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Law but no justice in Sheikh Jarrah

'Wickedness': On the eviction of families who have lived in East Jerusalem for 50 years

Following the eviction of the Shamasneh family from its home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken tweeted, “Mine is mine, but yours is also mine. Shameful double standard of Israel.” After the Shamasneh family was removed from its home, settlers quickly entered, escorted by police forces. Where is the double standard here, one might ask. After all, the Shamasneh family lost its court case and was lawfully evicted. But while Israeli law enables property that was under Jewish ownership to 1948 – and passed into the hands of the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property, before coming under Israeli authority after 1967 – to be reclaimed by its owners, Palestinians who owned property in West Jerusalem do not enjoy a similar prerogative.

The former Israeli Attorney General, Michael Ben-Yair, described this as a system of “double compensation,” explaining that Jewish families who were forced to leave neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah were compensated with property left behind by Palestinians in West Jerusalem. Ben-Yair, whose family owns a house in Sheikh Jarrah, said that if a land registration arrangement were implemented in the neighborhood, he would turn over his family property to the Palestinians living there today.

The Shamasneh family is not an isolated case: several dozen Palestinian families – most if not all of whom enjoy “protected tenancy” status – are at risk of losing their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Several plans are currently being advanced for settler construction within the Palestinian neighborhood, most notably a seven-story building designated to serve as a yeshiva and dormitories. City Councilman Arieh King, also the founder and director of the Israel Land Fund, is promoting some of these plans. King said recently in an interview that at least 400 Jewish families would move into Sheikh Jarrah within the next five years – effectively transforming the nature of the neighborhood. Beyond the human tragedy embodied in building projects that entail the displacement of dozens of Palestinian families, this settlement drive – which is manifested in other locations surrounding the Old City as well, such as Silwan and Jabal Mukaber, where additional evictions, house takeovers and construction are planned – stands to destroy any hope of a negotiated solution that will enable Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace in Jerusalem.

In Talmudic tradition, the phrase “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine,” serves as the quintessential definition of wickedness. The sight of the removal of the Shamasneh family from the home where it had lived for over half a century brings to mind another phrase, used in Israeli law to characterize a patently illegal order, one that “pierces the eye and outrages the heart.” While the proceedings that led to the latest eviction in Sheikh Jarrah were lawful, were they just? Or perhaps our eyes have become blind to injustice, our hearts immune to outrage. This brand of injustice will bring neither stability to Jerusalem in the short term nor peace to the city in the long term.

About the Author
Oren Haber is a content writer, translator and editor, currently doing a PhD on language use in mixed Jewish-Arab workplaces.
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