“Go, and try to understand every word spoken in this chamber, which hover for a moment in its enormous space, before escaping to the sides and above through the many cracks in its walls,” I muttered to myself several weeks ago in Chamber C of Jerusalem’s Supreme Court.
From those words I could decipher, I learned that in the case being heard there are people seeking to remain living in their homes and there are others who claim that the land under these homes belongs to them, and thus the homes as well. And some claim the destiny of the land is not the destiny of the homes. One belongs to so-and-so and his descendants, while the other belongs to another person and his issue. Plus, there are documents attesting one thing and others attesting to another. And there are documents related to this parcel of land but not to its neighbor.
I also understood that the petitioners representing the people seeking to stay in their homes – who are making legal arguments on their behalf, pleading persistently, shouting beneath the enormous domes – are wasting their time. For the destiny of the people who have sent them here has already been determined, and the Supreme Court, sitting on high, believes that it does not have the authority to discuss the evidence they bother to formulate in the Hebrew language that is not their own.
It turns out that all the evidence was already discussed exhaustively in a lower court, which already ruled that the residents are themselves the trespassers. And because they delayed – the proceedings intended to get rid of them were unfortunately for them done without their knowledge – the statute of limitations applies to some of their lawsuits.
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This is not the first time that I have wondered whether the acoustic conditions in this chamber do not bear witness that while justice may be meant to be seen, it is not necessarily meant to be heard. Nor is it the first time that I have thought while sitting in it that perhaps it is better that way. For more than one of the details debated here lack content that should really interest human beings who have the brains to understand and the tools to take interest and learn the facts. And indeed, I know the facts well, and so this list will end with a decisive decision.
On that fall day, November13, the Supreme Court discussed the fate of dozens of people who have lived for 64 years in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Israeli law had made it possible for three Israeli associations – the Council of the Sephardi Community in Jerusalem, the Committee of Knesset Israel and Nahalat Shimon – to evict them from their homes and to replace them with other people.
The judges, after masquerading briefly while as people sincerely and innocently seeking to decide without bias between the attorneys wrangling at their feet, then began to play their true role. They obeyed the law, and with it the policy determining what the law is, and ruled against the petitioners, and in favor of the three associations; the appeal was denied.
And what does Israeli law state, and in particular, what are its practical implications, what is the personal tragedy to which it condemns its victims? Because the law here serves to cover for usurpation and ideology, things are best explained simply without leaving this issue to legalists.
A woman my age, sitting with me in her house, from which she is to be evicted, explained the story in simple terms, albeit it with agitation. Here is a summary: Her parents were born in Jaffa and raised there. She was born in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, to which her family was expelled/fled in 1948. As part of a family reunification program, she went from there to Sheikh Jarrah to live with her husband, who also comes from a family of refugees from Jaffa. That family had been lucky enough to find temporary shelter with relatives in Jerusalem, and the Jordanian regime, the sovereign at the time, allocated her and other refugee families land in Sheikh Jarrah in 1954, and the UNRWA funded the construction of their homes.
Some 40 members of her family, including her, her children and her grandchildren, live there. Meanwhile, they became subjects of Israel, which tripled the size of Jerusalem in 1967 and extended civilian law over all of it. According to that system of laws and to the decisions of the courts of the new sovereign, the entire compound in Sheikh Jarrah, where hundreds of families live, now belongs to those who made themselves the inheritors of the small Jewish community that had bought it during the Ottoman period.
Therefore, this family, like its partners in misery who were already evicted and the dozens of others destined to be condemned in future cases – can expect soon to receive notice of an eviction date from the bailiff’s office. If they don’t leave of their own free will, they will be evicted by force in the dead of night. The woman who told me the story kept looking in my eyes, asking: “Perhaps you will tell me where we should go to now? Where to?”
A week later, on November 21, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of hundreds of other Jerusalem Palestinians – residents of Batan al-Hawa in the Silwan neighborhood. These residents are being harassed by other Israeli groups: Ateret Cohanim and Elad. Regarding this appeal as well, exacting hearings had already been held in Chamber C, and then too I really tried to grasp the legal thinness in their tale before they drift off through the traditional openings in the lofty dome. And this story also deserves being told in the language of man.
It goes like this: At the end of the 19th century, merciful Jews bought a modest site in the village of Silwan, which then was outside Jerusalem, to build under cover of Ottoman law, a poorhouse for Yemenite Jews who couldn’t find a roof to live under in the holy city. Not many years later, the land was full of violent altercations and the poorhouse residents were forced to evacuate their homes. Years passed. They and their successors spread across the country.
The country’s rulers changed three times, and self-proclaimed heir also arose: Atret Cohanim. It was clever in various ways – the time was the beginning of this century and Silwan had become a Jerusalem neighborhood crowded with tens of thousands of Palestinians, and the ruler was now the State of Israel – and demanded and received the inheritance from the Administrator General, who had received it from the state, which authorized him to determine what would be done with properties in Jerusalem that had once belonged to Jews. Based on this procedure, the courts in Israel awarded Ateret Cohanim rights to the compound in the heart of Silwan. And now justice will be done without pity.
You can read in full how everything unfolded, if you want, in the 2015 investigative report published by Nir Hasson in this paper . It’s a tale spiced with bribes paid behind closed doors, people who were tempted to condemn their souls in order to attain a more comfortable life and, above all, the story of M, the resident of a West Bank settlement, whose hand is in everything but whose name it is forbidden to publish, lest it be to his detriment. The story does not end well or fairly, or even with finality, as the rejection of the petition makes clear – it just gets worse.
Thus, you may want to go the trouble of visiting the neighborhood for yourself, in order to see the explosive and forlorn reality that the splendor of Chamber C in the Supreme Court swallowed in its entirety, like it swallowed the more modest site in Sheikh Jarrah. The law that rules here is the law of naked power. The military regime that embitters the lives of thousands to protect a few dozen Jews, who settled among the thousands in homes whose residents were already evicted, and to protect the stylized national park established next to them for the thousands of visitors streaming here. The sovereign here is the Elad organization. Thanks to its iniquities, you can see how the lives of thousands of Palestinians here are imprisoned and destroyed, and feel the cracks that are gaping in their residences because of the tunnel dug under them for the greater glory of Israel’s ideological archaeology.
And if you don’t want to venture into areas unfamiliar to you and to your worldview, remain at home, but turn on your honest brain and the integrity of your heart. It will not take much to persuade you that all the legal hairsplitting that has for decades filled the courts of the Jewish-democratic state with hearings on the fate of the homes and lands of people in the territories conquered in 1967 collapses and is crushed like so much straw, in spite of the opposition by lawyers who continue to insist on defending human rights and serving as extras in an absurd farce. For one and only one law whispers yet thunders here behind the scenes, and only that one triumphs over this theater of deceit – the law of the godly promise written in a book that is thousands of years old: “For I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever” (Genesis 13:15).
Thus, this and nothing else is the lesson: Until the statute of limitations is applied to this ancient law, there will be no justice here. For whether the god who made the promise still lives on high and watches his creatures in great sorrow from there, or whether he has been redeemed and died – here, on Earth, in this unholy land, the lives of tens of thousands of people are being destroyed and will be destroyed many times over, because of those who appointed themselves as the arm of power of the sole rulers.