This past Thursday, Israeli settlers seized a building in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and forcefully evicted over 45 Palestinian residents in what can be recognized as nothing short of yet another provocative and racist attack against the indigenous Arab population of Palestine.
Keeping in suit with Israel’s traditionally colonialist policy, a group of at least 25 settlers raided an apartment building while most of its tenants attended a wedding ceremony. Guarded by Israeli police officers, the settlers tore down doors in the entranceway and occupied various rooms within the two-story building. When the residents of the building later arrived, settlers and police officers barred them from entering. Having committed no offense, they were forced to spend the night outside of their home.
How degrading and humiliating. Imagine coming home to police officers – the same ones who are hired to rid the city of crime – carrying you away from the front entrance of your home. Or imagine peering into the window and finding an unidentified man rummaging through your personal collection of family photos and personal diaries while asking his wife to reorganize the living room. It’s truly disturbing and even more disheartening that there exist people who feel justified in forcefully evicting entire families from their homes and laying claim to all of their possessions.
The most startling aspect of the situation isn’t that dozens of Palestinians were made homeless by a group of extremists but that police officers guarded and aided the settlers during the mass eviction. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1907 Hague Regulations, Israeli military and police forces are required to protect those under its occupation. Even if they don’t comply, the bare essence of a police force is to curb violence and maintain public order. The policemen involved in the unlawful takeover of a civilian apartment building represent Israel’s skewed justice system. Civil security applies only to Israelis. Public order is nonexistent if you have roots to historical Palestine.
This isn’t the first case of settler harassment. In 2009 alone, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs documented 290 separate incidents involving settler violence or incitement against unarmed and law-abiding Palestinian civilians. This is up from 243 recorded attacks in 2008.
But this isn’t a game of numbers. Arbitrary and immoral evictions strain the development of symbiotic relationships between communities and entire nations. Whether or not President Obama wants to admit it, each and every settler attack is a slap in the face – somewhat similar to the one Vice President Biden received from Netanyahu earlier this year. The U.S.-backed settlement freeze has yet to become reality. Unregistered outposts continue to emerge and others are ever-expanding. With an increasing settler population in the West Bank, the number of violent attacks and ambushes against Palestinian families and properties also increase. Political scientists are coming to grips with the fact that settler attacks such as the one that occurred this Thursday steadily hack away at Israel’s civil rights system and concurrently undermine any potential road map to peace.
Thursday’s evictions exposed many holes deeply embedded within the Israeli civil justice system. Settlers have free reign to do as they please, and no matter how criminal the activity is, Israeli police forces are ready to ditch their obligations and lend a hand.
Settler abuse cannot be tolerated. State-sponsored settler abuse cannot and will not be tolerated.