Conventional wisdom has it that the Palestinians should learn to accept the consequences of the catastrophe that befell them in 1947-1948. They should swallow their bitterness and find a way to move on and stop trying to reclaim property lost 60 years ago, just as other defeated peoples have moved on after war has ravaged them. Apparently the right wing settlers who are moving in on Jerusalem don’t want to let them.
There has been a flurry of publicity over the eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Settlers have barrelled there way in, claiming that the property in the “Shimshon ha-tzadik” compound was technically owned by Jews.
A fine piece by Arnie Arnon puts it in perspective:
Before 1948, according to the mayor and his supporters, the ownership of the disputed property belonged to Jews. It’s true that Arab families have lived in the buildings since then, but now they must leave the houses and return the ownership rights to the Sephardic Community Committee, which held the ownership rights the year the State was established. In customary legal language, this is called “restitution”. In other words, the property will be returned to its owner.
But will the mayor, in the name of justice and consistency, call for restitution of Palestinian property found in west Jerusalem? Or does Israel, by force of power or by force of Israeli legislation, aspire to work to return the property to Jews but not to Arabs? True, the Israeli legislation which designed the land laws, including laws of absentee landlords’ assets and other pranks, makes it possible to turn Arab property into Jewish property but not vice versa. But is there anyone who believes that by doing this, an illegitimate act is turned into a legitimate one?
Or, as Bernard Avishai puts it: “By this standard, there is hardly a Jew living in established neighborhoods of West Jerusalem who would not be turned out of their homes (including the one I am writing from).”
A response from the right was offered in Yediot by Yair Gabi, who insists that we never forget that it was the Jews who originally fled from these homes because of a catastrophe that occured in, you guessed it…1948:
Unfortunately, upon the declaration of the State’s establishment in 1948, following riots, bombardments and unstoppable attacks, the Jews were forced to abandon their houses in this neighborhood, and had the Arab rioters not lost in the War of Independence they would have also cleansed Rehavia and Talbiyeh of Jews…
…The leftists are basically claiming that Jews must concede their property, as the Arabs have also abandoned homes in which Jews live today. My response to this is that there are no free meals and no free wars, and there must be a price for launching a war, otherwise the Arabs will have no interest in avoiding it…
…It’s true that the Arabs also abandoned homes during the war, but human morals recognize that this is the price of the war they launched. Therefore, there is no justification in returning these homes to Arab hands.”
In other words, rather than urging them to find a way to accept the consequences of the past and move on, the settlers want the Palestinians to keep paying for it, again and again and again, with new evictions, new reminders of stark double standards, newly lit matches dropped into the tinderbox of East Jerusalem.