Israel’s Illegal Occupation of Palestine

palestine demonstration
Image Credit: Drake Presto

In the past month, the “conflict” between Palestine and Israel has received renewed media attention after the Supreme Court of Israel’s court order authorized the forcible removal of Palestinian families from their homes in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. What is the historical context of this “conflict?” What exactly is going on in Palestine? And is this a “conflict” like popular media is framing it, or is it ethnic cleansing? Lastly, what can you do to help?

Key terms:

  • Palestine (n): a nation that has been occupied by Israel since the 1948 Palestinian exodus (Nakba), in which over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homeland
  • Israel (n): a Jewish ethnostate in Western Asia established by Zionists
  • Ethonostate (n): a sovereign state in which citizenship is restricted to members of a particular racial or ethnic group
  • Zionism (n): a colonial movement in favor of the construction of a Jewish ethnostate with a Jewish majority on Palestinian land. Zionists claim that they are in favor of Jewish self-determination while openly defining their ideology as one of settler colonialism.
    • Note that Zionism is not Judaism, and standing against Zionism is not anti-Semitic.
  • Anti-Semitism (n): any form of hostility against Jewish people
  • Settler colonialism (n): a form of colonialism in which the original population of colonized land is displaced by settlers; a power structure that allows for the continued genocide of indigenous peoples. Examples of settler colonies include the United States, Oceania, and Israel.
  • Ethnic cleansing (n): the systematic removal of an ethnic or religious group within a society, usually with the end goal of a homogenous culture. Ethnic cleansing is carried out through both direct violence (like deportation and genocide) and more indirect means (preventing the return of an ethnic group like property destruction).
  • Apartheid (n): systemic segregation based on race that was enforced by the South African government between 1948 and the 1990s

Sheikh Jarrah and ethnic cleansing

In October of 2020, the High Court of Justice ruled that half of the twenty-eight Palestinian families who resided in Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, would be evicted to develop the land for Jewish housing. The Palestinian families would also be required to pay around $20,000 USD to cover the expense of the resettlement. The court order required that the families leave their homes by the second of May. This court ruling legitimized and enforced violent Zionist takeover of homes in Sheikh Jarrah this month.

This system is an integral part of the Zionist colonial state, which identifies as a ‘Jewish state’ and accordingly and systematically oppresses, dispossesses and displaces Palestinians.

Fayrouz Sharqawi of Grassroots Jerusalem, to Al Jazeera Media

The ousting of families in Sheikh Jarrah is not an isolated incident; families in East Jerusalem’s Silwan district also face the prospect of losing their homes (though for the time being their removal is being postponed). These expulsions are a part of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid. Over 3,000 Palestinians reside in Sheikh Jarrah as refugees of ethnic cleansing from other parts of historical Palestine during the 1948 Palestinian exodus, and many families originally settled in the neighbourhood after being forced out of West Jerusalem.

The Palestinians now in East Jerusalem settled there in 1956 while the area was under Jordanian rule. Under an agreement between the United Nations and Jordan, the Palestinians would give up their recognition as refugees in return for housing. After three years, the ownership of the homes would be transferred to the Palestinians.

This transfer of ownership never took place, and Israel took hold of Jerusalem by 1967 in the Six-Day War. Since then, Palestinians have been continuously pushed off of their land through Israel’s Zionist agenda. Israel’s seizure of Palestinian land and agenda of ethnic cleansing are violations of international law and could amount to a war crime, as suggested by an EU statement.

The outbreak of violence in Gaza and the aftermath

The forcible removals of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah were put on hold after violence broke out in Jerusalem, and an 11-day conflict took place in Gaza between Israeli and Palestinian groups. On April 13, the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and Memorial Day in Israel, Israeli police officers stormed Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, cut off the speakers that broadcasted prayers, and injured hundreds of Palestinians. At the time, this interruption of Ramadan barely made the news. However, in hindsight, it is clear that this event signaled the resumption of fighting on the Gaza strip between Israel and Hamas, a militant Palestinian group that governs Gaza.

After seven years of relative peace in Gaza, Hamas responded to the police raid by firing rockets on May 10th after warning Israeli forces to withdraw. Israel responded in turn with airstrikes. The violence was not contained within Gaza; all over historical Palestine, armed Israeli mobs backed by Israeli police assaulted Palestinians and destroyed Arab businesses and homes. Israeli forces targeted Gaza’s Internet and communication networks, essentially cutting the territory off from the outside world.

[The attacks have] led to the disruption of Internet and communication services for many of the population. The use of disproportionate force against civilian objects and residents heralds unexpected consequences on the citizens of the Gaza Strip considering the deliberate infliction of severe human and material losses.

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor

Finally, a ceasefire was announced on May 21st, with both Israel and Hamas claimed victory in the conflict that killed over 250 people and left 72,000 people displaced. Attacks against Palestinians did not end there, however.

On the same day as the ceasefire, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fired rubber bullets and used grenades against Palestinians outside of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The Israeli police defended their actions by claiming that Palestinians had thrown stones at the forces. All over historical Palestine, the IDF continues to attack Palestinian protesters and detain Palestinians unprovoked. Even without direct violence, Israel continues to assault Palestinian cities through blockades and control of the water supply, power, and trade. In Gaza alone, the territory’s water supply now faces a 40% shortage thanks to Israel’s efforts to destroy the water infrastructure in Gaza.

In Sheikh Jarrah, Palestinian non-residents are barred from entering as illegal settlers backed by the IDF are allowed into the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood is under a siege, with the residents unable to leave, fearing that they may be prevented from returning. The Palestinians’ restricted movement stands in sharp contrast to the open mobility of the armed Zionist settlers that roam in Sheikh Jarrah packs, at times attempting to incite conflict with the residents.

After the fighting in Gaza, the UN Human Rights Council is launching an investigation into abuses inside Israel and historical Palestine. Israel has stated that it refuses to cooperate with the probe, and the Prime Minister accuses the UN of “anti-Israel obsession.”

The two solutions

So, what’s the way forward? The two-state solution advocates for Palestine and Israel to exist independently. However, this “solution” is merely a continuation of Zionism because Israel is built on top of historical Palestine. Further, Israel has shown no sign of halting their ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

The one-state solution endorses one state in which Palestinians and Israelis coexist. A one-state solution under Israel only worsens the situation for Palestinians, leaving them completely under the control of Israel. Thus, the only path for Palestinian liberation is the one-state solution under Palestine. Israelis and Palestinians can coexist, but peace is only achievable when the subjugation of Palestinians is ended.

Support for Palestine and censorship in the media

On American college campuses, Palestinian students and allies have become vocal about the Palestinian struggle for liberation. Student activism has been met with backlash, particularly from other students. Hillel, the largest Jewish group on American campuses, claimed that pro-Palestine messages at universities threatened Jewish students. The pro-Palestine student movement has faced hatred online, and members of the opposing movement have also been harassed for their pro-Israel messages.

As a result of online activism, public support for Palestine has exploded. Palestinian activists believe that the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Stop AAPI Hate movement has promoted the idea of intersectionality, particularly in the United States. Progressive movements have essentially allied themselves with one another, and protesters around the globe have taken to the streets to demand change and the liberation of Palestinians.

In Detroit, for example, 250,000 protesters rallied in support of Palestine on May 18th:

Video Credit: Abier Khatib

Despite the massive outpouring of support for Palestine, there has been little mainstream media coverage of these rallies and protests. The lack of news reporting is part of a larger movement of online suppression of discussion of ethnic cleansing in Palestine. Social media platforms, like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, have removed posts and suspended accounts that support Palestine.

For example, Instagram has made it more difficult to search for pro-Palestine accounts by hiding them from search results unless the account’s full username is typed out. Users that post about Palestine are prevented from going live, and posts on Palestine receive less engagement than posts unrelated to Palestine.

Debunking misconceptions

“Why isn’t ‘conflict’ an appropriate term for what is happening now in Palestine?”

“Conflict” implies a disagreement between two parties. This is not a conflict; this is an oppressed people fighting for their right to exist against their oppressor. Israel is removing Palestinians from their land through force and assaulting innocents. Call it what it is: settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

“Are families in Sheikh Jarrah being evicted?”

No. “Evictions” are when tenants are legally required to leave someone else’s property. Israel’s expulsion of Palestinians is not legal, and the land is not theirs. This is the displacement of Palestinians from their land.

“Isn’t this dispute just over some land?”

Israel’s government has framed this “conflict” as a question of real-estate, and they have positioned themselves in the “right” through support of the courts. Meanwhile, Palestinians who face the threat of losing their homes have no hope of legal support. Again, this is not a land dispute. This is oppression and apartheid.

“Isn’t Israel just acting in self-defense?”

No. The IDF has targeted civilians and children, supporting lynch mobs against Palestinians. Palestine has no army, navy, or airforce, while Israel has a military budget of $20.5 billion. Israel does not get to claim “self-defense” against the defenseless people that they are oppressing and killing.

“Is this issue related to religion at all? And is it anti-Semitic to oppose Israel’s actions?

No. The struggle is falsely painted as a religious issue, when in fact it is about territory (and the theft of it). The government of Israel has pushed the narrative that it represents Judaism to avoid valid criticism and to continue acting with impunity. It is not anti-Semitic to oppose Zionism and the oppression of a marginalized group.

It is this conflation between Israel and Judaism, one that is baked into the foundation of Israel and perpetuated by its leaders, that leads to a problematic tautology: Israel’s leaders represent all Jewish people, and thus by definition any criticism of Israel must be criticism of all Jewish people — and hence antisemitic.

Abraham Gutman, NBC News

“Aren’t Zionists in favor of Jewish self-determination? Isn’t that a good thing?”

The Zionist plan for Jewish self-determination requires the oppression of another people. “Self-determination” that is only possible through the subjugation of Palestinians is just colonialism. True self-determination of any marginalized identity requires solidarity with other minority groups.

“Israel supports the LGBTQ+ community, and Palestine doesn’t. How can I morally support Palestine?”

Israel has repeatedly pushed an image of itself as a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights through a marketing campaign called “Brand Israel” that began in 2005. The campaign was intended to portray Israel as a progressive nation to hide its human rights abuses against Palestinians, and Israel’s effort is known as “pinkwashing.” Israel’s manufactured image as a relevant hub conceals its history of blackmailing LGBTQ+ Palestinians into becoming spies. Not only does Israel’s actions exploit the existence of LGBTQ+ Israelis, but it also hides the fact that Palestinian LGBTQ+ organizations exist, and Palestinian members of the LGBTQ+ community are being killed by Israel. Supporting the LGBTQ+ community also requires supporting other oppressed groups.

“Why does the United States have a history of supporting Israel?”

The first main reason is profit. On May 17th, the Biden administration approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel. These weapons will be used against Palestinians. Secondly, the United States is also a settler colony. To openly condemn Israel’s oppression of Palestinians, to acknowledge that Israel is occupying land that is not theirs, is to recognize that settler colonies do not have the right to exist. In other words, the denunciation of Israel delegitimizes America’s existence.

How you can help Palestine:

Support the Boycott, Divestment, Santions movement. BDS is a movement led by Palestinians that promotes sanctions against Israel. To learn more about their goals, check out their website.

Boycott Israeli goods, specifically those on BDS’ list. The eight brands that BDS encourages the public to boycott are Israeli Fruit and Vegetables, AXA, HP, Puma, SodaStream, Ahava, Sabra, and Pillsbury. While boycotting other Israeli companies can be helpful, it is more impactful to boycott a select few corporations.

Contact your government representatives. The United States has just passed a massive arms to Israel. Make your voice heard and remind your Senators and House Representatives that the continued funding of genocide in Palestine is unacceptable.

Donate to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The UNRWA provides services to those threatened by armed conflict.

Donate to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. The PCRF is providing relief to those injured in the Gaza fighting.

Donate to Islamic Relief. Islamic Relief is an organization that responds to crises and fights poverty while guided by their religious values.

Donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians. The MAP provides Palestinians with health services and mental health support.

Donate to the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The PRCS provides Palestinians with humanitarian, health, cultural, and social services.

Donate to the United Palestinian Appeal. The UPA provides medical aid, mental health support, and supplies during crises.

Donate to alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society. alQaws fights for social change in Palestinian society by advocating for LGBTQ+ Palestinians.

Donate by watching YouTube videos. Donate4Free and other YouTube channels post monetized videos and donate the ad revenue to different causes. Check out this video and this video. Make sure you watch with ad blockers off!

Finally, educate yourself and spread awareness. As discussed above, the media is suppressing the discussion of Israel’s ethnic cleansing. Share this article, and check out “More resources” below for more information and ways to help Palestine. They can’t silence us all.

If you take anything away from this article, let it be this: there are no “two sides” in this issue. It is an oppressed group versus an oppressor. Free Palestine.

More resources:

Decolonize Palestine has digestible articles on the history of Palestine, responses to Zionist myths, and other resources.’s article on Palestine is a useful link to read more on Palestine’s history.

Palestine: A Masterlist has a compilation of readings, documentaries, and relevant social media accounts to stay up to day with Palestine.

Free Palestine is a helpful carrd with an overview of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and other ways to help.

Help Palestine is a carrd with ways to support the Palestinian liberation movement, including organizations to donate to and petitions to sign.

Check out our article on the history of Thanksgiving to learn more about America’s settler-colonialism.


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