On the eve of Yom Kippur, we reflect upon our sins and misdeeds in the past year. My mind, however, reflects upon sins of long ago years. Sins of the anti’s… of people and nations who cherish the unfair. Sadly, we Israelis are among them.
As we condemn the government of Poland for its refusal to recognize and to return properties owned by Jews and their survivors, it is incumbent upon us to recognize and to return homes and properties owned by Palestinian Arabs, issued by certification of the former British Mandatory officials in pre-state Palestine.
A 1945 UN census estimated 756,000 Arabs resided in Palestine. On November 30, 1947 the Arab population was listed at 809,100 Arab residents and the partition of Palestine listed 650,000 of them as refugees. However, on September 1948, the UN mediator on Palestine affirmed only 360,000 Palestinian Arab refugees.
Now, in our current time, Arabs, mainly living in East Jerusalem, are holding tight to former Jewish-owned homes in which they now live. The original Jewish owners are demanding their expulsion with the homes being returned to its rightful former Jewish owners. The Arab residents claim it is unfair and refuse to submit.
The question is one of fairness and unfairness. The Jews are demanding return of their former homes and the Arabs are demanding return of their former homes, land and properties.
In terms of wealth and value, the Arab homes are more extensive and exclusive than former Jewish properties in East Jerusalem. For example, the present Embassy of Belgium in Tel-Aviv is a magnificent palace once owned by a very wealthy and renowned Arab family who fled from the war of 1947-1946. It goes without saying that the Belgian government did not pay the multi-millions of dollars to the original Arab owner for possession of the estate. Any member of that Arab family who may seek the return of the property would be immediately denied. Fair or unfair?
Jews want the return of their former property and Arabs want the return of their former property. To submit to one may be fair. To deny the other would be unfair.
We are therefore to be counted among the anti’s.
Fairness to one. Unfairness to the other
Looking at the now-formalized Polish law of restitution we have every right to declare it unfair, illegitimate and of course, anti-Semitic.
But in good conscience, how do we separate anti-Polish actions from our own anti-Arab actions? Are not the both unfair?
Realizing that properties in Israel, in East Jerusalem in particular, may never be returned to former Jewish owners, the best solution would be to enact a law requiring Arab residents to pay a monthly rental fee to the Jewish former owners. The dates determining when the fees must begin to be paid, from which year to begin payment, etc., can be set between current residents and former owners. This appears to me to be a fair solution.
The same solution can be applied to the Polish restitution law as no Jewish survivor has any intention of living in Poland. An agreeable payment for abandoned and confiscated homes and properties owned by Polish Jews needs to be written and legalized. Most of the properties were destroyed by the German Nazis between 1939-1945 and Poland is certainly not responsible for the actions by the Nazis.
However, following the end of World War II in 1945, Poland was ruled 100% by the Polish communist party and therefore Poland is duly responsible for the return of confiscated Jewish property by a legitimate Polish communist government and Jewish survivors have the right to condemn the current government of Poland for its anti-Semitic refusal to return property or payment to survivors of the Holocaust.
What can be demanded by Israel of the rights of Jews and Arabs must and should be demanded of the current government of Poland and its dastardly unfair and anti-Semitic restitution law must be abolished.
On the eve of Yom Kippur we observe a Fast and a very long 24 hour period of sincere prayer acknowledging guilt and begging for forgiveness.
Our Talmud, dealing with rights of property in great length and detail is a guide for Israel to follow. We do not know what similar guide exists in Polish legislation. But in any case, it would be negated to return Jewish property to surviving owners simply because they are Jews. Such is the fabric of Polish- Jewish hatred.
It is true that we live in a world of both fair and unfair, kind and unkind, merciful and merciless peoples and nations. In Israel, however, while we are often unkind and unfair, we are not a nation and a people lacking mercy. We are not a merciless nation. Too often we are just uncaring about the rights of the others.
On Yom Kippur, let us open our hearts to those whom we have treated unfair and unkindly. If Jews can demand property return, so can Arabs. We both share the same land and citizenship. Fair for one must be fair for the other. That is what our Torah teaches us. We must be among the PRO’s and never among the ANTI’s.
Tzom kal l’koolam. An easy and meaningful Fast to all who observe it and chatima tova l’koolam. A seal in God’s Book of Life to all. Ken yehi ratzon. So may it be. Amen.