Israel’s provocative actions lately caused more tension between Washington and Jerusalem, beginning with the Israeli Interior minister, and leader of Shas (religious political party) Eli Yishai, announcing that it would be building 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem, over the course of three years, during US vice president Joe Biden’s visit to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, condemned the announcement; claiming that he was unaware that the Ministry of Interior were going to make the announcement. He has battled with balancing two conflicts of interest, remaining in power by creating stability and unity within his coalition that he formed in early 2009, which is the most right wing coalition in Israel’s history, and maintaining the strong relationship with it’s most important ally, with Obama’s significantly more dovish administration than his predecessors.
Recently Israeli security forces evicted two Arab families from their homes in the Arab neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, stemming from a long legal dispute that led to their eviction orders. The site of their homes were where according to documents dating back to the Ottoman period produced by Jews, claiming ownership to the site. The houses that the Arab families were evicted from were built under Jordanian rule by the United Nations Agency for Palestinian refugees, the Jordanians were in the process of giving the residents of these homes ownership of them, but the process was not completed before the six-day war where Israel took control of East Jerusalem.
This is not the first time that Jews have returned to land that was previously either not under Israel’s control prior to June 1967, or to the case of reclaiming property that was lost. The reclaiming of property and calls for reparations to Jews has been an ongoing struggle not only with cases such as these in the West bank, but continues to be a pressing issue for many Jews trying to make claims against European governments and individuals for property taken from Jews during the second world war.
After 1967, Jews making similar claims to that of the recent case in Sheikh Jarrah, occurred in the re-establishment of various settlement blocs, most notably, the Gush Etzion, south-east of Jerusalem.
A lesser spoken about eviction case is the destruction of the Moroccan quarter within the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem. The Moroccan quarter was an 800 year old, small neighbourhood in the Old city, located east of the Western wall on what is now the clear open plaza providing access for prayer at the Western wall. The neighbourhood was home to 650 inhabitants at the time of the demolition on 10th June 1967. The inhabitants were given a few hours notice to vacate their homes and then Israeli authorities flattened 135 houses to the ground. The demolition was approved by the mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kolleck and carried out by officer Etan Ben Moshe. During the demolition several Palestinians refused to leave their homes and were killed during the bulldozing as well as one woman who didn’t hear the calls to vacate the buildings and was later found buried under the rubble.
Shortly after the rest of the Palestinians who had inhabited the Jewish quarter of the Old city under Jordanian rule were also evicted. A few years later the Israeli government compensated the families with 200 Jordanian dinars per family.
Or the fact that currently, in West Jerusalem at the bottom of Kikar Chatulah is an Ancient Muslim cemetery where the remains of dead bodies are being dug up to be reburied outside of the city so that Israel can build a ‘Museum of Tolerance!’
A friend of mine got a job digging up the graves, and said it was not done respectfully. His axe hit the skull of a child and he decided he couldn’t do it and quit after just one day. The project is run by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre based in Las Angeles. The project is considered a violation of International Human rights law, in spite of the ruling to approve the museums construction by the Israeli Supreme Court and protests by Arab residents of Jerusalem, many of who have relatives buried in the cemetery.
Whilst the past two mentioned cases are equally outrageous, the argument that one can justly reclaim property or land that was lost in the past it poses an undesirable consequence regarding the peace process. It is essentially the claim and right that we must give up in order to achieve a two-state solution. By legitimizing the Jewish right to reclaim lost or stolen property on the West bank, we are also legitimizing the Palestinian right of return to Israel proper, which Israel rejects. Where Palestinian villages within Israel’s pre-1967 borders were vacated for various reasons, were either completely destroyed and rebuilt and then repopulated by Israeli Jews, or Jews just moved into the ‘abandoned’ Arab homes. Village names were wiped off of the Israeli map by renaming them with Hebrew names.
Most of the Palestinian Arab exodus from Israel in 1948 was sparked by the news spread of an Israeli massacre in the Arab village of Deir Yassin; killing 600 inhabitants carried out by the Irgun and Lehi forces. Arab leaders thought that by spreading the news that it would create anger and inspire Arabs to fight for revenge, the Irgun and Lehi did not deny having carried out what were devastating rumours of murder in cold blood, rape and other atrocities, for the fear that the rumour would incite backfired on the Palestinian leadership and its effort to inspire a thirst for revenge. The opposite occurred, it created fear and then many fled their homes not wanting what they heard had happened in Deir Yassin to happen to them. Irgun leaders later denied that a massacre had taken place at all but claim that the belief that it did served their purpose at the time when engaged in psychological warfare.
Palestinian Arabs have long claimed that as part of the peace process that they demand what they call ‘a right of return,’ many still hold the keys to their houses in places such as Acco, Haifa, Jaffa and many other places that are now mostly populated by Jews. Many of their homes they have the keys for do not exist anymore.
Israel if it continues to grant legitimacy to Jews reclaiming their property in East Jerusalem or the West bank, whilst they may be justified in doing so, it is only justified if Palestinian Arabs can do the same for property that they have lost, and will run the risk of undermining the very existence of a Jewish state at all. Justice for displacement and loss of property within the confines of a two-state solution can only be sought through granting of compensation.
Germany for example pays reparations to Jews and Israel for the crimes of Nazi Germany. What would happen if every wrong were righted through reclaiming property? All Holocaust survivors or those who fled and their descendants would move back to Europe to reclaim their property and resume residing where they once lived, as well as all the Arab states would allow back all of the Jews who left in the 1950’s many of whom emigrated to Israel. Jews would be able to move back to the West bank if they resided there in the past and Arabs would be allowed to move back into Israel’s pre 1967 borders. In short it is an argument that will lead the way to the destruction of any viable Jewish state at all.
Law professor Alan Dershowitz once said that we need a pragmatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will involve each side having to make painful compromises and giving up certain rights. This is one of those rights, when one advocates the right of Jews to reclaim lost property in East Jerusalem or any other part of the West bank, they must be aware that by doing so they are justifying the Palestinian right of return as well. If they reject that they are making such a claim they are either imposing a double standard in favour of Jews, or holding that Jews are entitled to the whole land, and that supersedes Palestinian claims or rights, and therefore not interested in a two-state solution.
Those of us who are pragmatists and wish to see Israel at peace as a Jewish and democratic state have to realise the ramifications and consequences of pursuing the right to reclaim property in the West bank. This is a painful compromise for many I admit, as Jews do have many connections to this land and places within it, but the price that we have to pay for keeping it will mean either the end of a Jewish State or the end of Israeli democracy, and have to live with the fact that the Jewish State will only be capable of remaining the State of the Jewish people by further violating the rights and claims of the Palestinians.