Roundup of Recent News

Leave a comment

Here are a few under-the-radar items from the past week that are worth looking at.

1 – This was a busy week for demolitions. Here are two examples that include videos of the events.

The first occurred in the South Hebron Hills in the same general area as Susya which I wrote about in the second half of a February 6th post. See http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/2012/02/watch-idf-demolishes-in-the-palestininan-villages-of-saadet-thalah-and-ar-rakeez-video-south-hebron-hills/

The second occurred last week in the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood in the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem (see my posts of January 2nd and January 10th ). The government just demolished a community center built by the local residents to make room for a parking lot for the City of David tourist site run by Elad, the settler NGO.  See the videos at the bottom of this link: http://settlementwatcheastjerusalem.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/silwandemoition/

2 – A major event is happening in the Palestinian community but it is garnering little attention elsewhere. Khader Adnan is near death from a hunger strike he began after being arrested and placed in administrative detention. This is a practice that is particularly reviled in the Palestinian community and Adnan has become a hero for risking his life to protest it. There have already been demonstrations to show support for him – and it is anyone’s guess what this might lead to if and when Adnan dies.

Adnan is a member of Islamic Jihad, not a group that most readers of this blog would sympathize with. This obviously adds an element of complexity to this story. However, he has focused attention on an aspect of the occupation that has caused outrage and suffering among Palestinians for a long time. For details of this case from a perspective shared by Palestinians and those concerned about human rights, see http://972mag.com/protesting-arrest-for-months-without-charges-khader-adnan-is-dying/35672/

I intend to cover the topic of arrests and the judicial system on the West Bank in future posts because of the huge impact they have had on Palestinian society.

3 – Finally, this is an interesting perspective on the politics in the American Jewish community from a left-wing Israeli who recently visited the United States. See http://972mag.com/dear-liberal-american-jews-please-dont-betray-israel/35396/

Palestinian-Settler Interactions in East Jerusalem, Part 1

1 Comment

Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Goldstein,
There is none like you in the world.
He entered dressed up as an officer
And cocked his Galil rifle.
He snuck quietly into the hall named for Isaac.
He took aim at the terrorists’ heads and squeezed the trigger tight
And shot bullets and shot bullets and shot,
And shot bullets.
[Refrain]
Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Goldstein,
There is none like you in the world.
Dr. Goldstein, Dr. Goldstein,
Everyone loves you.

Lyrics to a song of praise for Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the settler who murdered 29 Muslim worshippers in Hebron during Purim in 1994.  Sung by Jewish settlers at a Purim celebration in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem (see this short video: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3857671,00.html)


Until now I have provided many facts and figures to describe the conditions that have been imposed on Palestinians in East Jerusalem. On January 2nd and January 10th I outlined the strategies used by settler NGO’s in collaboration with the government to evict long-term Palestinian residents from their homes. On January 26 I described how the government has deprived Palestinian East Jerusalem of resources, causing severe social and economic distress to the populace.

But statistics cannot convey the struggles of day-to-day life in East Jerusalem. So this is the first of several posts that will open a window into how the influx of settlers and government actions have impacted the personal experiences of Palestinian residents.

Two populations:

There are two populations living side by side in the areas abutting the Old City of Jerusalem who hate each other. Before getting into the specifics of Palestinian-settler interactions, I think it is useful to try to gain an understanding of the attitudes and beliefs of these two groups.

Jewish Settlers

The Jewish settlers who have moved into Palestinian neighborhoods are ideologically driven by a messianic vision of redemption. These religious settlers believe they have a divine right, actually a commandment, to settle the land of Israel. It is a spiritual act to serve a transcendent purpose. These beliefs have also been reinforced by 60 years of brutal terror attacks and wars. Many view the Palestinians as a modern incarnation of Amalek, the tribe that harassed the Hebrews when they wandered in the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. God commanded the total destruction of Amalek without mercy.

Perhaps the best insight into the attitudes of these settlers, and those with similar ideologies, can be gleaned from what happened during the Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) celebrations last year. This day, which commemorates the re-unification of Jerusalem in 1967, is usually a disturbing day for Palestinians but this one was particularly difficult. 40,000 settlers and their supporters rallied throughout East Jerusalem, hurling curses at Arab residents and mass chants of “Death to Arabs.” For 24 hours, through the middle of the night, thousands of religious youth marched through densely packed Palestinian neighborhoods until the early morning hours, screaming out nationalist songs. This link is a truly frightening video clip that illustrates through actions and words the sentiments of a large and influential segment of Israel’s population: http://www.en.justjlm.org/487

David Shulman in The New York Review of Books provided more detail about this troubling day and placed it within a broader context at this link: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2011/jul/07/two-marches-two-futures-jerusalem/

As Shulman points out, “The slogans call up rather specific memories: I couldn’t help wondering how many of the marchers were grandchildren of Jews who went through such moments—as targets of virulent hate—in Europe.” Nevertheless, these are the sentiments that are prevalent among the settler population living in the midst of thousands of East Jerusalem Arabs. Let’s keep this in mind when viewing the next series of posts that will examine settler interactions with the Palestinians.

Palestinians:

The Palestinians in East Jerusalem view the settlers as invaders who intend to force them out of their homes so as to populate their neighborhoods completely with Jews. Indeed, this is the stated goal of the settlers and the NGOs that support them – and the government is clearly cooperating with this endeavor as well. As noted previously, the settlers live in heavily guarded compounds in houses from which Palestinian residents were evicted. The evictions were facilitated by allegations of fraud and by laws specifically designed for the sole purpose of removing Palestinians from their homes. Many more families were forced out when their homes were demolished by the authorities. In the Silwan area, large tracts of land have been expropriated for archeological digs managed by Elad, one of the settler NGOs, and many more homes are threatened with demolition when a large tourist attraction that is planned will be built.

Everyone knows someone in these close knit neighborhoods who was made homeless by these actions. Compounded by the lack of municipal services, this has caused huge resentment towards the settlers and the government. Indeed, many residents know it is only a matter of time until they too will lose their homes without any recourse.

Like the settlers, there certainly are radicals among the Palestinian population who are driven by messianic or religious zeal. But the vast majority of residents simply want to raise their children, build a good life for themselves, and live in peace among their families and friends. They also yearn for political independence and equal rights.

Given the conflicting goals, friction is inevitable between the Jewish settlers and the Palestinian residents. In a democracy it is the role of government to mediate disputes, enforce the law equally, and provide all residents with equal opportunity. That is not happening. Settlers receive all the support of the government as they attempt to displace the Palestinian residents who are helpless in the face of an overwhelming power.

In the coming posts, I will describe the experiences of the Palestinian populace, using their own words whenever possible, as they interact with settlers and the police.

Elad and Jewish Settlement in Silwan

Leave a comment

Last week on January 2nd I posted a column about how the Jewish National Fund (JNF) has been evicting long-time Palestinian residents and replacing them with far-right Jewish settlers in the Palestinian area of Silwan in East Jerusalem. (see https://sevenmonthsintelaviv.com/2012/01/02/silwan-and-the-jewish-national-fund).

Although the JNF story has been in the news a lot lately, a key player in Silwan is Elad, an ideologically-driven settler organization. Their goal is to convert Palestinian neighborhoods close to the Old City of Jerusalem into Jewish enclaves. This post will deal with how Elad and Ateret Cohanim, an NGO with similar goals that is more active in other areas of Jerusalem, acquire property in order to evict the Palestinians who live there.

How Palestinians are Evicted from their Homes:

These right wing NGOs use five main strategies to take over property. Some of these strategies are straightforward legal methods but others are based on allegations of more questionable practices. In these latter cases whenever possible I have cited testimony from Knesset hearings or court proceedings to provide documentation for the allegations. (All of the information below is taken from reports produced by professional researchers at Israeli human rights NGOs, three of which I cite at the end of this post. As a disclaimer, Elad has sued Ir Amim, one of these NGOs, over a report that includes some of these allegations. Ir Amim is defending the report’s accuracy.)

1 – Absentee Property Law: Briefly, this law allows property to be seized by the state if it is proved that the owners live in Arab countries or in the West Bank (see my January 2nd post for more historical background). The application of this legislation to East Jerusalem first began in the late 1970’s.

How this law is implemented is especially interesting.

  •  The process begins when a deposition is filed with the Custodian of Absentee Property, which is an office in the Israeli Ministry of Finance, claiming that a property has an “absentee owner.” These depositions are often prepared by Elad or Ateret Cohanim.
  • The custodian evaluates the claim and, if accepted as valid (more on this below), declares the property as absentee.
  • The property is then transferred to the Jerusalem Development Authority which disposes of the property based on the recommendation of a committee in the Israeli Ministry of Housing. Representatives of Elad and Ateret Cohanim attend those committee meetings.
  • Not surprisingly, the properties are usually turned over to those NGOs for settler use. This completes the closed loop where the NGOs file the claims and then receive the property.
  • This process of registering property as “absentee” is not public. Palestinian residents and owners have no way of knowing it is occurring, they cannot stop the transfer of ownership with legal action, and they are not entitled to compensation. They can undertake legal action after the fact, which can take many years and is expensive, beyond the means of many families.

Allegations of fraud have been made against Elad in preparing the claims of absentee ownership. For example, in a case that resulted in a Knesset investigation, Elad used the testimony of one Palestinian individual as the basis for many claims. Unfortunately, this Palestinian had a background that included perjury. During a 1991 Knesset hearing, Aharon Shakarji, then the Custodian of Absentee Property, testified that this Palestinian had been the sole basis for claims on “maybe ten or fifteen” properties in East Jerusalem that he had declared absentee. He further stated that he was willing to accept depositions from someone whom he knew “had committed perjury” without further investigation. When a Knesset member asked “Is it enough for you to get a letter from somebody and you grab the property?” Shakarji replied “Yes.”

In an unrelated court case involving the Custodian’s actions, a judge wrote in his final ruling, “Not only was the good faith of the custodian [of absentee property] not proven, but it has been proven beyond doubt that both the declaration of the entire property as absentee property and its sale to the Jerusalem Development Authority are both unacceptable because they were done in an extreme lack of good faith and there is no factual or legal basis to legalize them.”

2 – Previously Owned Jewish Property: Buildings and land in East Jerusalem that belonged to Jews or Jewish organizations before Jordan captured the area in the 1948 war (when Israel became a state) can be reclaimed and the Palestinian residents evicted. On the surface, this sounds reasonable as property is restored to the rightful owners. However, it is a one-way street. Palestinians residents of Jerusalem or the West Bank cannot reclaim their property in Israel that they owned prior to 1948. If they could, large areas of Jewish West Jerusalem would suddenly have many Palestinian residents since Jewish families who live in the many beautiful old Arab houses would have to surrender their homes.

One famous case in this category that began in the 1980’s involved Mohamed Gozlan and his family. They occupied a house that had been owned by the JNF. Mohamed’s father had sheltered and saved the Jews in his neighborhood during the 1929 Arab riots and was considered a hero. After a long legal battle the Gozlan family was evicted in 2005 and the JNF leased the property to Elad.

3 – Straw Men: It is alleged that Elad and Ateret Cohanim will sometimes use Palestinian ”straw men” who pose as buyers of property for their own use. After they purchase the property the straw men transfer ownership to the settlers. Because of the deceit and fraud involved in these transactions, they are kept secret. Some of these deals ended up in court when they became known.

4 – Threat of Demolition: As explained in previous posts it is extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain building permits to build new houses or renovate existing structures. Thus huge numbers of buildings in East Jerusalem are built illegally and subsequently face demolition orders. This can lead to financial ruin for the owners. There are allegations that the settler NGOs take advantage of this by offering to take property off the hands of the owners and assume the risk of demolition. After the sale is completed, the settler organizations get the demolition orders rescinded. In one recorded telephone call with someone instrumental in this process, it was stated that Ateret Cohanim had arranged with the municipal authorities for demolition orders to be issued on the properties they wanted to acquire, thus setting up the process.

5 – Land expropriation for archeological and tourist purposes: Large plots of land in Silwan have been acquired or are being targeted for archeological digs that will become ideologically-driven tourist attractions. The City of David National Park just outside the Old City walls is an example. It is run by Elad and is the only national park in Israel where both the archeology and operations are managed by a private organization. Elad keeps all of the ticket receipts. They are in charge of ongoing archeological work and educational programs that espouse their ideological perspective. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the park each year including tourists, students, and Israeli soldier groups for tours and programs.

Across the street from that site Elad is running another large excavation with plans to turn it into a similar tourist destination, and a third site is being pushed hard by the mayor of Jerusalem which would result in a significant number of Palestinian homes being demolished (demolition orders for 43 structures are currently outstanding at that Silwan site).

Additional Allegations of deceit: When I visited Silwan last month I heard more allegations of the use of fraud when taking over properties but I have not found independent corroborating data for those stories. However one accusation, which was detailed in one of the NGO reports I drew on for this post, is worthy of a Hollywood script. One of the mukhtars of Silwan, Lutfi Siyam, testified in court that shortly after the death of his illiterate grandmother, her fingerprints were stamped in the places for a signature on property sale documents.

The Result:

The result of all this property acquisition is that 2,000 Jewish settlers now live in East Jerusalem neighborhoods close to the Old City, often in gated compounds protected by video surveillance systems and private security guards paid for by the Ministry of Housing. These private guards are an armed force unto themselves in the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods with little oversight or controls.

As you might imagine, the resentment and fear of eviction in many Palestinian areas is quite high as these settler enclaves convert these close-knit neighborhoods into areas resembling armed camps. In a future post I will address how this has significantly raised the level of violence and disruption, often making normal life impossible for the Palestinians who live there.

Further Reading:

The information in this post was taken from several research reports produced by Israeli human rights NGOs. For those interested in more details I suggest the following:

1 – The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), as its name suggests, works to protect the civil rights of all Israeli citizens. Their report “Unsafe Space” provides a good overview of the settlement enterprise in East Jerusalem in the Appendix #1, beginning on page 35. It can be downloaded at this link: www.acri.org.il/pdf/unsafe-space-en.pdf

2 – Ir Amim is an organization that works to protect the rights of all of Jerusalem’s residents and to prevent the establishment of facts on the ground from precluding a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can download their detailed research report “Shady Dealings in Silwan” by scrolling down to the middle of this page:http://www.ir-amim.org.il/Eng/?CategoryID=254

As noted above, Elad has filed a civil suit against Ir Amim over this report.

3 – Emek Shaveh is a group of archeologists and residents of Silwan who are opposed to the ideologically driven excavations in East Jerusalem that are run by Elad. They challenge how those finds are being presented to establish a solely Jewish narrative to the exclusion of other historical periods and people. Emek Shaveh publishes reports and runs tours that present an alternative archeological story, including pre-biblical and post-temple periods, to illustrate the full range of Jerusalem’s history. See http://www.alt-arch.org/silwan.php and http://www.alt-arch.org/publications.php

Silwan and the Jewish National Fund

Leave a comment

It was 6:20 in the evening and dark when we set out on a bus from the Liberty Bell Park in Jerusalem, a beautiful park not far from the center of the city that has a large replica of the bell that is hanging in Philadelphia. We were dropped off 15 minutes later at the bottom of the Old City walls just outside the Kotel (Wailing Wall) area. There is a steep drop off right there and the tall outer walls of Jerusalem, lit with large spotlights shining up vertically from the stone base, towered over us.

I was on a tour of East Jerusalem organized by the Sheik Jarrah Solidarity movement (http://www.en.justjlm.org/), a group of young Israelis who work with Palestinian partners to prevent the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes, and Rabbis for Human Rights (http://rhrna.org/), an organization supported by 1,800 North American rabbis working to harness the Jewish tradition for social justice causes.

Crossing the street away from the Old City walls we immediately entered the Palestinian neighborhood of Wadi Hilwe, part of the village of Silwan in East Jerusalem.  Many of the houses looked rundown, streets and sidewalks were uneven, some curbs missing, and the street was sporadically lit. As we walked down the road we passed a modern, low-slung building with illuminated arches that was the entrance to the City of David Archeological National Park. A little farther down the hill was a gated compound with an Israeli flag flying on top.

Silwan settler house just down the hill from the City of David Archeological National Park

Silwan

As background, Silwan is a large Palestinian village of about 40,000 people that was annexed by the Jerusalem municipality after the 1967 war. It is part of East Jerusalem, a large section of the city which until 1967 was under Jordanian rule but then was conquered by Israel and incorporated into greater Jerusalem. Silwan, like other areas of Palestinian East Jerusalem, has been neglected by the municipality. Many roads are unpaved, there is no regular garbage collection, and some houses are not connected to the sewage system. There are few schools, no parks or playgrounds.

The neighborhood we were visiting near the Temple Mount, Wadi Hilwe, is the location of the ancient City of David, the original site of Jerusalem during the time when King David was said to have reigned. There are approximately 2,600 Palestinian residents in this area and about 60 Jewish families, most of whom live in gated compounds with Israeli flags flying overhead, protected by round-the-clock armed guards costing tens of millions of Israeli shekels each year paid for by the Israeli Ministry of Housing. These compounds are scattered throughout the neighborhood and are part of a decades long effort to replace the local populace with Jewish settlers.

Settler house in Silwan. Note the guard post on the roof.

The Jewish settlement of Silwan is being facilitated by two organizations working closely with the government:

1 – The Ir David Foundation know by it’s Hebrew acronym Elad (http://www.cityofdavid.org.il/irdavidfoundation_eng.asp). Elad works hand in hand with the government to take over property in Silwan. As an example of this close collaboration, it is the only private organization managing an Israeli national park, the City of David archeological site in Wadi Hilwe.

2 – The Jewish National Fund (JNF) through its wholly owned but little known subsidiary Himnuta. More on this below.

The effect on the Palestinian population of these politically connected and well-funded organizations is profound. Residents face the constant threat of protracted legal battles and eviction as every opportunity is used to take over property.

Absentee Property Law

There are several strategies used to evict Palestinian residents from their homes in Jerusalem. In this post I will concentrate on just one: the Absentee Property Law.

This law, originally used immediately after the founding of Israel, enabled the state to take over the property of Palestinians whose owners no longer lived in the country. It applied to Palestinian refugees who had fled the fighting, or were chased out by the Israeli army, in the 1948 war that resulted from the invasion of the new Jewish state by the armies from neighboring Arab lands. The law was a legal mechanism by which entire neighborhoods of Arab homes and land throughout Israel were transferred to Jewish ownership. Much of this land was used to settle the large influx of Jewish refugees from European and Arab countries after the war.

In the late 1970’s, under the first right-wing government led by Menachem Begin, the law was applied to East Jerusalem. Thus, Palestinian properties there became subject to seizure if the owners did not reside in Israel. Arab residents of the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel but not annexed, are considered absentee owners and at risk of losing their property in Jerusalem.

The Jewish National Fund versus the Sumarin family

The first stop on our evening tour of Silwan was at the home of Mohammed Sumarin. His family’s situation is a classic example of the application of the Absentee Property Law and the expensive legal battles that many Palestinian families have to endure.

We sat in a semicircle on the large, stone terrace in front of Mohammed’s house as he served us tea and relayed his family’s story (all the while his toddler son excitedly climbed all over him, providing some extra entertainment before finally collapsing in his father’s arms from exhaustion). Mohammed has lived in the house since he was a small child. Currently twelve of his family members occupy the house, including five children

Opposing the family is the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a large quasi-governmental, non-profit organization that owns 13% of the land in Israel. Although the JNF does good work with ecology and planting forests within the Green Line (the pre-1967 Israeli borders) – the ubiquitous little blue coin boxes for donations were staples in Jewish schools and homes in America for many decades – its Himnuta subsidiary has been active under-the-radar in the West Bank and East Jerusalem acquiring land and houses, and facilitating the construction of settlements. Apparently, even board members of the JNF were unaware of the extent of this activity.

This burst onto the pages of Israeli and American newspapers in November as a result of Himnuta’s efforts, in collaboration with Elad, to evict the Sumarin family. The JNF at first denied they were involved until court documents revealed that Himnuta was behind the eviction proceedings. One JNF board member and fundraiser, Seth Morrison, recently resigned in protest when he realized the full extent of these efforts (see his statement at http://www.forward.com/articles/147766/).

The legal history of the Sumarin case is complicated, stretching over two decades, but revolves around who is the technical owner of the building. Mohammed Sumarin’s great uncle built the building 75 years ago and, according to the Sumarin family, subsequently sold it to his brother, Mohammed’s grandfather. In that case, ownership of the property clearly passed down through the generations to Mohammed after his grandfather died.

However, the JNF contests that Mohammed’s grandfather bought the building and claims instead that ownership has passed down to the descendants of his grandfather’s brother, all of whom live outside of Israel. Thus the JNF wants to evict the family and assume ownership.

Court rulings have varied. One ruling ten years ago stated the sale was clearly valid and Mohammed was the legal owner. A second court several years later ruled otherwise when the eviction proceedings were reopened without the Sumarin family present (they were not notified of a new suit being filed). The court ordered their eviction in their absence.

Due to public pressure, the JNF/Himnuta recently agreed to postpone the most current eviction notice, which was scheduled for November 28, 2011, until after a new court date on January 8th. Rabbis for Human Rights, which has taken the lead publicizing this issue, is organizing an email campaign to pressure JNF to permanently cancel the eviction proceedings. You can participate at http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/5149/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=8820

Please forward this post to those who might be interested in helping.

For further reading I recommend the following:

– For more information about the Absentee Property Law, scroll to the bottom of this webpage http://www.ir-amim.org.il/eng/?CategoryID=353 to download more detailed reports.

– For more information about the hidden dealings of JNF’s Himnuta subsidiary and the Sumarin case, see: http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/2011/11/jnf-will-expel-pal-family-in-silwan-urgent-call-to-action/

Coming soon: A close look at Elad and the methods it uses to evict Palestinians, some of which have raised questions of propriety.

%d bloggers like this: