Israeli law prevents the Sabagh family from utilizing the same law being used to evict them in order to reclaim their previous home. This is wrong.
This week’s Torah portion (BeShalakh) opens with the dramatic parting of the sea, the drowning of the Egyptians and our first taste of freedom. It continues as with a series of complaints, as we learn that freedom also means that we aren’t simply given food and water. And, we learn that there is danger out there in the world. Amalek attacks. When the story is repeated in Deuteronomy 25: 17-19, we learn that Amalek earned our eternal wrath because the Amalekites took advantage of our weariness, and particularly targeted the stragglers. As I wrote for Parashat Ki Titzeh, my teacher Rabbi Ben Hollander would always quote Rashi explaining that it is not a happenstance that in Deuteronomy the story of Amalek is told immediately after the prohibition against discriminatory and uneven stones uses as commercial weights and measures (eifah v’eifah). Our rabbis understood eifah v’eifah to include all forms of discrimination and double standards, and taught that we open ourselves to Amalek when we practice eifah v’eifah.
For the past few weeks I have been writing about the eifah v’eifah we practice against non-Jews on a daily basis. While in Torat Tzedek we work on behalf of both Jews and non-Jews, and there is also eifah v’eifah between Jewish haves and Jewish have nots, different Jewish ethnic groups, etc., the most consistent and blatant eifa v’eifa is practiced towards non-Jews.
I am writing in a field in the Jordan Valley, accompanying a shepherd who was beaten earlier in the week by the local settlers who want to intimidate the non-Jewish shepherds from being on lands the settlers want to control. The police and army did manage to retrieve his stolen goats and donkey, although all too often they allow the settlers to act as they wish, and even cooperate through the questionable practice of repeatedly issuing 24 hour closure orders enforced only against Palestinians. Such orders are only meant to be used in emergency situations. If there was a real justification to keep Palestinians out (and often when there isn’t) the army issues a permanent closure order.
By the time you read this, I will probably have returned to Jerusalem, to stand with my friend Muhammad Sabagh, in the Sheih Jarrakh neighborhood of East Jerusalem.
Here the eifah v’eifah reaches blatant new heights. Muhammad’s family is in imminent danger of being evicted from their home because Jews can avail themselves of the law in ways forbidden to Palestinians.
The Sabagh family is one of 28 families who became refugees in 1948. They were offered the possibility of being settled in the Sheikh Jarrakh neighborhood and given homes, in return for giving up their refugee status. Unfortunately, Jordan hadn’t transferred ownership by the time that Israel took over in 1967. In 1972 Jewish groups submitted what they claimed to be a Turkish document of sale from the late 19th century. There was Jewishly owned property in the area, and the residents of Sheikh Jarrakh will point it out. The residents acknowledge that there was land rented to Jews, and have in the last few years brought documents from Turkish archives they say prove which the lands their homes are on was never sold.
A long and convoluted legal battle began in 1972. I won’t recount the details here. In 2008-2009 three families were evicted from their homes. It was in 2009 that the first Turkish documents were obtained, but the Israeli High Court said it was too late to submit new evidence. My sense of decency would demand that it can never be too late to submit evidence that could prevent an eviction from a family home. Various settlers now take shifts living in the homes. I in 2009, I was personally assured by U.S. and British diplomats that Israel had been reprimanded, and that there would be no more evictions. However, settlers initiated new eviction cases in court just a few weeks later. We had thought that, because the new cases were just starting, that the Turkish documents could be submitted. However, the courts have again refused to look at them in the case of the Sabagh family. The family had been informed that they could be evicted as early as next week. However, a very temporary stay has been issued to allow the courts to consider the argument that the Turkish documents may be admissible in other current cases. If so, there should be no eviction until the validity and import of the documents is ruled upon.
So why is this eifa v’eifa? Isn’t this just the rule of law? No, it isn’t. Very few Israeli Jews would agree to the principle that everybody returns to where they lived before 1948. We Israelis would end up on the short end of the stick. So, Israel created a legal situation in which Jews can reclaim property they owned before 1948 (The Legal and Administrative Affairs law of 1970), but Palestinians cannot (The Absentee Property Law of 1950). Needless to say, Palestinians can’t vote for the Knesset than created this outrageous eifah v’eifah. The Sabagh family knows where their former homes in Yaffa are located (one is now a synagogue), as well as their lands. They have papers. It doesn’t matter.
Eifah v’eifah is not just theoretical. If we do not stop this injustice, 40 people are out of their home. My friend Muhammad is soft spoken and unassuming. He has been one of the neighborhood leaders who has made the struggle for justice in Sheikh Jarrakh a joint Jewish-Arab struggle. This is not to be taken for granted. To evict him and his family sends a message that the attempt to work together is a waste of time. I have heard the bitterness and disillusion expressed by those expelled in 2009. I am very hesitant to label anybody as “Amalek,” but it is absolutely true that when we act unjustly we both destroy our own souls, and create anger that can rise up against us.
I will be standing with Muhammad simply because we have been standing together for so long. I hope that you will stand with Muhammad because you understand that eifa v’eifah is wrong, and you don’t want to see any human being suffer. At least, I hope that you will understand that justice, decency and humanity are in our self-interest.
We are told that when Moses’ held up his hands, we prevailed. When he got tired and his hands dropped, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur put stones under Moses’ arms, and also helped hold them up. May the stones under holding up and underpinning our society be just and even, and may we support each other so that we never tire or despair of opposing eifa v’eifah and working for the fair treatment of every human being.