Under the Pretense of Law

The new ruling of the Supreme Court once again puts the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem in the eye of the storm. The three judges on the panel accepted the claim of ownership of the state and some settlers bodies on the area of Umm Harun on the western side of the neighborhood, and condemned it to the same fate as that of the "Shimon HaTzadik" compound on the Eastern side, i.e. the evacuation of Palestinians from their homes and the entry of hostile ideological settlers in their place.

Arguments of the parties, in a nutshell, are as follows: according to the Palestinians, the land was leased to Jewish settlers by Palestinian owners in the late nineteenth century, for ninety-nine years that would be completed in 1979. But during the years of Jordanian rule, the territory passed to the Jordanian government by the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property. According to the Israeli claim, this fact alone proves the original Jewish ownership of land, since even the Jordanian government considered it part of the assets of an enemy, i.e. Jewish property. Palestinians on the other hand, argue that the landowners at the time contacted the Jordanian authorities to correct this distortion, but in the meantime the area passed into the hands of Israel in 1967 and was included in the annexed territories. Therefore, the legal proceedings against the Jordanians did not reach its conclusion. The court, as noted, accepted the Israeli position.

For a prediction as to how this ruling will be carried out in the field one need only look east, across the street. For over a year the Gawi, Kurd, and Hanun families have been sitting on the sidewalk opposite the houses from which they were evicted, eagerly watching the settlers treating these houses as their own. Sometimes they hear them singing songs of praise murderer Baruch Goldstein. Occasionally the tension level rises to boiling point, and situations can grow violent. A Jewish settlement on the Western side of Sheikh Jarrah, if established, will be very much accessible to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods on the other side of Route 1, which is the Green Line, and will serve as a pilgrimage destination for passionate right-wing yeshiva students.

It is true that this reality is not the result of a criminal invasion of Palestinian homes by settlers, but rather the result of repeated rulings of the various legal tribunals. The settlers did not enter the Sheikh Jarrah back door, but the high road, paved for them by the court. Those who speak highly of the Rule of Justice, say the settlers, should respect any courts decision without reproof.

However, it is worth mentioning that the Israeli court rules in accordance with the Israeli law, which was passed by the Israeli legislature. The act of legislation is, in its nature, a blatantly political act, especially when it comes to laws such as the Absentee Property Law, on which the management of East Jerusalem assets is based. The same amendment that allows the State of Israel to confiscate Palestinian property in East Jerusalem under the claim of absenteeism, also allows Jews to reclaim their property in the same area even before 1948. Legislation so blunt in its bias is certainly is not based on pure principles of justice and law, but rather on obvious political considerations, the nature of which can and must be discussed.

The fate of Sheikh Jarrah is not a legal issue, just as the expansion of settlements is not a real estate issue, just as the creation of a theater in the settlement of Ariel is not a cultural project. Since the beginning of the occupation in 1967, anything and everything that happens beyond the Green Line is strictly a political issue, even if the discourse about it takes place in courts of law or ornate theaters. The Israeli legislature cannot ignore its responsibility to the reality that has been created as a result of the laws it passes, and should be repeatedly reminded of this, especially when it tries to pass the buck.