The struggle of Arabs living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood (Simon the Just) of East Jerusalem to stay in their homes has become a cause celebre among pro-Palestinians and in the media.Writing in Ynet News, Yair Gabai, a lawyer and member of the Jerusalem Council, points out, however, that the original Jewish owners never lost their property rights. Leftists adopt a double standard where Arab rights are assumed to trump Jewish property rights. Gabai also raises an important issue: should there be a cost - ie restitution rights denied - associated with starting a war?
"Fortunately, I have never heard of a case in which the State of Israel prevented an Arab in possession of land or a house in west Jerusalem from living in his home or legally building on his land for purely racist reasons. Recently, left-wing organizations have been seeking to impose an apartheid rule in Jerusalem.
" In other words, in the west each person has the right to fulfill the ownership right, while in the east – this right is only given to Arabs. In order to prevent Jews with assets in the eastern part of the city from fulfilling their ownership, they recruit foreign countries and market fabrications about "poor Arabs who have been expelled from their homes by settler thugs."
"The houses in Simeon the Just neighborhood, which Jews entered with a court order, are located on a piece of land measuring 4.5 acres, which was purchased by the Sephardic Community Committee and the Ashkenazi Committee (Knesset Israel) in 1876. In 1936 the neighborhood included houses, synagogues and charity institutions. This land is soaked with the blood of Jews, and nearby is a monument commemorating the 78 doctors and staff members massacred on their way to Mount Scopus. From the moment the neighborhood was established, Jerusalem's Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini began leading acts of harassment against the neighborhood's residents. Some of us may have forgotten that the mufti was the first person to issue a fatwa (death sentence) against an Arab selling land to a Jew.
"Unfortunately, upon the declaration of the State's establishment in 1948, following riots, bombardments and unstoppable attacks, the Jews were forced to abandon their houses in this neighborhood, and had the Arab rioters not lost in the War of Independence they would have also cleansed Rehavia and Talbiyeh of Jews. After the War of Independence, these houses were turned over to the possession of the Jordanian in charge of the enemy's assets who rented them out to the Arab families which have been living in them up to now. The private ownership of these assets has never been expropriated, and the proceedings to return the Jewish property to its rightful owner began after the Six Day War, when the neighborhood was re-liberated by IDF forces.
"And here, once again, the leftists are basically claiming that Jews must concede their property, as the Arabs have also abandoned homes in which Jews live today. My response to this is that there are no free meals and no free wars, and there must be a price for launching a war, otherwise the Arabs will have no interest in avoiding it.
"It's true that the Arabs also abandoned homes during the war, but human morals recognize that this is the price of the war they launched. Therefore, there is no justification in returning these homes to Arab hands. In addition, it should stressed that the State of Israel enacted a law in 1973 to compensate Arab absentee landlords for abandoned property seized by the trustee of absentee landlords' assets*, and for 15 years anyone who left behind such property could have received financial compensation according to UN criteria.
"In this context it should be noted that most Jews who emigrated from Arab countries after the State's establishment left behind a lot of property, although their departure was never accompanied by a coup attempt or a revolt against the Arab regime. I have yet to hear about left-wing organizations protesting for the restoration of their property. A bill conditioning any peace agreement with a solution for the property of Jews of Arab countries recently passed a preliminary reading at the Knesset, but the media attacks against it show just how much these organizations, which enjoy European support, have succeeded in presenting any initiative aimed at making historic justice for the Jewish people, persecuted by Arab countries for daring to dream about a national home, as ludicrous."
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*According to this article - as of 1993, 14,692 Arabs - though not from the West Bank - claimed compensation under the Absentee Property Law and the Validation and Compensation Law. Claims were settled with respect to 200,905 dunams of land, a total of NIS 9,956,828 had been paid as compensation, and 54,481 dunams of land had been given in compensation (Israel Lands Administration Report for 1993).