Saturday, November 07, 2009

Jewish rights ignored in Jerusalem evictions story

Once again the world's press and media are full of emotive images and reports of Arabs being evicted from homes in Jerusalem.The wretched inhabitants are being photographed being dragged away by police from homes in which they claim to have lived for 50 years. Rarely do the media give the backstory: that these occupants never had legal tenure, and the homes were once owned by Jews who were themselves evicted. The homes have been the object of legal disputes in the Israeli courts going back several decades. If they do mention such facts, the media assume that - flying in the face of demonstrable proof that the Israeli courts are no friends of settlers - the system would automatically side with the Jews.

The Jerusalem Post, however, does give this piece of background information:

"The roots of the ownership dispute over the 28 properties in question dates back to 1948, when a number of homes in the neighborhood that belonged to Jews before the creation of the state were seized by the Jordanian government under its Enemy Property Law during the War of Independence.

"In 1956, 28 Palestinian families who had been receiving refugee assistance from UNRWA were selected to benefit from a project in which they forfeited their refugee aid and moved into homes built on the seized properties in Sheikh Jarrah.

"The agreement stipulated that the ownership of the homes was to be put in the families' names - a step that never took place - and court battles between Jewish groups that represent some of the former Jewish homeowners and the current Palestinian residents have been going on in some cases since the 1980s."

This Reuters report is one of the few to quote the words of one of the Jewish claimants:

"They can go to Syria, Iraq, Jordan. We are six million and they are billions," said Yehya Gureish, an Arabic-speaking Yemen-born Jew who said his family owned the land and had Ottoman Empire documentation to prove it."

To those who worry that the issue sets a precedent and opens up a can of worms, exposing the whole of Israel to Palestinian property claims and legitimising an Arab 'right of return', the answer is that there are two cans of worms here - any Palestinian claims must be set against Jewish claims for their property seized in Arab countries.

As commenter Rafael Moshe wrote on the Jerusalem Post thread:

"In brief, the Arabs are seeking to retain the fruits of 'ethnic cleansing' of Jews. The current residents may even be the heirs to the perpetrators. When the Jews from North Africa and the Middle East were expelled by the Arab nations in response to Israel's declaration of independence, real estate totaling an estimated five times the size of the state of Israel was confiscated from these Jews. Yet, the Western apologists for the Palestinians are far more concerned with the "rights" of Arab squatters. Any explanation?"

Tangled web of Jewish ownership in Arab areas

12 comments:

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Bataween, you are quite right here.

In the late 19th century, the Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jewish communities in Jerusalem jointly bought the plot of land containing the disputed real estate. The place was important because the presumed tomb of Simon the Just [Shim`on haTsadiq] was located in a cave there. Some twenty to thirty homes for poor Jews were built on the plot. These Jews were driven out in late December 1947, making this neighborhood, the Shimon haTsadiq Quarter, the first neighborhood in the country where people were driven out of their homes and could not go back after the war. [Jews who fled the Arab attacks on south Tel Aviv in 12/1947 & 1/1948could return home after the war].

One family stayed into January, fleeing between the 8th and 10th of 1/1948. The nearby Jewish neighborhood of Nahalat Shimon was evacuated in January due to Arab attacks and British treachery, which disarmed the Jews after they had successfully repelled an Arab attack. The nearby Siebenbergen Houses Quarter was also ethnically cleansed at about the same time, maybe a little later. This quarter is now the site of three new hotels, including the NOvotel.

I have visited the site several times and have spoken to one of the Arab families protesting. The family's spokesman gave me a false version of history in regard to the tomb of Simon the Just. The house sits on the Shimon haTsadiq plot but was not built until the mid-fifties. So it is not one of the houses that the Jews were driven out of but is on the original Jewish-owned Shimon haTsadiq plot of real estate.

bataween said...

Thanks for filling in the detail, Eliyahu. What is badly needed in this case is precise information, not vague, emotive and polemical journalism.
Bataween

Anonymous said...

surely the problem is not the contested ownership of a single plot of land but of the contested governership of East Jerusalem, it's all very well saying that these homes were originally Jewish in 1948, but between 48 and 67 they were allocated to Palestinian families who's own homes may have gone to Jewish families in Israel. Since 1967 the land has been considered contested by the international community and is not seen by anyone other than the Israeli government as being under Israeli jurisdiction. It's the hypocrisy that is the problem, not the legal status of a few houses. As you have noted, two wrongs do not make a right.

bh

bataween said...

Bh, I think there are two separate issues here. Of course Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is contested, and there is much hypocrisy here, but home ownership is home ownership regardless. Thus if I wanted to recover our house in Baghdad I would be within my rights, even though Jews don't exercise sovereignty in Baghdad.
Likewise if the Palestinian family owned a house in Israel they would be within their rights to claim it back, or demand compensation. The point here is that the Palestinian inhabitants were never given title to the properties - they are therefore squatters.

Anonymous said...

Bataween you are right, but the negative publicity Israel gets over these evictions is because of the contested sovereignty issue. You are right, Jews do not have sovereignty in Baghdad or other places in Europe for that matter where there has been restitution and compensation however these issues should be sorted out as part of an overall peace agreement between Israel and the countries with which it is still at war. Evicting families from homes they have lived in for the best part of 50 years whilst not allowing them or other Palestinian families to claim ownership of properties in Israel which they may also have deeds/records of ownership is is seen as bullying and hypocritical by most people, hence the outcry and "one sided" reporting.

bh

bataween said...

I'm sure that the Israeli courts would have considered every aspect of this case. I understand that the families would have been allowed to stay on, but did not agree to pay rent (correct me if I'm wrong)? The PA is trying to use these Palestinian families for political reasons. The one-sided news stories are because the media are not interested in reporting the Jewish side - it complicates the simplistic Goliath/David paradigm they love so much.

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

BH, bear in mind that Jewish families living on that plot were driven out near the start of the 1947-1949 Arab-Israeli war, in December 1947. They were the first refugees in the war who could not go home after it was over. So the area is sensitive for that reason.

Secondly, the plot of land in question contains a place of Jewish pilgrimage before the 1947-1949 war, the Tomb of Simon the Just. The plot was purchased jointly by the Ashkenazi and Sefardi community committees in 1889 or about then.

Now, while the Muslim waqf refuses the right of Jews to visit or especially to pray on the Temple Mount, the site of the ancient Jewish temple, which they consider a holy place for Islam [al-Haram al-Sharif] would it be unreasonable
for Jews not to want those of other religions to live on the grounds of a Jewish holy place [at least in the minds of the faithful, if not in your mind]??

Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

Further, you ask whether it would not be fair to let Arabs return to what was Arab property before 1948. The Arab side was the initiator of war and the aggressor in 1947 as well as in 1967, etc. Should not the aggressor nation be treated differently??

In Europe after WW II, huge parts of Germany were annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union. Millions of Germans were displaced from these areas and made refugees. That was the example set by Europe. Can Europe tell Israel not to follow the European example?? Closer to Israel, about 2.5 to 4 million ethnic Greeks were expelled from Turkey in 1922, while --with the intervention of the NOrwegian peacemaker, Fridtjof Nansen-- Turkey agreed that the Greeks could expel some 400,000 to 600,000 Muslims from Thrace, and the Turks would make peace on that basis. How come we don't hear demands to let the Greeks go back to Smyrna?? On the island of Cyprus, some 200,000 Greeks were displaced/expelled from northern Cyprus by the Turkish army only 35 years ago, in 1974. How come nobody in the EU calls for letting those rather fresh refugees, those Greek Cypriots, go home??

bataween said...

Bh,
In fact in ruling that the properties were owned by the Jewish plaintiffs the court also ruled that those residents paying rent could not be evicted. Those evicted, the ones interviewed by the BBC, refused to pay rent.

Anonymous said...

Thanks both for your answers, what you are saying does indeed make a lot of sense, and I don't disagree with what you are saying. My main point though is that in the context of Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem which is not recognised by any other countries, the eviction of families from their homes is always likely to be seen as bullying and hypocritical. If the context were different i.e. issues like this were resolved in the framework of regional and international agreement I doubt it would be a controversial story.

bh.

bataween said...

If Israel were to base all its decisions on recognition by other countries there would not be an Israel. If the UN were to vote on the 1947 Palestine Partition plan all over again, you can bet that it would never pass today.

Anonymous said...

bataween - i don't believe this is true actually.

best

bh