The decision by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit not to intervene in the eviction cases in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood gives apparent support to the settler thesis that this is a simple civil case of landowners trying to remove squatters. But the decision ignores the decisive role that state authorities have played in turning a right-wing settlement organization into the owner of a neighborhood where hundreds of Palestinians live.
It begins with the laws that discriminate between Arabs and Jews with regard to all property owned before 1948, continues through decisions by the Custodian General’s Office in the Justice Ministry to release the land to its historic Jewish owners, and ends with the state’s shirking its responsibility for the Palestinian residents who were settled in the area by the sovereign government at the time, that of Jordan.
In 1948, many people abandoned their property and fled to the other side of the border. Most of them were Palestinians who left an enormous amount of property on the western side and fled east. A very small minority were Jews who abandoned property and fled westward. Israeli law allows only the second group to retrieve its property, but denies this to the first group. The Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah are refugees who abandoned their properties and fled eastward. The settlers got the land because they belong to the second group. Practically speaking, the right-wing organization, which is held by a straw company registered in a foreign tax haven, has purchased the land from its Jewish owners.
The legal arguments that permit this may sound reasonable in Israeli courts, which for decades has been conditioned to rule based on a discriminatory system of laws. But they are impossible to explain in the international arena. Nothing will make them sound logical or moral to a reasonable person.
And the greater the injustice, the more Israel tries to conceal it. On Saturday, police roughly arrested journalist Givara Budeiri, a longtime correspondent for Al Jazeera. She was released a few hours later with a broken arm, joining the long list of Palestinian journalists who have been injured by policemen in Jerusalem over the past few weeks. On Sunday, siblings Muna and Mohammed Al-Kurd, both prominent activists in Sheikh Jarrah with millions of social media followers, were also arrested. They, too, were released after a few hours, during which they acquired hundreds of thousands of new followers. Nearly every day the police are working to forcefully distance activists and prevent demonstrations of support for the residents.
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The enlistment of the state employees, from the attorney general to the last of the policemen, for the benefit of the expulsion and settlement enterprise in Sheikh Jarrah is an embarrassment for Israel. It causes moral damage, harms public diplomacy and poses a security risk to all Israelis. Let us hope the new government will have broader considerations and will order the attorney general to intervene for the sake of common sense and justice.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.