It doesn't take long for Siham Nashashibi, 62, to allude to his family's distinguished lineage. "My uncle brought Israel the Nobel Prize in Literature, and my Nobel Prize is that Israel has informed me that I am not a Jerusalemite," he says.
Nashashibi, a blood relation of renowned Israeli author S.Y. Agnon, is yet another victim of the ongoing battle for Jerusalem. Siham is the son of Esther Wiener, Agnon's niece, and he suffers in both the Jewish and Arab worlds. The National Insurance Institute has decided he is not a Jew, or even a Jerusalemite, and has revoked his disability pension and health benefits. His Palestinian neighbors, and even some of his relatives, treat him as an infidel who prefers the Jewish roots of his mother, who converted to Islam, to the Arab roots of his father, Jawad Nashashibi. Siham says he defines himself as a Jew and is meticulous about fasting on Yom Kippur.
Siham Nashashibi's troubles started after his brother, a devout Muslim who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca, told NII investigators Siham had moved to the northern Palestinian neighborhoods that are outside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Since then, his disability pension has been revoked, and he is no longer entitled to medical services or to the medications he has been taking since he underwent open-heart surgery. And just to complicate this already complicated story, the Justice Ministry decided to pay for Nashashibi's legal fees so he could sue the NII. His attorney, Adi Lustigman, says she is still having difficulty understanding how the son of a Jewish woman is not considered a Jew in the eyes of the Israeli authorities. She says the Israel Religious Action Center, the advocacy arm of Israel's Reform movement, plans to go to court over the issue if it fails to convince the Interior Ministry to waive its objection to recognizing Nashashibi as a Jew. Yesterday Nashashibi signed a lawsuit against the insurance institute that his attorney plans to file with the regional labor court.
My colleague Danny Rubinstein was the first to reveal the Muslim branch of the Agnon family. Devora - the sister of the famous writer, whose full name is Shmuel Yosef - was married to a German furrier by the name of Moritz Wiener. Their daughter Esther (named for Agnon's mother) fell in love with Jawad Nashashibi, the scion of one of the most distinguished and wealthy families in Jerusalem. Esther Nashashibi-Wiener converted to Islam when Siham and his two brothers were minors - making her children Muslim, according to the Israeli authorities. When Jerusalem was divided after the War of Independence, the family moved to the Nashashibi home in the eastern part of the city. Seven years later, after Jawad married a second wife, the family broke up.
After the Six-Day War, Esther returned to western Jerusalem and to Judaism. Siham celebrated the first Passover seder in the united city with his mother at the table of Emunah Yaron, Agnon's daughter. The Nobel laureate, who was a pious Jew and had little affection for Arabs, sat down with them at the table.
Siham Nashashibi says his mother became a religious Jew, and was even recognized by the rabbinate as being Jewish - as indicated by her burial in the Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood. Her son Siham, however, was not welcomed as a Jew or Israeli citizen, and was forced to make do with the status and rights accorded to non-Jewish residents. After getting divorced four years ago, he was forced to leave his home, and lived in several sections of Jerusalem. Once the city started trying to keep Arabs from moving within the Jerusalem borders because they don't want to be kept outside the separation fence, Nashashibi lost his right to be ill and die in a dignified manner. One of the documents Nashashibi uses to attempt to prove he never left the city is an affidavit from a Jewish cousin named Amos Appelberg, with whom he has been in touch all these years. The name might help, but then again it might not.
Olives at risk
Palestinian tradition has it that during the autumn months, family members from across the country, and sometimes even around the world, gather together to celebrate the olive harvest. Over the past few years, the Israel Defense Forces and Israel Police have made no particular effort to protect the harvesters from attacks by their Jewish neighbors, at least until fall 2006, according to an internal report by the defense system comptroller, which was handed over to human rights group Yesh Din.
A team sent by the comptroller found that the IDF and police did not adhere to regulations pertaining to the harvest season and that the deployment of security forces provided only a partial answer in conflict areas at night. It also found that police were not prepared for the olive harvest, noting that there were no police stationed at certain points of friction because a request for reinforcements was denied.
After assessing the report, the defense system comptroller recommended that police in the West Bank receive annual reinforcements during the olive harvest season, that police more closely supervise the enforcement of commanders' orders, and that police impose order in tense areas year-round. The comptroller also recommended that "the matter of land ownership in the area of Judea and Samaria be organized" - indicating the defense establishment is aware that today, more than 40 years after the occupation, the West Bank has remained the Wild West when it comes to anything related to land.
The comptroller's findings are in keeping with those of Yesh Din volunteers who monitor incidents in which Israeli citizens injure Palestinians or damage their property, Yesh Din director Roi Maor wrote in a letter to GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Shamni and the commander of the police's Judea and Samaria District, Shlomo Katabi.
Maor says that during the last few olive harvest seasons, IDF soldiers stood idly by as Israeli citizens used violence on Palestinians or their property. Such conduct, says Maor, is part of a broader pattern of behavior that includes refraining from arresting Israeli citizens in the territories and failing to carry out exhaustive criminal investigations after incidents involving Israelis carrying out attacks. Maor says he would like to know whether the defense establishment has adopted the comptroller's recommendations and how it plans to implement them during the upcoming olive harvest season.
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