Ethnic cleansing, slo-mo.

Update – May 29, 2011: On May 27, Israel once again proved just how divided “eternal and undivided” Jerusalem is, when nonviolent anti-settlement protestors were greeted with brutality. You can read about those events here, here, and here.

On Sunday, two Palestinian families found themselves out of luck and on the street: Israel had kicked them out of their East Jerusalem homes. A rocking horse here, a mattress there, scattered across the pavement. Fifty-three people – nineteen of them children – would have to find someplace else to sleep.

The Israeli High Court has ruled that the land on which the families lived is Jewish-owned, and almost immediately after the eviction, Jews moved into the houses – homes in which, according to the BBC, they had lived for 50 years. The Jerusalem municipality plans to build a Jewish-only apartment complex in the neighborhood, known as Sheikh Jarrah.

When the subject of Israeli settlements comes up, East Jerusalem often gets a pass. Annexed by Israel within weeks of the 1967 war, settlement here is not called settlement, even as neighborhoods are bulldozed, turned into Jewish enclaves that even Israelis don’t realize sit on the Palestinian side of the border. Israel consistently, and constantly, refers to “unified” Jerusalem as its “undivided and eternal capital” – not, as international law would have it, occupied territory.

As is often the case with national narratives, though, the Israeli vision of a reunified Jerusalem does not really jibe with reality.

My Jewish, Jerusalemite husband was born in the undivided capital in 1969, and like virtually everyone he knows, spent his life never crossing the invisible border that every Jerusalemite sees clearly. Whenever I go to the East side, friends express concern for my mental health, and it can be very hard getting a cab. And this was true before the construction of the 25-foot, concrete wall that now snakes through unified Jerusalem, physically keeping Palestinians in their place.

The falsehood of reunification lies not just in fear and walls, though. Every single Israeli government since 1967 has conducted a concerted, coordinated effort to Judacize the city, “encouraging” its de-Palestinianization.

Jerusalem is not “unified” — it is undergoing a slow-moving ethnic cleansing.

Israeli authors Bill Hutman, Amir Chesin, and Avi Melamed (the latter two former Arab affairs advisers to legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek) detailed these efforts in 1999, in their seminal work Separate and Unequal, documenting the systematic expropriation of Palestinian land, limitation of Arab neighborhoods, and bureaucratic intransigence and neglect.

In 1970, for instance, 4,400 acres of Jerusalem’s lands were expropriated by the government; 3,200 were Arab-owned. Palestinian neighborhoods have never been allowed to expand out, but only (and not always) up. For decades, Jerusalem’s sanitation department consistently “drew up its budget request as if it were servicing the whole city, and then proceeded to spend nearly all the money on Jewish neighborhoods.”

Little has changed since the book’s publication. Palestinians currently make up a third of Jerusalem’s population, but in 2007, only got some 10 percent of the municipal budget, according to Israeli newspaper of record HaAretz. Jerusalem coexistence nonprofit Ir Amim reports that from 2000 to 2008, East Jerusalem saw 565 housing structures demolished by government order.

This is not unity, nor even common decency. It is occupation, expropriation, and settlement. And when Israel signed the Bush-backed Road Map to Peace in 2003, agreeing to freeze settlement construction, East Jerusalem was included in the bargain. Whether or not Israel wants to admit it.

The role Jerusalem plays in Jewish history and the Israeli national narrative is powerful and undeniable; moreover, Israelis aren’t the first people to establish their rights by rejecting those of others.

But they are my people. And they are misleading themselves, the international community, and the United States government.

Secretary of State Clinton has told reporters that Sunday’s evictions “are deeply regrettable. I have said before that the eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations.”

Even the Israeli press has criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s plans for the future of Sheikh Jarrah, with HaAretz saying that it “casts doubt over [his] willingness to enter serious negotiations on a final status agreement.”

Israel may not like admitting the truth, but that doesn’t keep it from being true: East Jerusalem is occupied, and the Jews who live there are settlers. If Israel truly wants to live in peace and security, it will have to stop cleansingJerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants, and agree to share the city, as the rightful capital of both nations.

Previous Post


  1. Sputnik_Sweetheart

     /  August 6, 2009

    I don’t have anything to add, except to say thank you for writing this. I am always frustrated to see my fellow Jews acting this way. Throwing families into the street are not the Jewish values that I grew up with.

  2. This is not much different than when “Christians” spend their time paying lip service to Jesus’ teachings, even as they are violating every tenet he laid out about inclusion, love for your fellow humans, and the creation of community.

    Israel does not wish to admit, nor have anyone else point out, that they are following very disturbing historical patterns of behavior. They wish to turn a blind eye toward their own transgressions, as if the suffering the Jewish people have endured throughout the centuries absolves them from following the values their own religion teaches.

  3. Sadia

     /  August 7, 2009

    There was an article in the Guardian which said that the evictees had not been paying their rent,

    • Ayoshe

       /  August 9, 2009

      Yes, I came on to note this also. Not paying their rent over a dispute with the court about the recognised owners of the land, but still, the other tenants who respected the court’s decision and paid the rent are still there… I don’t have any background on the court decision, but still, a frame can be as powerful as the picture.