As we’re watching what might well turn into a third intifada play out in Jerusalem, images of fires burning among the trees outside the Al-Aqsa mosque and reports of children being injured in a new volley of airstrikes in Gaza, I can’t get a line from the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry out of my head.
“Regrettably, the PA” — the Palestinian Authority — “and Palestinian terror groups are presenting a real-estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem,” the ministry said in a statement Saturday, two days after anger in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem began to boil over.
Calling the catalyst of all this a “real estate dispute” is a particularly noxious way to diminish what’s actually occurring: Nahalat Shimon, a U.S.-based settler organization, is trying to have Palestinians who have lived in the neighborhood since 1956 evicted. Once they are evicted, the property — occupied by Israel along with the rest of east Jerusalem since 1967 — would then be turned over to Jewish settlers under Israeli law. The six families who have been fighting to keep their homes since 1982 would get nothing to ease their displacement.
For years, the situation in Israel has been painted as a war of survival, the Israelis against the Palestinians and, by proxy, their Arab neighbors. That no longer reflects the realities on the ground, where the ability of one side to harm the other is in no way balanced. This “real-estate dispute,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government calls it, is a microcosm of the wildly unbalanced Israeli-Palestinian situation today.
Because this is about more than just six families. It’s about whether Palestinians will be allowed to live in east Jerusalem at all. The New York Times laid out the imbalance clearly: “In East Jerusalem, Jews are allowed to reclaim property that was under Jewish ownership before 1948. But Palestinian families have no legal mechanism to reclaim land they owned in West Jerusalem or anywhere else in Israel.”
Meanwhile, the Israeli government has thrown up endless roadblocks against new Palestinian construction in the occupied territories. For decades, applications for Israeli permits to build homes on Palestinian-owned land have been rejected with little reason given, making them “nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain,” according to the United Nations. That’s not the case for Israelis and Jewish settlers wishing to build in Jerusalem. “Only seven percent of the building permits issued in Jerusalem over the past few years have gone to Palestinian neighborhoods where 40 percent of the city’s population lives,” the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in 2015.