by Hugh Fitzgerald
Israel is being charged by anti-Israel groups with illegally, displacing Palestinians from East Jerusalem. It is doing no such thing. The story of this latest calumny is here: “The Myth of Arab Displacement in Eastern Jerusalem,” by Joshua Beylinson, Algemeiner, June 8, 2021:
In early May, a host of anti-Israel groups published a petition calling on the international community to “stop Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem!” As expected, it was rife with misinformation and entirely devoid of context.
The petition lists Sheikh Jarrah, Al Bustan, and Batin al Hawa as three neighborhoods in which Palestinian residents face “expulsion.” The petition elaborates further that “this is part of Israel’s larger plan of racist colonial expansion throughout eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, forcibly displacing Palestinian families from their land and homes and replacing them with illegal Israeli settlements.”
The population of East Jerusalem is roughly 220,000 Jews and 360,000 Arabs. If the government of Israel has been engaged since 1967, when it first came into possession of East Jerusalem, in a campaign of “racist colonial expansion,” it’s not doing a very good job of it. In fact, the percentage of Arabs in the total population of Jerusalem has increased since 1967; that information is never mentioned by the Arabs, for it undermines their claims of “forcible displacement” of.Arab families by Israel.
The authors of the document would have us believe that “Israeli courts have ruled in favor of Jewish settlers and given four families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood until May to leave their homes.” However, this doesn’t accurately reflect the situation in Sheikh Jarrah.
The owners of the property in dispute were not “Jewish settlers,” but simply the owners of land that had been owned by Jews since 1875, long before there was a settlers’ movement.
According to Avi Bell, a lecturer at the University of San Diego School of Law, the tenants living in Sheikh Jarrah appealed the decision by lower civil courts to the Israeli Supreme Court, but it hasn’t ruled on the case yet.
It’s now mid-June, and still no “evictions” have taken place in Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli courts have so far upheld the claims of the Jewish owners of the property in Sheikh Jarrah that are being disputed, but until the Supreme Court rules, there will be no “expulsion” of the four families. Those families have produced no title to the land on which they live, and have even admitted that that land is owed by Jews, but they still refuse either to leave or to pay rent. That’s all the Sheikh Jarrah dispute is: a simple case of non-payment of rent over many years. It’s a matter of landlord-and-tenant law, and not, as the Palestinians would have the world believe, a violation of international law, part of a sinister Jewish plot to drive all the Arabs out of east Jerusalem.
In 1982, Israeli civil courts granted the Palestinian residents “protected leaseholds,” although the Jewish owners retained title ownership, because they could easily prove that this property had been owned by Jews since the 19th century. Palestinians only began to live on the property after the Jordanian invasion (and occupation) of eastern Jerusalem in 1948.
This decision by Israel’s civil courts showed how solicitous the Israeli judges were of the Arab residents, by granting the Arabs “protected leaseholds” they allowed them to remain on the property indefinitely, as long as they could prove that the Jordanians, during the period of their rule (1948-1967), had provided them with title of ownership.
It should be noted that the case of Sheikh Jarrah is unusual: According to Bell, “the [Israeli] 1970 Law and Administrative Arrangements Law (Consolidated Version) preserved the rights of private parties who received a title from the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property.” Accordingly, Israel respects the ownership of land by Arabs.
However, the Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah were never granted ownership of the property by the Jordanians. If they had been, Israel would have respected their rights, despite the Jordanian practice of confiscating land from Jewish landowners in eastern Jerusalem.
That failure of the Jordanians to grant ownership of the Sheikh Jarrah properties to the Palestinians living on them meant that they were not entitled, under Israeli law, to claim a right to “protected households.” They were ordinary tenants, subject to the same requirements as all other such tenants – that is, they had to pay rent. And this they have steadfastly refused to do. The property owner brought suit; the Arabs lost, in one court after another, as they constantly appealed the verdicts that went against them. Now they have exhausted all appeals, save for the final one, to Israel’s Supreme Court . Once that Court hands down its verdict, which is expected to uphold the right of the property owner to evict those tenants for non-payment of rent, then – and only then – will the evictions take place. They will be exactly like the evictions that take place millions of times a year all over the world. Palestinian propagandists would have the world believe that this is not a landlord-tenant dispute over non-payment of rent, but a matter of Israel “colonial-settlers” trying to empty east Jerusalem of its Arab residents – all 360,000 of them.
Clearly, this is not a case of “colonial expansion” or “displacement” by the Israeli government; this is a property dispute between Jewish landowners and Palestinian tenants. The aforementioned petition focuses on the ethnicity of the parties, instead of the legal facts, in order to demonize Israel.
The petition also makes the claim that, “In the Silwan neighborhoods of Al Bustan and Batin al Hawa, a total of 21 families are facing home demolition as soon as May 11th to make way for an allegedly bible-inspired ‘King David Park’ tourist site.”
This claim completely misrepresents the municipal government in Jerusalem’s plans for this area, and provides no historical context.
As CAMERA’s senior media analyst Ricki Hollander has explained, “when Israel gained control of the area [Silwan neighborhoods of Al Bustan and Batin al Hawa,] in 1967, only 4 Arab structures stood on this land. Jerusalem municipality plans to preserve the land as public parkland were ignored and 88 Arab buildings, housing 700 residents, were constructed without permits on the conservation site, mostly in the 1980s and ’90s.”
The parcel of land in question was earmarked for conservation, for a park to be built on the site benefitting all Jerusalemites, Arab and Jew. This was clearly communicated to the public, including to the handful of Arabs living on four structures on the land in 1967. Despite the clear intent of the Israeli government to turn the land into conservation land for a nature preserve, benefitting both Arabs and Jews, the Arabs ignored those plans and illegally built, without obtaining permits, another 88 homes, with 700 Arabs living in them.
Hollander explains further that there is no infrastructure [presumably this includes water, electricity, hookups to the municipal sewage system, roads] in this area because the houses are all built illegally, and the area is essentially a slum. The municipal government in Jerusalem attempted to solve this problem by legalizing 66 of the illegally built houses that were built in the eastern area of this neighborhood, while demolishing the rest of the illegally built houses in the western side; it would also give the people living in the demolished houses land on the eastern side to build new homes. The western side would then become a nature reserve, as it was during Ottoman times.
The Israelis have clearly been bending over backwards to accommodate the Arabs. They decided to legalize 66 of the houses illegally built by the Arabs on the land intended for a nature preserve; this was seen as a clear victory for Arab violators of the law, a concession made to minimize the major violence that would undoubtedly erupt if 700 Arabs were being evicted. Remember, their houses are illegal; they had not obtained building permits for any of them. Nonetheless, they are being allowed to remain; they’ve challenged the Israeli state, and the state conceded.
The Israelis were also mindful of the way such a large-scale eviction would be depicted abroad, providing fodder for the international army of anti-Israelites. A decision was taken to leave in place the people in 66 houses in the eastern part of the those neighborhoods alone; the inhabitants in the remaining 22 houses on the western side would be demolished, but their inhabitants provided with land on the eastern side of the neighborhood where they would be able to build new houses. In other words, not a single Arab would have to leave the neighborhood or be left without housing. Note, too, that Israel – in agreeing to leave Arab housing in the eastern side alone — has also been forced to scale down the size of its planned nature preserve, now limited to only the western side of the neighborhood.
Furthermore, there is no such thing as the “King David Park” in Jerusalem — the plan by the Jerusalem government is to maintain public parkland in the area, which was referred to as the “King’s Garden” in the Torah.
By charging the Israeli government with wanting to build a “King David Park,” the Palestinians are suggesting that this is one more project by wild-eyed “Biblical” settlers. There is no plan for a “King David Park”; the Israelis only want to provide for the inhabitants of the densely-populated eastern Jerusalem a nature preserve, an open park that will benefit both Jews and Arabs. There is nothing “Biblical” or “Judaizing” about it.
A broader look at the situation in eastern Jerusalem also dispels the myths about colonial expansion and displacement proliferated in the petition.
Hollander notes that the Arab population of Jerusalem has increased since Israel gained control of the city and unified it in 1967 — from 26% in 1967, to 38% of the population in 2019.
Additionally, she explains that “the percentage of fulfilled requests [for building permits] in eastern Jerusalem in 2009 was 55%…vs. 63% in West Jerusalem. The proportion of granted requests for permits was similar, as well, in other years…In 2008, for example, 46% of building permits requested were granted in eastern Jerusalem vs. 47% of permit requests granted in west Jerusalem. In 2010, 80% of building permit requests for Arab-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem were approved vs. 89% in Jewish-majority neighborhoods.”
From the paragraph above, one can see that the Arab and Jewish percentages – for fulfilled requests for permits, for percentage of building permits finally granted – are very close, and certainly do not indicate some deliberate attempt to discriminate against Arabs.
The groups responsible for this petition want to sensationalize the Sheik Jarrah case to condemn Israel. The rhetoric they use is inaccurate, and it emboldens antisemites who attack Jews in the name of anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism.
This petition is just another attempt to demonize Israel without explaining any relevant context, and without placing any responsibility on Palestinians.
The enormous brouhaha over what is referred to as “Sheikh Jarrah” is, despite all the hysterical rhetoric from the Palestinians and their supporters abroad, a run-of-the-mill landlord-and-tenant dispute between a Jewish property owner and a handful of Arabs living on the property who refuse to pay rent. It has percolated upwards, through the Israeli judicial system, and has now reached the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule some time this summer. Presumably, then, the Arab squatters will be evicted for non-payment of rent, the Arab League will denounce the move as “Israeli expansionism,” the U.N. Human Rights Council will likely pass a resolution denouncing Israel for its attempts to “take over Jerusalem,” the U.N. Security Council will come up with a similar denunciation, but an American veto at the UNSC will save the day, and solemn editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post, without the least embarrassment, will condemn Israel for its “aggressive policy of land aggrandizement that does nothing to help the cause of peace or the viability of a two-state solution.” Meanwhile, those evicted squatters will stay evicted. As far as Israel is concerned, they’ve done quite enough accommodating. The dogs bark, the caravan moves on.
First published in Jihad Watch.