Sheikh Jarrah: Zionism distilled to its purest expression

This article was originally published in Arabic at Awan.

Western journalists, always mindful of the limits imposed by the ruling class, have a million ways of minimizing or mystifying Israeli brutality in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where several Palestinian families are set to be expelled to make way for Jewish settlers. 

It’s not so simple as straight-up ethnic cleansing, they declare.  There’s a convoluted history to consider, involving Israelis, Palestinians, Ottomans, Englishmen, and Jordanians.  The Israeli courts, after all, examined the evidence and determined that the properties in question were Jewish.  The Israelis aren’t seizing Palestinian homes at random; they’re engaged in a legal project of urban planning. 

The apologists aren’t wrong.  The seizures in Sheikh Jarrah, which have been ongoing for two decades, are ratified by the Israeli state.  That’s exactly the problem.  The Israeli state isn’t a neutral party proffering legal decisions according to impartial, humanistic criteria.  The main purpose of the Zionist entity is to dispossess Palestinians.  Certainly it has other reasons for being, but its primary function since being dreamed up by European fantasists at the end of the 19th century has been to maraud and plunder.  The violence in Sheikh Jarrah isn’t exceptional.  It is Zionism distilled to its purest expression. 

Palestinians don’t need to respect the institutions of the Zionist state precisely because those institutions negate the Palestinians’ simplest political imperative: existence.

Palestinians don’t need to respect the institutions of the Zionist state precisely because those institutions negate the Palestinians’ simplest political imperative:  existence.  Those institutions represent the machinery of colonization.  All settler colonies come equipped with a legal apparatus to validate their cruelty.  We cannot expect Western pundits and politicians to question the institutional logic so harmful to Palestinians, for their own legitimacy is contingent on the reproduction of state power.  

Palestinians will never concede rights of habitation to Israeli courts.  Those courts confer to themselves jurisdiction over Palestinian life, but Palestinian claims to life have a much stronger basis:  an age-old history in the towns and neighborhoods they inhabit, a culture indivisible from their surroundings, a language of freedom concordant to the beauty of the land.  Palestinians know full-well that they belong.  Israeli courts produce delusional soliloquies. 

The logic underlying land seizure in Sheikh Jarrah is nonsensical to the point of insanity.  First of all, the logic tries to deplete observers of empathy.  Families live in those homes, actual human beings with complex needs and aspirations.  They will be made homeless.  We’re asked not to care because those human beings are incidental to the more important project of colonial statecraft.  The fate of those families is a nonstory; the settler colony’s wish fulfillment is the natural order of things. 

More nonsensically, we’re asked to assign ethnic characteristics to abstractions and inanimate objects.  The basis for Israel’s aggression in Sheikh Jarrah (as throughout all of historic Palestine) is repossession of so-called Jewish property.  The property, in other words, doesn’t belong to people who happen to be Jewish.  The property itself is Jewish—nobody can specify which denomination—and is therefore fit only for a certain kind of inhabitant.  The property has some kind of innate disposition.  It is apparently capable of worship.  It becomes a crass approximation of humanity.  Endowing housing units with confessional qualities exemplifies the problem of prioritizing property over sentient life:  a dwelling has no utility beyond the project of demographic engineering.  Under the Zionist regime, even brick and mortar are sectarian. 

The land suffers a similar fate.  Zionists conceptualize it as “Jewish,” rendering the natural world a topography of exclusion.  In their ruthless schema, land is neither pleasure nor sustenance.  It is a commodity.  Like all resources in the colonial economy, access is granted (or limited) according to discriminatory criteria, in this case religious identity, as defined by the government.  There is no real notion of the commons in Zionism.  Public space is deeply personal, demarcated and apportioned based on a crude obsession with genetics.  Biology isn’t an impetus to kinship, but a pretext for segregation, rigid and permanent. 

Having been anointed Jewish, the land ceases to be dynamic.  It is an ideological fabrication with fixed characteristics.  It doesn’t seem to bother the chattering classes in the United States that Israel’s sanctified self-image requires an aggressive military apparatus, that it comes to fruition only by tossing innocent people out of their homes and destroying the possibility of a functional civil society.  Their own country, after all, was built on the same kind of racialized violence. 

Palestinians do not adhere to the correct religion and so they become surplus.  Displacement is their natural destiny.  The soldiers arrive with batons and sound bombs, with tear gas and live ammunition.  They wave court orders explaining that the neighborhood must host a different class of resident.  The settlers accompanying the soldiers create a bloody ruckus.  Together, soldier and settler unleash hell on people whose primary motivation is to exist.  This is what colonizers like to call “democracy.” 

The land is Jewish.  The houses are Jewish, too.  The Palestinians are merely human.  There is no place for such creatures in an inhumane society.  


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