It’s not easy to counter images of Arab families purportedly being evicted from their homes – such as the pictures of residents of the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah that were published last week in The New York Times and elsewhere. But Israel must at least try.
In last week’s Times article, the only articulation of the Israeli position was by Jerusalem’s police spokesman, who said that a court found the “property is owned by Jews.”
Perhaps the Times omitted other Israeli statements; regardless, the Israeli government needs to do much better in explaining its position. It is hardly enough to state Israel’s right to sovereignty over Jerusalem and the right of Jerusalem residents to live anywhere in the city.
Following are some basic facts about Sheikh Jarrah that Israel should emphasize:
● Sheikh Jarrah is adjacent to the Jewish neighborhoods of Shimon HaTzadik, founded in 1876, and Nahalat Shimon, founded in 1891. The majority of residents of this area were Jewish. Some Jewish residents were forced to leave following Arab riots, but Jews remained in the area until 1948.
● The road to Mount Scopus – where Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital are located – passes through Sheikh Jarrah. In 1948, a convoy headed for Mount Scopus was attacked in Sheikh Jarrah, and 78 Jews were murdered.
● The Sheikh Jarrah area was controlled by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. In the 1950s, Jordan – in a joint project with the United Nations – settled 28 Arab families there. It is the residences of these families that are under contention. The agreement between Jordan and the UN stipulated that the houses would be built on “formerly Jewish property leased by the Custodian of Enemy Property to the [Jordanian] Ministry of Development.” The Jordanian government never transferred ownership to the residents whom it settled in these homes.
● The UN’s agreement with Jordan to build houses on “formerly Jewish property” despite Jordan’s acquisition of this property during the 1948-49 war is obviously inconsistent with the UN’s position on Israeli construction on barren state land acquired during the 1967 war.
● After the Six-Day War, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that ownership of the premises on which the 28 Arab families lived belonged to two Jewish organizations that had acquired the land in the late 1800s. However, pursuant to a settlement agreement, the Supreme Court directed that the Arab families be given the status of protected tenants.
● Several of the Arab families left Sheikh Jarrah, while others refused to pay rent. As a result of their refusal to pay rent, following further litigation, eviction was authorized.
● In the case reported by the Times last week, the “eviction” was from an unoccupied extension to the property, which was previously deemed illegal by the Supreme Court since the resident family is not the owner of the property. As noted in the Times article, the Arab family remains in the main building. Some argue that the status quo following the 1948 War of Independence must be preserved, and that Israelis therefore should not present legal claims based upon pre-1948 ownership. While I disagree on several grounds, that is a matter of policy and strategy that can reasonably be debated (but is beyond the scope of this article).
What is clear is that the reality of Sheikh Jarrah is far different than has been portrayed throughout the world. Again, the Israeli government must do a lot better at presenting the facts.
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We all want Gilad Shalit to return home. But the release of nearly 1,000 terrorists – including many mass murderers – in exchange for Shalit would make a mockery of Israel’s legal system, callously disregard those murdered by the terrorists, boost the morale of all terrorists, and call into question the purpose of the IDF operations to capture the very terrorists who are now being released.
Most ominously, the release of so many terrorists could result in yet another round of mass killings of Jews.
Can anybody imagine India releasing terrorists associated with the Mumbai massacres, or the United States releasing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Richard Reid or Zacarias Moussaoui?
If Entebbe symbolized Israel’s fight against terror, the impending deal appears to symbolize Israel’s surrender to terror.