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Settlement of Sheikh Jarrah not 'bad politics,' it's simply bad

Jeffrey Goldberg believes that the Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah is “not necessarily” in the best Jewish self-interest. Why not? Because peace is important, and without a Palestinian East Jerusalem, there will be no Palestinian state, and hence, no possibility of peace. Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state (through the absorption of Arabs), or it will cease to be democratic. “It will not survive if it becomes a pariah state, and, in this unfortunate world in which we must exist, Israel is in danger of becoming an outcast among nations.”

By Jerry Haber / Magnes Zionist

For Goldberg, the ultimate and overriding moral injunction is to preserve the state of Israel. All other considerations, if they obtain at all in this “unfortunate world in which we must exist,” are secondary. If the Judaization of East Jerusalem conformed to Jewish self-interest – didn’t Jewish self-interest dictate the Judaization of the Arab neighborhoods of West Jerusalem? — Goldberg would apparently see no problem. After all, “Jerusalem is Judaism’s holiest city” and “Jews have a right to live wherever they want in the Land of Israel”. As for the Shepherd Hotel, “in and of itself, it is not a morally profound issue.”

It was bought legally by Jewish buyers years ago; it did not house Palestinians, and it is associated with the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who was an actual bona fide Nazi, so its disappearance does not cause me sorrow. The world’s focus on Sheikh Jarrah is, of course, disproportionate in the larger scheme of thing.

Goldberg does not say whether the removal of Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah is a “morally profound” issue; perhaps, he thinks that it is.

A Palestinian boy faces an Israeli riot control police officer at a Sheikh Jarrah demonstration (photo: Lisa Goldman)

What is wrong with all this? In the end, Goldberg opposes the de-Arabification of East Jerusalem. What difference does it make how he reasons? Isn’t he getting enough flak from his rightwing readers for his liberal-hawkish Zionist perspective. Shouldn’t I be giving him a break?

No, I shouldn’t, for two reasons. First, Goldberg’s account is factually incorrect and tendentious. Second, it lacks what is lacking in almost all the liberal hawkish/neocon writing on Israel: holding Israel to a reasonable moral standard besides that of the Mafia.

First, the facts: Goldberg surely cannot be unaware that almost all of the “sales” of Arab property to Jews in East Jerusalem are at best legally and morally questionable, and at worst, bogus. Some properties have either been purchased by the state, often with secret funding funneled through groups like Ateret Kohanim, with the express purpose of Judaizing East Jerusalem and ridding it of its Arab heritage. This has been described in numerous books and articles (see, for example, Separate and Unequal: The Inside Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem, pp. 216-218; the Ir Amim website should also be consulted.)

Some of these sales have been judged bogus even by the Israeli Supreme Court. Most of the properties were transferred to Jewish owners on the basis of the Absentee Property Law of 1950, by which the state was allowed to take property of Arabs who left for, among other places, Jordan. In some cases, we have the absurd situation where property owners living in East Jerusalem, occupied by Jordan in 1948 and then by Israel in 1967, may have their title to ownership disputed because they “fled” to Jordan (i.e., East Jerusalem) in 1948. But even when this is not the case, the use of the Absentee Property Law is morally outrageous, even according to those liberal Zionists who justified its use in 1948.

And how does the theft work? Settler groups try to find Arab homes whose owners are no longer there, have them registered with the custodian for absentee property, and then receive them from the government. This cooperation between settlers and government began in the late 80s and has continued ever since; since Nir Barkat was elected mayor of Jerusalem, it has become a national disgrace.

The Judaization of East Jerusalem is not the story of conventional real estate transactions in an open city; rather, it is the story of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing of occupied territory in an attempt to erase the historical and physical presence of Arabs in East Jerusalem – sixty-three years after the government did the same thing in the Arab neighborhoods of West Jerusalem.

Goldberg also must be aware that the Jewish ownership of both the Sheikh Jarrah properties and the Shepherd Hotel is disputed. In the former case, the owners have Ottoman documents that they claim show that the land was rented to, and not purchased by the Sephardic committee. But even if the Sephardic committee was the owner before 1948, it is morally outrageous to evict Arab families who were not allowed to return to their homes in W. Jerusalem, and who were sold these homes by the Jordanian authorities over forty years ago. They have now become refugees twice – both times because of the state of Israel not allowing them to return to their homes. If it is just to transfer the Sheikh Jarrah homes to rightwing Jewish extremists on the grounds that it was owned by Jews in 1948, why is it not just to transfer homes in Talbieh, Baka, and Katamon, to their original Arab owners? The injustice cries to high heaven, which is why leading intellectuals and people of conscience find their way to the weekly Sheikh Jarrah protests.

And what of the Shepherd Hotel? Because nobody actually turned Palestinian residents into the streets, and because over sixty years ago it was associated with the Mufti of Jerusalem, Goldberg finds nothing morally problematic in a secret purchase by an American Jewish gambling mogul in order to eliminate the Arab presence in Jerusalem, and then tearing it down to put up Jewish apartments. (When was the last time Jewish property was torn down in Jerusalem in order to build housing for Palestinian residents of the city? When was the last time that any such housing was built?) He doesn’t care that the hotel is claimed by the descendants of El-Husseini family and was questionably transferred – without any documentation, apparently — to the custodian for absentee property? He doesn’t care that another landmark of Arab Jerusalem is deliberately erased. He doesn’t care that the final word on justice in Occupied Jerusalem (maybe not “occupied” according to Goldberg, but according to the rest of the world) is given to the Supreme Court of the Occupier, which can only judge according to laws that favor Jewish claims. None of these moral outrages bother him – what interests him is only Jewish self-interest.

Jewish self-interest will no doubt allow Jewish tourists to sleep in the five star Palace Hotel now being renovated in West Jerusalem (after being seized by the Israelis in 1948), despite the fact that it was built and owned by the Mufti.

In Jerusalem, Palestinians have suffered undeniable injustices for over sixty years, beginning with their expulsion from their homes in 1948, the subsequent theft of property and annexation (unrecognized by the world to this day), and ending with the annexation and Judaization of East Jerusalem, a process that only has accelerated in recent years. None of this matters to Israel supporters, unless it reduces the chance for peace.

Is Israel’s conduct in East Jerusalem bad, or merely bad for peace?

It is indeed bad for peace, but more importantly, it is just bad..

That’s called Jewish morality, or just morality.

This article is cross-posted from the Magnes Zionist blog, with the author’s permission.

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    1. Herb

      There is one slight difference that you forgot to notice. Israel can take these houses because it won a war. If the Palestinians had won, they would be dispossessing Jews from Jerusalem. And Jerry Haber would not be protesting it. Why? Because according to Mr Haber, most Jews (with a few notable exceptions including himself) are the lowest form of humanity and thus are not entitled to win anything. That is why he has no sympathy for the victims of suicide bombing or the people in Sderot. They are just untermenschen

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    2. maayan

      Haber writes: “The Judaization of East Jerusalem is not the story of conventional real estate transactions in an open city; rather, it is the story of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing of occupied territory in an attempt to erase the historical and physical presence of Arabs in East Jerusalem.”

      Right, that’s why the population of eastern Jerusalem has grown by leaps and bounds to a point where they constitute an ever-growing segment of Jerusalem’s population.

      And of course, that’s why the Waqf can complain when the Little Kotel is expanded to hold a whopping 50 people, because their presence there is so weakened that they can build a new mosque for hundreds while destroying priceless (probably Jewish) archaeological grounds under the Haram al Sharif with complete impunity. And yet, these weak people, so harmed by Israel’s ongoing Judaization of Jerusalem appear to have little trouble making a lot of noise when Jews seek to expand a small prayer area.

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    3. Richard Allen

      Maayan, doesn’t it grow exhausting feeling so continually embattled?

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    4. maayan

      It does and it’s coming from all sides. I gather since you are here that you support this site’s politics but you should know that it’s very sad that on this site and on the international Left in general, an alternate reality exists that can only exist by ignoring or minimizing the intentions, actions and history of the side (the Arabs) they are supporting. In the end, if they emerge successful, they will be facilitating the destruction of Israel as a state, of Israel as a democratic state and of Israel as the embodiment of the right of Jews to enjoy self-determination. It is unbelievable that we have come to this, but here we are.

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    5. Maayan, you are right to point out that Israel has not taken to throwing the first born of the Palestinians born in Jerusalem into the sea, or forcing abortions on Palestinian women. Perhaps we should be grateful for that.

      But by imposing stringent residency requirements on Jerusalem Palestinians, they are indeed doing what they can to reduce the number of legal Palestinian residents in the city — in an effort to offset the population of Eastern Jerusalem through natural growth. And by not building flats or subsidizing flats for the Palestinian residents, unlike the Jewish residents, they force the Palestinians to build illegally — or, again, to leave. Ditto for erasing the historical sites of Palestinians, such as the Palace Hotel, where George Antonius wrote the Arab Awakening, I am told, or the various parks that have been proposed to limit Palestinian growth.

      Palestinians are de facto not allowed to live in areas over the Green Line, while whole Jewish communities have been built over the Green Line. And when Palestinians live in some of those Jewish communities — the ones over the Green Line — this is trumpeted as a sign of “open housing”.

      The answer to both sides destroying the others side’s historical sites, is to internationalize the city so that it is under neither Jewish nor Palestinian sovereignty. That was, and remains, the best solution to the mess. Israel accepted it in 1947; the Palestinians rejected it. Maybe it is time for both sides to reconsider it, or better, for the world to impose it upon the parties.

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    6. maayan

      Jerry, please stop with the hysterics of your first paragraph, as they are causing me shortness of breath from laughing so hard. In response to your absurd comment about not forcing abortions on Palestinians or killing their first-born, I will merely point out that the other fast-growing population in Jerusalem is Haredi. Both of these groups can apparently afford to have many more kids than I can, while using your non-Arab, non-Haredi taxes to help pay for the pleasure.
      The residence issue is one which has a very obvious solution, apparently one that is taking place right now with great frequency despite your concerns, and that is that the Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem can apply for and receive Israeli citizenship. Oops, there goes another of your claims.
      Perhaps you are right that the Palestinians won’t receive permits to build, but before we know that, they need to apply. They rarely do, just like the residents of Sheikh Jarrah who were evicted were advised BY THEIR LAWYER not to pay rent on their rental units. It’s hard for Israelis, too, to get building permits, but I wouldn’t dream of building a house without one. Would you? The fact is that Jerusalem has about 13% of its open land available to Palestinian construction and approximately 34% of its land open to Jewish construction. In these areas, people get permits. As to why only 13%? This is a matter of the division of the city, but you will note that the Palestinian Arab population of Jerusalem is about a third of the Jewish population, so in actuality their 13% of the available land is representative of their percentage of the population.
      But, Jerry, you will be pleased to know that we agree that Jerusalem should become an international city. Not all of it, in my opinion, because I do think the Arabs should control their neighborhoods (yes, Sheich Jarrah included) but the key contested areas should be internationalized. I’m pleased to hear you support Olmert’s peace offer and recommend you dedicate all of your future writing and demonstration efforts to convincing the lay Palestinians as well as their leadership to accept this wise peace offer.

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    7. Richard Allen

      Maayan, you seem like an articulate person who blessedly proof-reads her entries for spelling and punctuation before hitting submit, and your grasp of the basic facts is mostly not wrong, but you are engaging in the most extreme mental calisthenics I’ve ever seen to always portray Israel as the victim who only does what it must. Has there ever been a conflict between two nations in the history of the world where one side was completely wrong and one was completely right? I seriously doubt it, but in your worldview, it seems thats yes, Israel has made history by never having done anything wrong. Do you get the disconnect of portraying the most powerful military force in the region, with the wealthiest backers, as the perpetual victim?

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    8. maayan

      Actually, I don’t proofread enough and always find typos after I post.

      My basic grasp and my not basic grasp on the facts is pretty strong or I wouldn’t engage in debates with the people on this site. They tend to know their stuff.

      And I didn’t say for one minute that Israel was completely in the right. It is a flawed country, like any other. The fact that it has been engaged in war for so many decades has meant that its society has become a “militarized” one that keeps electing former generals and soldiers to lead it. I don’t see that as a positive at all. The country has also made mistakes along the way, among them, in my opinion, is permitting settlements deep into Judea and Samaria, when it should have stuck to the areas near the Green Line and in the critical-for-defensive-reasons Jordan Valley. I think Israel should have been less violent at the beginning of the Palestinian war in 2000. I think Israel should never have gone into Lebanon in 1982 past the initial drive, and should have exited immediately thereafter. I think Netanyahu killed the opportunity for us to ever really know whether Oslo could have worked as Rabin envisioned, even if he did ultimately sign Hebron and Wye.
      However, your final comment is misleading. “Do you get the disconnect of portraying the most powerful military force in the region, with the wealthiest backers, as the perpetual victim?”
      Israel is the most powerful military force in the region because it has been threatened severely, not because it is a bully or seeks to be a bully. The fact is the Egyptian army continues to train against Israel, now with American weapons, the Saudis have a huge air force and systems that are comparable to Israel’s, Syria continues to hint at war, Hizbullah and Hamas can hit Tel Aviv with rockets, the total population of the countries surrounding Israel is dozens and dozens of times greater than Israel’s, and that’s not even getting into the political and diplomatic wars Israel faces against a 57-country Muslim bloc (and its allies) at the UN, or the nature of proxy armies like Hizbullah and Hamas or opposing regimes like Iran that continuously declare that Israel is at risk of permanent destruction.
      There is no disconnect on my part. Israel faces a lot of hostility from many corners and its military strength as well as backing from the US are, at best, an imperfect counter-weight to an insane security situation.

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    9. Richard Allen

      Okay fine, you recognise that these were mistakes that Israel has made, but you don’t then take that extra step to see that the anger they arouse exacerbates Israel’s “insane security situation.” Anger and aggression towards Israel do not exist in the vacuum of pure anti-semitism that you paint. You use the “security justifies everything” argument while not seeming to realise that all these measures had that same logic.
      As for Israel’s security situation, it is a valid concern, but not nearly under the existential threat that you make out.

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    10. maayan

      Right. Earlier tonight Ha’aretz reported that according to Wikileaks, Iran is working together with 30 countries to get the Bomb, is planning to have 3 in operation by 2013 and one of them is intended to be given to Hizbullah. Yup, I sure am exaggerating the existential threat.

      As for taking the “extra step” that holds Israel responsible for exacerbating the situation, perhaps that’s because I know what happened in 1920, 1929, 1936-1939, 1947, 1948, 1950-1956, the early ’60s, the mid-’60s, 1968-1970 and 1973. I am also well versed in Palestinian terrorism over the past 40 years. It’s easy to blame Israel, but it’s easier to just read the history and understand that Israel is just one party among many. Right now, for example, I can count Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas, Fatah, Syria and Iraq as outspoken enemies of Israel. Egypt, as Wikileaks shows, trains their army for war with Israel. I’m not imagining things. They are there and Israel’s strength, while making for compelling anti-Israel diatribes, is actually dependent upon severe losses among its civilians. A quick glance at the pain caused by such losses in 1973 should explain to anybody who understands the situation why these threats are so compelling for those of us who aren’t pretending the Palestinians are always the victims.

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    11. richard Allen

      Against my better judgment, I’ll respond, and I am going to make this my F7: Iran will not bomb us. Let’s say they get one bomb. What will they do with it? Presumably bomb Tel Aviv. How will we respond? Bomb the fuck out of their entire country. Let’s say they get 3. What will they do with those? Still, only bomb Tel Aviv, because Jerusalem and Haifa have too large of Arab populations to bomb. Let’s say they say fuck it, we’ll bomb the Arab Israelis too. Israel still will be able to destroy their entire country from remote controls in a scorched earth policy. Of course, destroying every major city in Israel will also destroy the Palestinians, due to nuclear fall-out. What will the Iranians do then? Their major rallying cry to assume power is the Palestinians, and once they’ve killed them off, what else is left? And that doesn’t even take into account the nuclear fall-out for every Arab country surrounding Israel, possibly even Iran itself if they had enough bombs to wipe Israel off the map. It is all simply obnoxious, bombastic rhetoric with the goal of rallying the other Arab states around them, but it ultimately means nothing. You act like you understand the Arab mentality so much better than all the rest of us, but apparently you don’t understand that most Middle-Eastern leaders, including our own, are a bunch of blowhards.

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    12. maayan

      Arab mentality? I don’t even know what that means. Israel has enemies who tend to be Arabs and Muslims. They are in a war with Israel. They come from anti-democratic and illiberal societies. That’s all I know. I don’t pretend to be a mind-reader and understand “Arab mentality.” I understand there’s a war going on and they are doing everything they can to win it. People on this site are helping them.

      As for using the bomb despite its irrationality, I have to point you to the irrationality of suicide bombings. However, don’t listen to me. Read all the Wikileaks data on what ARAB rulers are saying about Iran. They are quite afraid.

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    13. richard Allen

      First of all, you addressed none of the points I made, you simply addressed one little term I used, and then called the journalists and commenters on this site collaborators simply because they have different opinions than you. And then you made a completely ridiculous comparison. Suicide bombing, i.e. acts of terror by a stateless people, has nothing in common with a technologically developed, internationally-recognised, semi-Westernised country bombing another. Suicide bombing may be appalling, but it is rational in its on way. Iran bombing us makes absolutely no sense. Wow, you have really run out of arguments. And That’s all I know.

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    14. richard Allen

      And all those Arab rulers are concerned because THEY want to be the big man on campus, not because they’re afraid of the bomb. Which is probably our main reason as well.

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