Sunday, January 03, 2010


By Alon Harel

There are very few events in Israel today which are more indicative of the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and which reflect better the shortsightedness of contemporary Israeli policies in Jerusalem than the recent events in Sheich Jarach. These events include the forceful displacement of Palestinian families living on that land since 1948 and the violence inflicted on peaceful demonstrators protesting against the forceful removal of Palestinians from their homes.

Sheich Jarach is a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem. After the Independence war, refugees from Jaffa settled in Sheich Jarach which was under Jordanian sovereignty. The land in Sheich Jarach was bought by Jews in 1875 but deserted by its Jewish owners since the 1920's. It was confiscated by the Jordanian government and given to refugees of the 1948 war by the Jordanian government. The refugees have lived there peacefully since the 1948 war. Similar statutes authorizing confiscation of land on a much larger scale were passed in Israel at the same time. After the 1948 war, Israel confiscated all the land which was owned by Palestinians who escaped during the war (including land owned by the Sheich Jarach's Palestinians).

For many years the Israeli government and the Israeli public as a whole has rejected almost unanimously "the right of return" of Palestinian refugees to their pre-1948 land. The opposition to recognizing the right of return is based on the recognition that such a right would undermine the identity of the state of Israel as a Jewish state. It is also based on the view that the cost of trying to redress all past injustices may be too high. Houses, land and villages owned by Palestinians before 1948 have been transformed so radically that an attempt to restore ownership would generate new injustices and would trigger violence.

Yet, this reasonable rejection of the right of return has been based on mutuality and reciprocity. It has been understood that (the very few) Jewish refugees of 1948 ought also to renounce their own rights. It is only this mutuality and reciprocity that legitimates the confiscation of Palestinian land in Israel after 1948. How can an Israeli court restore ownership of a Jew over land in Sheich Jarach while denying at the same time the claim of the displaced Palestinian refugee to restore her ownership of her house in Jaffa? Is not it absurd that the very same Palestinian whose property was confiscated in 1948 finds that his new home is confiscated on the grounds that it was owned previously to 1948 by Jews? What is it precisely that distinguishes the claim of the Jew from that of the Palestinian? Is it mere racism disguised under layers of legalistic distinctions?

Let me at this point leave the legalisms and examine the realities. The Jewish settlers in Sheich Jarach are not innocent refugees trying to make a living on a land previously owned by them. The settlers in Sheich Jarach are fanatics who bought the rights from its previous owners with the aim of establishing Jewish presence in the heart of the Palestinian city and expelling its Palestinian residents. To substantiate this claim, it is sufficient to walk into the neighborhood, watch the provocative flags and racist graffiti or, if this is too inconvenient, just follow the weekly news about the violence of the settlers against their Palestinian neighbors.

The process of settling Jewish fanatics in the heart of a Palestinian city was the process which destroyed the heart of the Palestinian city of Hebron. The tours conducted by left wing organizations into Hebron expose the visitor to a ghost city deserted by its Palestinian inhabitants. The few remaining Palestinians living in the Jewish part of the city are subjected to humiliating restrictions imposed on them by the security services. The violence perpetrated by few hundreds zealots left thousands of people homeless and destroyed what used to be a rich and flourishing city.

The fear of Hebronizing Jerusalem led large groups of Jerusalemites to join the peaceful demonstrations conducted every week in Sheich Jarach. These demonstrations united members of the Israeli academy, professors and students with left wing activists of various groups including Taa'yush and "Anarchists against the Wall". Yet, for some reason this union was perceived as highly dangerous by the Israeli police which decided to use extreme violence against these peaceful demonstrations. Israeli prisons have seen in recent weeks many young men and women put into custody for no reason other than their will to protest against the policy of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem.


Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

This, yet again, shows the conflict between 'secular Zionism' -- which I, even as a non-Jew, support entirely -- and its bastard cousin 'religious Zionism.'

Zionism was originally a movement of non-religious, in fact, usually anti-religious and socialistic, Jews who simply pointed out that, given the historical and current horrors of anti-Semitism -- then symbolized by the Czarist pogroms, the Protocols and the Dreyfus Affair -- the only way to assure their safety was to create a "Jewish state."

At the time, such nationalistic movements would center on 'traditional homelands,' frequently ones where the majority of the 'nation' currently resided -- and even that was to cause trouble as several groups would claim the same 'traditional homelands' -- ask the Kurds or the Macedonians how satisfied they are to make my point.

But the Jews were scattered, with only a small percentage living in the Palestinian region -- a fact that was true not merely in the current era but, to a lesser extent, even in the time of the Roman Empire before the 'destruction of the Temple.' There was no inherent reason except for 'tradition' why the Jews should be settled in Palestine rather than in some other territory. (There is still debate as to whether Herzl's offer to accept Kenya rather than Palestine was sincere or merely another 'slap in the face' to those religious Jews he despised as anti-modern fossils.)

Yet, because of that tradition, because of the religious beliefs still held by perhaps the majority of Jews, and because of other factors -- including the fact that Palestine was administered by the English, Zionism soon settled on the Palestine region as its target.

Again, this had no relation to any idea of 'the Promised Land' or the 'Abrahamic Covenant' and many orthodox -- including those resident in the area -- rejected Zionism and the idea of a (secular) Jewish state.

It was only with the growing influence of the Kooks (not a pejorative, Rabbis Abraham Issac and Zvi Yehuda Kook, father and son) who saw the Zionist movement as -- despite the hopes and ideas of its believers -- a 'God-driven and directed' one, merely 'using' the secular Zionists as, in the belief of many Orthodox, God has used other non-religious forces to 'correct or chastize' the Jews, that 'religious Zionism was born.

[Apologies for that last sentence, which really should have a 'trail of breadcrumbs' to guide the reader's way, but time constraints do not let me rewrite it.]

I believe that had Zionism remained closer to the ideas of its founders, and of the founders of the State of Israel, there would be more of a possibility of acheiving a workable compromise -- or, if not, the failure of such a compromise would be seen to be primarily at the hands of the Palestinians. Yet the 'hijacking' of the term Zionism by the primarily religious -- and some 'hard-line secular' -- factions has made it at least difficult to support an idea that was needed at the time and that the events of the last century has only confirmed the need for.

(I have been guilty of over-simplification, I know, but did not have time or space to lay out other factors and oddities -- such as the fact that "Peter Bergson' who was one of the founders of the Jabotinsky-Stern group. was in fact Hillel Kook, nephew of Rabbi Abraham Kook. I hope, however, this might bring some new perspective to an argument that badly needs it.)

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I need to add one point, that an additional trouble-making complication is the 'support' of Israel from certain branches of fundamentalist Christianity -- most obviously the Hageean "Christian Zionism" but also other branches of 'pre-millenarian dispensationalism.' This, and the more worrisome acceptance of such support from Religious Zionists and some hard-line secular Zionists merely adds an 'accelerant' to the already dangerously flammable mixture that is building.

Whether it is from a misunderstanding of the position of the "Christian zionists' and prem.d's -- not seeing that their support comes from a desire to prepare for an 'End Time' scenario that would result in the conversion of some and slaughter of the remaining Jews, or whether it is a knowledge of such motives and a dismissal of them as so insane that they do not matter, this union is fraught with peril.

The fact that many of these particular 'Christian' supporters of Israel also share a hatred of Islam, a fact not unknown to the Muslim enemies of Islam, only increases the danger.

I wish that these comments had conclusions beginning 'so what I think should be done is...' but I don't have answers. Certainly many of us should work towards strengthening the 'Peace Now' factions and other forms of sensible secular Zionism, but how we could go about that, or what groups represent such ideas and continue to have a prominent voice in Israel society are difficult to discover, though hopefully our hosts, Michael and Sherri, will have better informed comments when they return.

Bob Hockett said...

Great to read you, Alon,

Welcome (back) and Happy New Year!

All best, Bob

bataween said...

You say there were very few Jewish refugees. Actually there were about 20,000 evicted from Jerusalem and the West Bank.And you completely ignore the rights of 850,000 Jews evicted from Arab countries who lost all their property rights and land equivalent to five times Israel's surface area.
I don't think it's helpful to narrowly focus on decontextualised Palestinian rights and exclude Jewish rights. All refugees, Jewish and Arab, were in fact victims of the Arab League's decision to go to war in 1948.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Well, there is an answer, and a very simple one, equal rights for all citizen in Israel/Palestina. We have to be civilizised: What is democracy: equal rights for all, everything else is avoiding the truth: that there is no democracy in Israel. A religious state equal to Iran is not the goal. Israel should think about it. The israeli civil society should involve into more criticism of its antidemocratic leadership

Trip Advisor said...

the issue is isreal it self .. jaws have right to be in this land but who give them a right to make there own public and move the original home people (arab) away ? i also agree that movement of non-religious, in fact, usually anti-religious and socialistic, Jews who simply pointed out that, given the historical and current horrors of anti-Semitism

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L. King said...

I would ask that Ramallah grant equal rights for Jews in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority - but then I see how badly Christians and Muslims are treated and come to the conclusion that it's not worth it.