Editorial

The Wrong Man for the Job

Hananel Gurfinkel helps settle Jews in East Jerusalem. He should not be in charge of the claims of the city’s Arab neighborhoods

Jewish settler enclave Nof Zion in front of Palestinian Jabel Mukaber in East Jerusalem, October 25, 2017.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

There is no point searching for justice or fairness in the legal battle waged by right-wing nonprofits against Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. Ranged on one side are settler organizations with deep pockets, strong ties to the government and seasoned lawyers; on the other, Palestinians without means or political power, whose protest efforts are squelched by the police. This battle is conducted within a system that is biased against the Palestinians. For example, only Jews can demand the return of property abandoned during Israel’s War of Independence, and only Palestinians can be considered absentee owners. But even within this world, giving Hananel Gurfinkel, who heads the Custodian for Absentee Property’s economic unit, the East Jerusalem portfolio is crooked, improper and possibly illegal.

Gurfinkel is a member of the central committee of Habayit Hayehudi. Central Committee. When he worked in the Custodian General’s office he established a nonprofit that sought to address the “takeover by foreign entities” of state property in East Jerusalem. He has called on Israelis to fight the “Arab conquest” of Jerusalem. He called for Arab students who demonstrated at Haifa’s Technion – Israel Institute of Technology to be “kicked out on a missile.”

Gurfinkel demonstrated great enthusiasm in helping settler organizations against Palestinian families. He used his official position to promote a political agenda supporting extremist groups that establish isolated settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods in the city. “Come to me and I’ll sing to you and you’ll play darabukkas. ... I’ll take it all the way with you, with an iron hand,” he told a family from Sheikh Jarrah that faced eviction. No wonder Gurfinkel’s department retained Avraham Segal, a lawyers who works mainly on behalf of settler organizations that operate in East Jerusalem.

Hananel Gurfinkel during a tour of Sheikh Jarrah.

The Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem are a political and security folly. They cause injustice to the Palestinian residents, they contribute to despair and spark violence. And yet the current government of Israel will continue to encourage them in every way, as it has done for many years. But even in this situation justice and fairness should still be sought in the Justice Ministry. Even though it is headed by Ayelet Shaked, there is still a professional cadre that is supposed to stand up to her efforts to destroy and to silence. These professionals failed to prevent the appointments of Gurfinkel and Segal. The minimum demand now is that in the wake of the exposure by Haaretz, Gurfinkel and Segal should not continue to deal with matters affecting East Jerusalem as representatives of the state. Moreover, decisions the two have made should be revisited and legal proceedings against the Palestinian families should be suspended.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.