As Israeli leftist protesters and Arab squatters from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem mingled outside the Supreme Court building with foreign diplomats and television news crews, the panel of judges inside was going out of its way to avoid a global tsunami that would follow inevitably should they actually stick to the law.
Needless to say, in their zeal to prove once again that the late Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban was right when he coined the adage, “The Arabs never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” the Arabs of Sheikh Jarrah went about shooting themselves in the leg with astonishing persistence and accuracy.
The court was deciding whether to accept the appeals of four Arab families from Sheikh Jarrah who are facing eviction from their homes following a ruling of the Jerusalem Magistrates and District Courts. The families petitioned for the High Court’s permission to appeal the district court’s decision ordering their removal. If the petition is rejected and the Arab residents are unable to appeal, their eviction would get the green light to go ahead – and a wave of anti-Israel attacks would be unleashed.
And so, determined to come out of this unhappy affair with the least amount of injury to Israel’s standing in the world, never mind the justice thing, at the start of the hearing—which ended without a decision—the justices tried in every way to bring the parties to a compromise agreement. They were hoping to avoid overturning the legally sound court decisions over fears of international retribution. Justice is not supposed to work like that.
The neighborhood was established by Jewish settlers in 1890, and its Jewish residents were forced out by the British mandatory government during the War of Independence. In the early 2000s, after a long legal battle, Jewish residents started to come back to Shimon Hatzadik.
In the 1950s and ’60s, King Hussein of Jordan plied the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem under his rule with real estate to maintain their loyalty to the crown. Among those properties were those vacated Jewish homes in Sheikh Jarrah. In 1967, Israel liberated the eastern part of Jerusalem. Israeli law is very clear regarding allowing the owners to ask for and receive homes they had been kicked out of in what was briefly known as the “west bank.”
So what the justices Yitzhak Amit, Dafna Barak-Erez, and Noam Solberg proposed on Monday was that the Arab squatters would remain in their homes as protected tenants. Like rent-control tenants in NY City. And for this fantastic deal, they would pay rent to the tune of NIS 1,500 ($465) a year–that’s $38.75 a month—to the Nahalat Shimon company, which has won the case to get them evicted.
And now to the part where the late Abba Eban is smiling in his grave: the Arabs refused to offer.
The problem is not the money, but the recognition of Nahalat Shimon’s ownership of those four homes. The Arabs refused the deal (I mean, come on, a home in Jerusalem for less than $40 a month?) because the plaintiffs demanded in return for giving up the evictions a clear recognition of the Jewish ownership of the properties a clear and irreversible commitment on the part of the Arab squatters that they would make no further claims in the future.
The Arabs refused vehemently.
The head of the panel, Justice Amit, was optimistic and believed that the problems could be solved with some good will and cooperation on both sides. My God, it’s like he just arrived in the Middle East. “We will write that the petitioners declare that they are the protected tenants and that the respondent is registered as the owner, and we have resolved the issue,” he told the two sides, adding, “This will give us breathing space for a few good years, and until then either there will be a global real estate arrangement or peace will come. We don’t know what will happen. Can we conclude this matter?”
In the end, the justices told the Arab lawyers to submit to the court the list of those who are entitled to protected tenancy in each property, which means that come the next hearing, the justices would attempt to force the parties to reach a compromise that includes protected tenancy and canceling the evictions without actually overturning the lower courts. Above all, the Justices do not want to sign their names at the bottom of an eviction notice.
For the Arabs, it’s November 1947 all over again: to avoid eviction they would have to declare publicly that the land is owned by the Jews, something of which culturally, religiously and ideologically they may be quite incapable of fulfilling.