In Jerusalem, there is a family of ten people. They live in a small house on a quiet street, not far from the Jerusalem bustle of cars and tourists and hotels and diplomats, but removed, out of sight. The grandfather and grandmother have been living in the house for over four decades. Their son and their son’s children have known this house as home for their entire lives. The house has a narrow staircase and a low door.
On Monday, May 20th, the Supreme Court will meet in its lofty Jerusalem halls, with their swooping marble archways and breathtaking high ceilings, to discuss whether or not this family’s home should be taken from them and given to members of an American-funded organization. This is a legal case- nothing more, nothing less. Israeli law states that a person who can prove pre-1948 ownership of property may take their claim to court and “reappropriate” their house (or may have their claim taken to court for them by said American-funded organizations). This is a question of law, the backbone of democracy, and upholding the law.
The law, of course, does not apply when it comes to non-Jews, ie., Palestinians, hundreds of thousands of whom have documents proving ownership of homes within Israeli from before 1948 and are not allowed to set foot inside of Israel, let alone take property claims to the Israeli courts. The judges will speak of technicalities and details, of “absentee property” and “protected tenants” and “general custodians” and “balance.” They will not speak of “justice” or “equality” or “forced expulsion.” This, to our Israeli system, is a story of crime and punishment: the crime is being Palestinian in Jerusalem, the punishment is potential expulsion and constant fear. All is legal, all is well.
The specific family in this case is the Shamasneh family. This family is also the al-Kurd family, evicted from their home in Sheikh Jarrah in 2009 along with three other families. This family is also the Kneibi family, whose Sheikh Jarrah house has also recently come under threat of takeover by settlers and has their next discussion scheduled for October. This family is the dozens of other families in Sheikh Jarrah (many of whom are refugees from 1948) who live in fear of being expelled from their homes. This family is the thousands of families throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank who face eviction and expulsion as part of a quiet (or not so quiet if you ask folks like Naftali Bennet) Israeli government plan to transfer Palestinians out of the majority of the West Bank and major neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, with the blessing of the courts and the JNF and the Nature and Parks Authority and Tel Aviv University. This family is one of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families currently suffering from a Nakba that never ended. The Nakba, Arabic for “disaster,” is the Palestinian word to describe the events of 1948 in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled or fled their homes (and here, a quick counterfactual to blur the line always drawn between “expelled” and “fled”– what if Hamas took over Be’er Sheva homes last November when most of the city’s population had fled from fear of rockets: would that be “OK” because the people there had chosen to flee, or would we consider that a form of forced expulsion?)
The Nakba, which will be commemorated tomorrow, on May 15th, is characterized by the Israeli government’s intentional expulsion or transfer of parts of the Palestinian population. This was done in 1948 en masse and by the military, with widespread violence under the banner of desperation. It is done in 2013 in suits and with a great calm, house by house (and sometimes village by village), through jurisprudence and law and under the banner of Israeli democracy.
Tomorrow, as we in Israel remember (or try our best to to ignore) Nakba Day, let us also grapple with the thought that the Shamasneh family is facing a small scale Nakba of their own, that if the courts decide to rule in favor of the settlers, the Shamasneh family will be expelled from their own home and replaced by Jewish settlers whose goal seems to be to ensure that “Shimon HaTzadik” (as it is also called by the Jerusalem Municipality’s Light Rail) is a Jewish neighborhood, and that the name “Sheikh Jarrah” is added to the list of Palestinian villages and areas that once were, before some version of the Nakba reached them, and are no longer.