. Israel’s occupation and expulsion of Palestinians in Jerusalem violate International Law | Ceasefire Magazine

Israel’s occupation and expulsion of Palestinians in Jerusalem violate International Law Analysis

As Palestinian civilians continue to resist Israel's ongoing military occupation, world governments and media must confront their own complicity in Israel's persistent violations of international law, writes Jasmine K. Gani.

Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, May 11, 2021 20:05 - 8 Comments


Jerusalem, 7 May, 2021 — Israeli police kneel on Palestinian in East Jerusalem during protests over Israel’s threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from their homes in the city’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood (Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Around the world Muslims have been marking the end of Ramadan with extra worship and introspection; it is meant to be a time of peace and spiritual focus. But for Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem it has been anything but peaceful. Last Friday, the 7th May, thousands of worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque were attacked by Israeli forces using tear gas, rubber-coated metal bullets, and stun grenades. According to the Red Crescent over 205 Palestinian civilians were injured on the first night of attacks on the mosque, and over 80 were hospitalised – many with injuries to the face and the eyes. The Israeli military police also stormed the Mosque and threw sound grenades inside the Al-Aqsa medical clinic where the injured were being treated.

Over the next few days such scenes were repeated in Jerusalem with hundreds more civilians injured; this was followed by a retaliatory escalation between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, during which 24 Palestinians – including 9 children – were killed by Israeli air raids. But as the situation continues to develop and attention now shifts to the political actors, it is necessary to centre the original reasons for this latest outbreak of violence.

There has been an emerging pattern in recent years in which worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the most revered sites in Islam, is repeatedly disrupted or prevented by Israeli police on Fridays and on Islamic holy days. On this occasion, the tension was already heightened by an Israeli Supreme Court decision on the 2nd May ordering the expulsion of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah village in East Jerusalem; this was followed by Palestinian protests in the Old City. Although the Israeli court gave the families until the 1st August this summer to leave (pending an appeal), Israeli settlers have been forcing the evictions sooner and moving into the emptied homes. As Palestinians resisted the evictions the Israeli army moved in, beating protesters with batons, and placing the village under a tight military cordon.

World governments and institutions were slow to react to these converging events, refraining from ascribing responsibility. The US expressed concern and called for calm, while the EU condemned the violence on “all sides”. The British government and the opposition waited a full three days after the first Mosque attacks before making any statement, and even then the Foreign Secretary only focused on the actions of Hamas, and failed to make any mention of the build-up between Israeli forces and Palestinian civilians in Jerusalem. Meanwhile mainstream media outlets described the events in Jerusalem as “clashes” and an “escalation of tensions”, effectively equating a fully armed police force using live ammunition with civilians engaged in worship or resisting eviction.

The Israeli-Palestinian issue is notoriously complex and can be an emotionally charged subject of discussion; this often deters people from speaking up particularly during flashpoints, or else they’ll do so in a hedged way. But, for those who value international law, the recent events in Jerusalem should be uncomplicated. Notably the United Nations, despite its limited capacity to act, has been unequivocal in condemning Israeli evictions of Palestinians. Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office, stated: “In practice, the implementation of these laws facilitates the transfer by Israel of its population into occupied East Jerusalem. The transfer of parts of an occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.”

As this statement shows, international law already provides ample clarity on the issue of settlements and evictions; given that is the case, maintaining a silence due to fear of controversy makes little sense. Meanwhile the language of neutrality adopted by western governments and media belie the stark disparity in military power between the Israeli forces and Palestinian civilians in East Jerusalem and the other occupied territories. Equivalence and conflation of the two sides obscures the fundamental cause behind this recurring violence. That cause is a military occupation and the impunity with which it has been allowed to continue since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza in 1967. 

Violation of International Law and US Sponsored Impunity

Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories in the 1967 War, and its refusal to withdraw ever since, violates Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 49 prohibits forcible transfers or deportations of people, and also prohibits an occupier from settling its own civilians on annexed land. This is supported by numerous United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, of which the most frequently cited is UNSCR 242. This resolution also stipulates the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and demands “the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied”. The illegality of Israel’s actions has also been upheld by the International Court of Justice and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Until 2019, every government in the world (with the exception of Israel) believed Israeli settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories was illegal.

And yet, Israeli settlement construction has continued for decades without pause, with the most exponential rise occurring during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. According to a 2020 EU report on settlement construction, the number of Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem has risen to 220,000 (compared to a Palestinian population of 340,000). In addition to the evictions that are in the news right now, demolitions of Palestinian homes (a tactic learned from the British during the interwar mandate) and the revoking of Palestinian residency permits are conducted on a frequent basis. East Jerusalem is also now encircled by settlements on the outskirts of the city cutting it off from the West Bank; this, along with the concrete separation wall, has separated Palestinians on either side from their families or jobs.

These policies cannot be understood without viewing them in the context of an expansionist ideology among right-wing Israelis. As Israeli academic Avi Shlaim has argued, their calls for an ethno-nationalist unification of Judea and Samaria leaves no room for a Palestinian state. This movement also seeks to unify Jerusalem under the Israeli state with a majority Jewish-Israeli population. The ideology gained greater momentum since Israel’s victory in 1967 with a strategy of unilateral action in the occupied territories, regardless of international law or even opposition from the Israeli government as had occurred under Yitzhak Rabin (Likud governments, like the current one, do not challenge settlement construction). Thus, even as the international community spoke of a return to the ‘peace process’ in previous years, the settler movement sought to put ‘facts on the ground’ to make any Palestinian state unviable. The more Israeli politics has shifted to the right, the more normalised and influential the settler movement has become, with Israeli politicians routinely courting their support during elections.

But responsibility for the continued violence in Jerusalem and the occupied territories also lies with world governments who refuse to apply the law. Foremost among them is the United States, which effectively underwrites Israel’s military occupation through its aid budget. The US provides $3.8 billion a year in military aid to Israel, with an additional $8 billion of loan guarantees. Israel is the top recipient of US foreign aid, and almost all of that is military assistance. In the political sphere, at the UN Security Council, the majority of P5 vetoes in the last forty years have been used by the US to block UNSC resolutions against Israeli military actions and settlement construction. Obama’s decision to abstain and not veto a resolution back in 2016 was hailed as a dramatic shift in US-Israeli relations, but in reality, it made no material change to US support for the Israeli military.

In its domestic policy the US has borrowed Israeli policing methods, so that many of the physical tactics used against Palestinians by Israeli forces are mirrored in tactics used against the African American community in the US. Under the Trump administration, support for the Israeli right-wing went into overdrive, most notably with the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as a blatant endorsement of Israeli claims to both West and East Jerusalem. For all the liberal fanfare about the changes Biden would bring, his administration has not reversed Trump’s decision. This unremitting support from the US – the world’s largest military power, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and one of the most influential exporters of culture and knowledge – renders Israel’s military occupation and its illegal settler activities impervious to international law.

As Palestinian civilians continue to resist the ongoing military occupation and the increasingly emboldened settler movement, world governments and media must confront their own complicity in the persistent violation of international law. Silence or drawing a false equivalence between the two sides is untenable in the face of such clear transgressions by a legally defined occupying power.

Jasmine K. Gani is a Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St Andrews specialising on US foreign policy, the Middle East, and the history of empire and colonialism.


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May 11, 2021 23:43

This is an awesome article.

Well done.

May 12, 2021 3:21

Why are the Muslim world leaders also silent in condemning the israeli rumpage ….very clear article.

Elspeth Gerard
May 12, 2021 17:55

I am aghast at your comments at the situation that has erupted in Israel. HAMAS fired rockets first from civilian areas. Israel has a right to self defence with the utmost ferocity. Maybe GAZA should get rid of their terrorist organisation as a government. They are always making out that they are the victims.

May 14, 2021 13:02

As the article points out and people like Elspeth knowingly are blind to: this perennial and tired focus on ‘Hamas’ ‘rockets’ and ‘israeli self defence’ (the only ones to whom so called self defence applies) despite the conditions generating these factors shows we can carry on watching innocent people die whilst we war on the internet. Face the facts with a struggle for the truth and value for life or revel in your doomed falsehood. Israeli government apparatus can kill innocent people but you will not kill the truth

May 15, 2021 16:35

Poor old Stephen is the blinkered one, always waving his Palestinian flag no matter what they do. Don’t fire rockets and you won’t be fired upon.
Then pretend you didn’t do anything. Hamas is a terrorist organisation that stands for the destruction of Israel, I don’t call that valuing life. The people of Palestine are doomed with hamas at the helm. The truth will never be killed by speaking with forked tongue, just as you are doing. Strange how you never mention Israeli deaths, I forgot you are always the victim.

May 15, 2021 19:39

Elspeth, over 100 Gazan lives have been lost–lives of civilians, including children. 8 Israeli lives have been lost. That is because Israel has a state-of-the-art defense system with which to intercept those rockets. THAT is Israel “defending itself.” Israel launching airstrikes that kill children and bomb people’s homes and media offices is not Israel “defending itself.” No one is cheering on the loss of Israeli civilians’ lives, or at least I’m not. But the fact of who is in power is clear.

May 15, 2021 23:06

Hamas fight in a dirty fashion using civilians as cannon fodder, firing their missiles from civilian populated areas. They are not carrying out air strikes to kill children, but if and when this happens it is always put in the spotlight again and again, which hamas loves, and fuels their rockets. Hamas always like to hide in plain sight, it suits their style. Hamas are indiscriminately firing rockets hitting people’s homes. Shouldn’t stash their munitions in media offices then.They never want true peace, Iran backs them and we know how they feel about Israel, I believe the usual phrase is wipe Israel of the map, really peaceful words. Maybe Palestinians should try the diplomacy route get rid of hamas and try being a normal nation.

May 18, 2021 8:23

Thats sad 😥, free Palestine

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