A consumer of Western media could easily conclude that the current fighting in Israel was sparked by the Israeli government’s attempt to evict a sizeable number of Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem as part of an effort to settle Jews there. Across social media, one can easily find such slogans as “free Sheikh Jarrah,” after the neighborhood where the eviction is supposed to happen. But this story bears almost no resemblance to the truth: the violence has rather more to do with internal Palestinian politics than anything else, and it began before the Sheikh Jarrah affair entered the news. Moreover, as Avi Bell explains, the Israeli government isn’t trying to evict anyone; rather, private landlords are trying to evict four Palestinian families who haven’t been paying rent on their property:
The current dispute in Sheikh Jarrah involves several properties with tenants whose leases have expired, and in a few cases squatters with no tenancy rights at all, against owner-landlords who have successfully won court orders evicting the squatters and overstaying tenants. The litigation has taken several years, and the owners have won at every step. The squatters and overstaying tenants have appealed against the eviction orders to the Supreme Court. The only decision that stands before the Israeli government is whether to honor the courts’ decisions and enforce the eviction orders if affirmed by the Supreme Court, or whether to defy court orders and deny the property owners their legal rights.
Critics claim that the Israeli government should—or even that international law requires the Israeli government to—deny the owners their property rights, but these claims are not based on any credible legal argument. Rather, the critics focus on the fact that the owners in the disputed cases are Jews while the squatters and overstaying tenants are Palestinian Arabs.
Critics of Israel in this case have adopted the bigoted position that property rights should depend on ethnicity and that Jewish ethnicity should be the grounds for denying legal property rights.
Contrary to claims in some media accounts, Israel did not grant anyone ownership to any of the affected properties on the basis of ethnicity. Israeli law respects and upholds the property rights of persons of all ethnicities. Israel has even respected the property rights created by prior regimes that explicitly discriminated against Jews in their property laws—the Ottoman empire, the British Mandate of Palestine, and the Jordanian occupation regime.