Home > 1948, Jerusalem, One State Reality > Yediot’s Kadmon on Sheikh Jarrah, 1948 and the destruction of the two-state paradigm

Yediot’s Kadmon on Sheikh Jarrah, 1948 and the destruction of the two-state paradigm

Yediot’s Sima Kadmon is second in stature only to Nahum Barnea and this Friday (March 12 2010) her column opened the paper’s influential weekend Political Supplement. Writing in the context of of the current US-Israeli crisis on East Jerusalem, she puts the symbolic, and more importantly, strategic significance (as opposed to the injustice) of  Sheikh Jarrah front and center on the mainstream Israeli public agenda (full text at bottom):

But beyond the destruction of the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs, and beyond the act of penetration and takeover of Arab neighborhoods, the measures in Sheikh Jarrah put Israel into a considerable legal, political and historic bind: if Jews can sue Arabs for ownership of property before 1948, what will prevent Arabs, who own hundreds if not thousands of properties in West Jerusalem, to claim their ownership of them? What will stop them from demanding the eviction of thousands of tenants from properties that were owned by Arabs in Talbiya, Baka, German Colony, Talpiot, Abu Tor and other neighborhoods? In all of those neighborhoods, and not only in them, Jews live in houses that once belonged to Arabs.

Is it really in Israel’s interest to open up the discussion of historic rights to property from before 1948?

The reopening of 1948 is not relegated to Jerusalem. The case of the Shaya family house in Jaffa, which I wrote about here last November, is at the heart of Israel’s metropolitan center. It is also  happening on a massive scale in Haifa and the north.

Kadmon asks what will stop the Palestinians from exploiting this precedent to demand their properties in west Jerusalem. The answer, legally at least, is that Israel’s courts recognize only the Jewish “right of return,” an uncomfortable fact that has not yet been the subject of any substantial constitutional judicial debate. That, however, is only a matter of time.

The evicted families of Sheikh Jarrah have deeds to properties in Jaffa and West Jerusalem. They will go to court and work the appeals process all the way up to Supreme Court. Because they are living on the street,  the judges it will not have the luxury of dragging a ruling out indefinitely. What will they do, rule that Jews and Palestinians are not equal under the law (the “A” word comes to mind) or create an earthshaking precedent and give the plaintiffs their ’48 properties back? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

In another time, I would also have added that the Sheikh Jarrah evictions undermine international trust in Israel’s sincerity regarding a two state solution, but I don’t think there is much of that left anyway.

It is important to note that judicial precedent gives the Israeli government the full power to step-in and stop the evictions, the issue of property rights notwithstanding. The supreme court has consistently sided with the government when it asserted that the issue is of “diplomatic importance.” There are a number of cases from the period of Rabin government’s “settlement freeze” in the ’90s.

Perhaps the most poignant, and directly relevant example is the case of Ikrit and Birim. The residents of these two villages in the Galilee were asked (literally) by the IDF to leave “temporarily” in 1948. They have since lived nearby as internally displaced refugees, while their villages remain empty and the local Kibbutzes farm their land. The Supreme Court recognized their right to return, but ruled that the government’s concern for a dangerous precedent overrode that right. A government genuinely concerned with the ongoing destruction of the two-state paradigm, would have made use of this power in Sheikh Jarrah.

’48 my love

Excerpt from column, Yediot Friday Political Supplement, March 12 2010

Make no mistake: from the beginning of his term Netanyahu has been taking various measures that mean increasing friction with the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and he’s doing it with the help of Mayor Nir Barkat. Barkat, elected with the massive support of the liberal, secular, not to say leftist public, has started to look like the nightmare of supporters of peace and coexistence.

Last Saturday night thousands of Jewish and Arab leftists gathered in the football field of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, to protest against the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes and the entry of settlers in their place. The demonstration was the culmination of weekly protests that took place in the neighborhood over the past months, in constant conflict with the police. The intervention of the Supreme Court forced the police to allow the protest and gave it greater reverberation. What began with a limited number of students got bigger the more the preposterousness became known.In Sheikh Jarrah there is an 18 dunam area known as the Simon the Righteous compound, named after the Second Temple high priest who is believed to be buried there. Jews lived in the area from the end of the 19th century but it became Arab in the 1920s and 30s. In 1948 the Arab takeover of the neighborhood was completed when the whole area came under Jordanian control.

28 Palestinian refugee families were housed there, in exchange for giving up their status as refugees. Until Jerusalem was united.

In 1972 the families were asked to pay rent to the Sephardic community committee and to the Knesset Israel committee, the historic landlords. Legal procedures over the matter ended with recognition of the Palestinian residents as protected tenants in Jewish-owned properties, but they continue to refuse to pay to the Jewish landlords even token rent, so as not to recognize their ownership of the houses.

The refusal ultimately led to an eviction claim, one of the claimants being Nachlat Shimon International, a settler organization that bought part of the compound from the Sephardic committee. So far three families have been evicted from their homes by court order, and proceedings are in motion against a number of other families. Jewish settlers entered the evacuated houses.

Legally all is kosher: property owners exercising their rights. But this is a political issue of the first order. The settler organizations, with the Israeli government support, are working to build settlements in the Arab neighborhoods that surround the Old City, to prevent a compromise that would include the division of Jerusalem. In the Simon the Righteous compound, the settlers are planning to build 200 housing units, as well as other construction in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan.

But beyond the destruction of the fabric of relations between Jews and Arabs, and beyond the act of penetration and takeover of Arab neighborhoods, the measures in Sheikh Jarrah put Israel into a considerable legal, political and historic bind: if Jews can sue Arabs for ownership of property before 1948, what will prevent Arabs, who own hundreds if not thousands of properties in West Jerusalem, to claim their ownership of them? What will stop them from demanding the eviction of thousands of tenants from properties that were owned by Arabs in Talbiya, Baka, German Colony, Talpiot, Abu Tor and other neighborhoods? In all of those neighborhoods, and not only in them, Jews live in houses that once belonged to Arabs.

Is it really in Israel’s interest to open up the discussion of historic rights to property from before 1948? Is it wise? Does it strengthen Israel’s already shaky international status?

Netanyahu, who is not preventing any of those measures and is actually cooperating with the extreme settler organizations, is bringing the international criticism of his conduct in Jerusalem upon himself. So maybe he was not responsible for the coincidence of approving 1600 housing units at the precise time they were approved, but he certainly is responsible for all the rest.

Anyone who plans to build another 50,000 housing units in East Jerusalem should be ready for more surprises.

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