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Sheikh Jarrah


Amid International Inaction, Israel’s Systematic ‘Demographic Engineering’ Thwarting Palestinians’ Ability to Pursue Justice, Speakers Tell International Conference

The panellists included: Lara Friedman, Foundation for Middle East Peace; Michael Lynk, United Nations Special Rapporteur; Suma Qawasmi, Sheikh Jarrah community leader; Nivine Sandouka, Hoqoqna — Our Rights East Jerusalem; and Emily Schaeffer Omer-Man, Human Rights Attorney.

MS. QAWASMI described events unfolding in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood where she lives as ethnic cleansing — and simply another chapter of Israel’s modern military occupation. The neighbourhood is home to 28 Palestinian families who have lived there since 1956, following an agreement with Jordan, which provided the land. These families had been forcibly uprooted from their homes in historical Palestine in 1948. Following Israel’s illegal annexation in 1967, the neighbourhood has faced illegal claims of ownership and forced displacement, backed by Israel’s discriminatory policies. “We are trying to prevent settlers from taking over Palestinian homes,” she said, objecting to the unjustified use of force by Israel’s Defense Forces to stop people from speaking up. “We decided we are going to help our parents and grandparents keep their houses,” she said, stressing that the world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to Palestinians’ basic human rights. “We don’t want to experience the Nakba again,” she stressed.

Ms. SANDOUKA, noting that the new Israeli Government’s intentions towards East Jerusalem are still unknown, pointed out that the previous Government emphasized the Jewish element of Israel’s identity and worked to eliminate any mention of Palestinian identity or narrative in school curricula. Further, even though Palestinians comprise 60 per cent of the population in East Jerusalem, they have only received 30 per cent of building permits issued, and Palestinian neighborhoods have not naturally expanded since 1967. Palestinians living in East Jerusalem are considered residents — not citizens — so if they live or travel outside of the city for a period of time, or marry a person with Palestinian citizenship, they have their residency revoked despite paying taxes.

Offering a legislative account, [Mr. LYNK] said that, in 1950, Israel’s Knesset passed the Absentee Property Law, stating that Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war cannot recover their property. It then passed the Legal and Administrative Matters Law in 1970, stating that Jews who lost their property in the 1948 war can reclaim their property. He pointed out that the tensions that led to violence in Gaza in May arise, in part, from these incessant claims by Israeli settlers in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, which have left hundreds of Palestinians facing the loss of homes they have had since the 1950s, and thus, an insecure status.