, if I could wave a magic wand, I might strike some sort of agreement with the Israeli families who are demanding rent in exchange for dismissing their claims against the Palestinian families. As someone not on the ground in this situation, I won’t tell civilians engaged in a civil dispute what’s right or wrong—but it seems like there’s a more effective way to move closer to some semblance of peace, especially if we’re talking about a handful of households rather than a squabble between states.
Question 5. How about those Palestinian elections?
Palestinian ruler Mahmoud Abbas—currently in the sixteenth year of his four-year term (can you imagine the outcry if Donald Trump had managed to pull that off?) is yet again indulging in one of his favorite past times since assuming office—postponing national elections. This time, Abbas has announced that the democratic process will be curtailed “until the participation of our people in Jerusalem is guaranteed”.
“The participation of our people in Jerusalem” has nothing to do with the Sheik Jarrah dispute. It’s a reference to the fact that Israel hasn’t made a formal announcement regarding whether Palestinians living in Jerusalem can vote in Palestinian elections.
Abbas’ indictment is more puzzling than damning, though. In the 2005 Palestinian elections (the last time Palestine held elections), Jerusalem-dwelling Palestinians were permitted to vote, and that decision hasn’t been formally reversed in any way. In other words, it’s unclear in what sense Abbas is trying to implicate Israel for his decision to postpone.
More likely, Abbas isn’t as concerned about increasing participation as he is decreasing his rivals’ opportunity to prevail electorally. As Reuters reports: “many Palestinians regarded the Jerusalem issue as an excuse to avoid elections that [Abbas’ faction, Fatah] might well lose to its Islamist rivals Hamas.”
“The delay drew immediate criticism from opponents and from would-be voters,” Reuters adds, noting that “no Palestinian under 34 has [ever] taken part in national elections”.
Currently, Hamas’ militant arm has effective dominion over the Gaza strip. Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s national-socialist faction, is in charge of the West Bank. If there’s one thing Hamas and Fatah can agree on, it’s that the Jews make an excellent scapegoat for the tension between them.
The Palestinian people are in an incredibly rough situation (to understate the issue). Hamas, Israel’s major aggressor in the present conflict, certainly doesn’t have the true interest of the Palestinian people at heart—as evidenced by the fact that Hamas is perfectly willing to fire rockets from Arab neighborhoods, allow those rockets to land in other Arab neighborhoods, and then blame Israeli forces for it.
Question 6. I get why Abbas would call off elections and can understand why it might be effective to blame Israel. But why would Hamas attack Israel now? Just to outshine or intimidate Abbas and Fatah?
Hamas has another reason to get involved at this precise moment—but to understand it, we really have to zoom out and separate Hamas from Palestine.
Militarily, Hamas’ motivations are intertwined with Iran’s. Weeks ago, Israel staged a powerful attack against Iran’s nuclear development and deployment operations. While Abbas’ ultimate aim has to do with maintaining leadership in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ ambitions have more to do with aggrandizing Iran, and destroying Israel, at the expense of the Palestinian people. (Bookmark this: we’ll come back to it when we discuss Israel’s strike against the Hamas intelligence offices next to the AP Gaza Bureau.)
Hamas’ propaganda wing is even stronger than its military arm—and none are being used to defend the people of Palestine. As an example (and as mentioned in Part One), Israel’s recent attempt to open the Israeli-Gaza border to deliver aid to Palestinian civilians—which immediately resulted in mortar fire from Hamas militants—was summarized by an Al Jazeera headline that accused Israel of closing the Gaza border (omitted: it was already closed; and they tried to open it to deliver fuel and medical supplies) and halting aid (omitted: it was Israeli aid for Palestinians, and what halted the aid were Hamas rockets).
Rather than a bold defense of Palestinians (against whom Hamas has been committing human rights atrocities for years), Hamas’ rocket-strike intervention looks more like a puppet show, with a now-munitions-depleted Iran pulling the strings.
For Iran, via Hamas, the Sheik Jarrah dispute is simply a convenient cover.