Arab riots challenge private Jewish ownership rights in Jerusalem

May 10, 2021 by David Singer

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Tension between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem has reached boiling point as Arab riots erupt threatening the postponement of Court-ordered evictions of Arab squatters from Jewish-owned houses in the area known as Sheikh Jarrah.

The facts – as is usual in the Arab-Jewish conflict – are lost in a welter of Arab and international condemnation comprising wildly unsubstantiated claims of unlawful dispossession of Arabs and denial of their property and legal rights.

NGO Monitor describes the current situation as dispassionately and factually as it can:

On February 10, 2021, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an October 2020 Jerusalem Magistrate Court decision, requiring a number of Sheikh Jarrah residents to vacate properties they are living in by May 2, 2021. Following this decision, the residents appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court has given the two sides until May 6, to report if they have reached a compromise to settle out of court.

These developments have been the source of extensive NGO campaigning- particularly by the Palestinian group, Al-Haq- including submissions to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to UN officials, alleging that the court order and the expected forcible removal represent war crimes.

Such claims and campaigns distort, obfuscate, and erase the facts of the case, as litigated over 50 years in multiple Israeli courts.

Israel’s Supreme Court in 2009 had determined:

  • The land in question “was owned by Chief Rabbi (Hacham Bashi) Avraham Ashkenazi and Chief Rabbi Meir Orbach until the War of Independence [1948], after they purchased it in 1875 from its Arab owners.”
  • Subsequently, two Jewish organizations, Va’ad Eidat HaSfaradim and Va’ad HaKlali L’Knesset Yisrael, worked to register the land with British Mandatory government in 1946.
  • The properties were registered with Israeli authorities under these two organizations’ names in 1973 and were later sold to the Nahalat Shimon organization in 2003.

The land encompassed the site of the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik – a third century BCE High Priest – also known as Simeon the Just. 

This chain of Jewish ownership and the reverence shown by Jews for one of their religious luminaries buried there – by visiting and praying at his tomb – was interrupted by certain events that happened in 1956 – after Sheikh Jarrah had been invaded and conquered in 1948 by Transjordan which expelled all the Jews living there and did not let them return to their homes or pray at Simeon’s tomb.

Sheikh Jarrah was included in the conquered territory unified with Transjordan in 1950 and renamed Jordan.

In 1956 – Jordan in cooperation with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) housed 28 families of Palestinian refugees as tenants in a compound built on the lands of the two Jewish trusts – managed after 1948 by the Jordanian “Custodian of Enemy Property.”

Jordan lost control of Sheikh Jarrah to Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War.

In 1972 the Israeli Custodian General ordered that the properties be released and registered under the ownership of the Jewish trusts and that their occupants pay rent.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has issued a statement accusing the Palestinian Authority of “presenting a real estate dispute between private parties, as a nationalistic cause, in order to incite violence in Jerusalem,” adding that Ramallah would bear responsibility for any violence that ensued.

Jewish settlement in Sheikh Jarrah is indeed the work of private Jewish entities using legal procedures to reclaim their private property rights.

Refusing to accept the decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court is a sure recipe for disaster.

Arabs rioting and inciting violence can never replace the rule of law or help end the 100 years-old unresolved Arab-Jewish conflict.

David Singer is a Sydney lawyer and a foundation member of the International Analysts Network

Author’s note: The cartoon — commissioned exclusively for this article — is by Yaakov Kirschen aka “Dry Bones”- one of Israel’s foremost political and social commentators — whose cartoons have graced the columns of Israeli and international media publications for decades.

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