Editor’s Note: This installment of Keeping Jerusalem was written by Hillel Fendel, who interviewed Chaim Silberstein, the usual co-author of the column.
What are the best ways to manifest the Jewish people’s return to the Land of Israel and the Holy City after 1,900 years? At the top of the list is undoubtedly the reclamation of land once owned by Jews and now occupied by others (usually Arabs), or by settling land in strategic areas, thus making sure they are Jewish.
Chaim Silberstein, founder and president of the Keep Jerusalem/Im Eshkachech organization, has had great success in Shimon HaTzaddik, Nachalat Shimon and other neighborhoods.
Fendel: Why is the land-reclamation front so important at this time?
Silverstein: Without building viable Jewish neighborhoods in all parts of eastern Jerusalem, and especially in and around the Old City, our claim of ownership and sovereignty rings hollow. In order to secure Jerusalem for the Jewish people forever, we need to work on three planes simultaneously and with an integrated approach – the physical, political, and educational planes. Together with our activities on the educational and political planes, these efforts must be supplemented and buttressed with physical facts on the ground. ”
Isn’t that the job of the government?
Many times we find ourselves doing the work that the government is supposed to be doing. Take hasbara, for instance. Unfortunately, it’s commonly known that Israel’s efforts in presenting its positions to the international public do not meet the needs. Similarly, when was the last time the government initiated a new neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem? We are proud to say our efforts have led to the creation of the Jewish neighborhoods of Shimon HaTzaddik, Nachalat Shimon, and more – and groups such as Elad, JRP, and the Israel Land Fund have also had significant accomplishments.
What role does all this play in terms of making sure Yerushalayim remains Israeli?
The Clinton/Barak formula for Jerusalem, originating in the Camp David talks of July 2000, was as follows: “Jewish neighborhoods for the Jews, Arab neighborhoods for the Arabs.” It is therefore clear that in any negotiations over Jerusalem, the Old City and the areas surrounding it must be saturated with Jewish neighborhoods, rendering them non-negotiable and not transferable. Redeeming lands is the charge of the hour.
When I say “redeeming lands,” I mean: locating Arab sellers, working out the sale, and following up on actualizing the sale and making arrangements for the current tenants. This occurs mostly in politically, historically, and demographically strategic areas such as the City of David, the Muslim Quarter in the Old City, and along the seam between eastern and western Jerusalem.
Have the police and courts generally been helpful to you?
My personal experience is that when it comes to evicting Arab squatters from Jewish property, the courts are inclined to employ a policy of reverse discrimination; some would call it simply “anti-Jewish.” For example, just this week, in a case we’ve been pursuing for six years regarding Arab squatters on Jewish land, a ruling was handed down that was so transparently against the Jewish owners that it left us no option but to appeal to the Jerusalem District Court. The case concerns a property in Nachalat Shimon, adjacent to Shimon HaTzaddik, where the Arabs say they are protected tenants and cannot be evicted. The court, though it rejected all the Arab testimony, accepted documents that were tenuous at best and upheld their right to live there.
What do you mean by “tenuous”?
The Arab occupants had to prove they lived on the property since 1968 – and the best they could come up with was the mother’s marriage certificate showing that she got married in the neighborhood in 1964. The certificate was (a) not an original, (b) was not submitted by a party to the certificate, and (c) does not prove they lived in the property in contention. Not to mention that we brought proof that the property was not even built up at that time. Yet the court accepted the marriage certificate as proof.
On the positive side, by the way, concurrent to the legal process, we recently submitted plans for a zoning plan for the property – and Jerusalem City Hall has approved them.
Regarding the police, I can say they bend over backward to preserve peace; they barely enforce the law in many Arab-populated neighborhoods, because their overall goal is to avoid violence or disturbances.
Do you find that Arab owners are generally willing to cooperate, as long as the deal remains secret?
There are three possible ways of buying from an Arab. One: when he knows the buyers are Jewish and he agrees to sell directly anyway. Two: when he knows Jews are behind the purchase and insists on selling to an Arab front man. Three: when the seller is unaware Jews are behind the sale and the Jews have to work anonymously through an Arab front man.
What projects do you have on the burner at present?
The Jerusalem Capital Development Fund, our land redemption organization, is focusing on purchasing properties north of the Old City and adjacent to the east-west seam. At the moment, we have ten deals on the cooker, and we’re looking for investors.
For more information on how to participate in keeping Jerusalem Jewish, via updates, bus tours of critical parts of Jerusalem, and more, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech’s website at www.keepjerusalem.org.