Middle East Eye / July 2, 2021
Congresswoman Marie Newman gives a speech on House floor calling on Biden administration to ‘do everything in its power’ to stop Israel’s East Jerusalem takeover .
Israel’s forcible evictions of Palestinians reached the floor of the US House of Representatives on Friday, as Representative Marie Newman called on the Biden administration to intervene.
Congresswoman Newman, a Democrat from Illinois, urged Biden to end the displacement of Palestinian families, who continue to fight expulsion from occupied East Jerusalem and across the rest of the West Bank.
“Today I rise on behalf of the thousands of Palestinian families in the West Bank that face the prospect of eviction, demolition and displacement from their homes by the Israeli government,” she said.
“We have received word that demolition orders have already begun for homes in the al-Bustan neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem.”
‘This crisis must end now’
Al-Bustan is one of the Palestinian neighbourhoods just south of the Old City of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque, where residents face the imminent demolition of their homes by Israeli authorities, to make way for Israeli settler projects.
Twenty Palestinian families living in 17 houses in al-Bustan have been handed Israeli demolition orders.
On Tuesday, Israeli forces stormed the neighbourhood, destroying a local butcher shop and arresting several members of the al-Rajabi family – the owners of the shop – while beating other residents with batons.
As per policy, Israel authorities asked the owners of the butcher shop to demolish the building themselves or face having to pay for the cost of police vehicles and a bulldozer that would carry out the demolition, which could run up to $100,000. The family refused.
Israeli forces have also cracked down on the protest movement against the evictions, shooting crowd dispersal weapons at protesters and making frequent arrests.
“It’s wrong. This crisis must end now,” Newman said. “This is about human rights, dignity, and respect. If we are ever to achieve peace in the region – a true two-state solution – there must be a mutual understanding.
“I once again urge the Biden administration to do everything in its power to stop the evictions.”
Israel has long attempted to clear Palestinians out of the Silwan area, which includes al-Bustan, Wadi al-Rababa, Batn al-Hawa and Wadi Hilweh, with plans to build a string of tourist parks, themed around biblical stories and figures.
Amnesty International and other rights groups have demanded the expulsions in Silwan be stopped.
“This is yet another illustration of Israel’s criminal policy of forced displacement of Palestinians in motion,” said Saleh Higazi, the human rights organization’s deputy MENA director.
‘Devastation and bloodshed’
In her address, Representative Newman noted that, in May, East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood swept headlines, as an Israeli court ordered 40 Palestinians, including 10 children, to be evicted from their homes.
“Families in Sheikh Jarrah and other neighbourhoods faced a similar fate. Tomorrow, others will also,” Newman said, highlighting the shared struggle Palestinians face.
“After the devastation and bloodshed of the past, a few months ago, and the continued toll of the coronavirus pandemic on Palestinian families, we cannot allow these evictions, demolitions and displacements to further exacerbate this humanitarian crisis,” she continued.
The protest movement that was sparked in response to Israel’s attempts to evict families in Sheikh Jarrah spread across occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and in cities and towns throughout Israel in May. But escalating tensions then saw Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, during which Israeli forces killed at least 256 Palestinians, including 66 children.
‘No recognition of Palestinian humanity’
While large protests against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza were seen on the streets of nearly every major city in the world, Biden’s response to Israel’s aggression has been seen as decidedly lukewarm, garnering criticism from lawmakers in his own party as well as from rights campaigners.
Several US Congress members spoke in support of Palestinian rights on the House floor during Israel’s bombing campaign in May, urging Biden to to pursue a more even-handed approach to the crisis.
“There has been absolutely no recognition of Palestinian humanity,” Representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman elected to congress, said at the time.
“If our own State Department can’t even bring itself to acknowledge the killing of Palestinian children is wrong, well, I will say it for the millions of Americans who stand with me against the killing of innocent children, no matter their ethnicity, or faith.”
Around the same time, 140 progressive groups released a joint statement calling on the Biden administration to denounce efforts to evict Palestinian families in Jerusalem and “exert the utmost diplomatic pressure to prevent these potential war crimes from taking place”.
Last week, dozens of House Democrats signed a letter calling on Biden to reverse the Trump administration’s “abandonment of longstanding, bipartisan United States policy” towards Israel and Palestine, including support for a two-state solution.