Jews Who Are Malicious to Those Who Help Us

Testimony from Yitzhak Navon and Ariel Sharon was not enough to prompt the state to give back the land it seized from an Arab man who helped Israel in 1948.

The former Stern Gang member and right-wing politician Geula Cohen writes in her 2008 book "I Have No Strength to Be Tired" that she never visits the Israeli Arab town of Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, "without experiencing a strong urge to visit Yusuf's grave on behalf of my ungrateful people - whose leadership includes people who know how to love those who hate us and hate those who love us - and ask for his forgiveness."

The Yusuf she's referring to is Yusuf Abu Ghosh, who was her comrade in the pre-state underground militia, also known as Lehi, and helped smuggle her out of the British prison hospital in Jerusalem's Russian Compound.

Amos Biderman - 07022012
Amos Biderman

Yusuf was arrested after the 1948 assassination of UN envoy Count Folke Bernadotte and imprisoned by Ben-Gurion's provisional government, along with a large group of Lehi members. Upon his release he discovered that the military government had confiscated all his possessions. His health deteriorated so drastically that his family was compelled to keep him in an isolated room in the courtyard of their home until his dying day.

The next time Geula Cohen goes to Abu Ghosh she should also visit the grave of Salim Araf Abu Ghosh, to request his forgiveness on behalf of the right-wing government. Salim was among the villagers who cooperated with the Jews during the War of Independence and was accused of treason by the neighboring Arabs. While he found refuge in Bethlehem, he was declared an absentee landowner and his land, around 50 dunams' worth, was confiscated. The Israel Lands Administration is offering to sell them to village residents, following his heirs' rejection of a proposal several years ago for partial compensation.

Among the documents the family submitted to the Jerusalem District Court to back up their request to revoke the absentee status is a letter that then-Deputy Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Navon wrote to the Interior Ministry 40 years ago. The man who would later become the president of Israel attested that as Ben-Gurion's right-hand man during the War of Independence, he advised the residents of Abu Ghosh, with the knowledge of the Yishuv's leadership, to leave the village for their own safety.

"I promised them that they could return to their village at the end of the war," he wrote. "We are obligated to uphold our words and enable the return of every family that wishes to do so." Even though he did not remember Salim specifically, Navon wrote that he trusts the testimony of two members of nearby kibbutzim, who confirmed that Salim was among the villagers who crossed the border at the suggestion of the Yishuv's leadership.

Following Navon's recommendation, Salim Araf Abu Ghosh was permitted to return to the village, but his land remained under the control of the Custodian of Absentee Property, based on the claim that his return did not change his status as an absentee.

In a 1998 document submitted to the court, Ariel Sharon, who was then the minister of national infrastructure, wrote that the people of Abu Ghosh "worked together with us during the struggle against the British and did not cause a problem during the War of Independence." Even Sharon's recommendation to review the request did not restore the land to Salim's heirs. The High Court of Justice passed the matter on to the civil court, where the evidentiary stage is now underway.

The family's lawyer, Hossam Younes, said Salim did not leave the country to go to a hostile state, which is defined by the Absente Property Law as a state with a hostile position to the Jewish community during the war. Yes, there is a safety issue involved: He was concerned that he would pay with his life for helping the state.

I do not know any Jews who love those who hate us, as Geula Cohen wrote, but there are certainly Jews who are malicious to those who help us.

Time to move?

A recent New York Times article featuring an interview with Defense Minister Ehud Barak indicates that it might be a good idea to head to the nearest travel agency.

In the article, by Ronen Bergman, Barak cites three conditions for a military strike against Iran: international legitimacy, primarily American, for an attack; Israel's ability to act; and the necessity of a military operation. Bergman thinks that, for the first time, some Israeli leaders believe that all three of these conditions exist.

Where exactly did Barak find this international legitimacy for a military operation? In the words of U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Saban Conference in early December, who warned of unexpected results of an Israeli or American attack that would in any case delay the development of an Iranian bomb by a year or two at most? Or in Panetta's assessment that an attack would increase support for Iran from other countries in the region and might lead to retaliatory attacks against U.S. bases in the Middle East?

Perhaps Barak found legitimacy in the words of the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who said last month in a newspaper interview that the United States has a different approach than Israel does with regard to the Iranian threat and warned that a clash with Iran would undermine economic stability around the world.

Is it possible that Obama read the New York Times article and decided to clarify to Israel's citizens that Washington does not see an attack on Iran as legitimate? Perhaps that is why, despite the tense election campaign underway, Obama told ABC News that he would like to resolve the dispute with Tehran using diplomatic means, and that he is convinced the Iranian leadership already feels the impact of the increased sanctions imposed on them.

And perhaps all this is just another of those reverse psychology campaigns created by Barak. Look where that approach has taken the leader of the Atzmaut faction. Where would he take us?