Marking another milestone in a long legal battle for Jewish rights in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood of Jerusalem, the Supreme Court has ordered yet another eviction of Arab squatters and the return of a home to its Jewish owners.
The home in question is located in the renewed ancient Jewish neighborhood built around the 2,000-year-old gravesite and tomb of the Tannaitic Sage Shimon HaTzaddik. The neighborhood is half a mile north of Damascus Gate, just east of Jerusalem's main artery running from the Old City to the northern neighborhoods of Ramat Eshkol and Pisgat Ze'ev.
Now known by the Arabs as Sheikh Jarrah, the neighborhood comprises the Nachalat Shimon area, populated through the 1940's by individual Jewish families, and the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood, owned by the Vaad HaEdah HaSfaradit (Sephardic Congregation Council). Both were abandoned in light of Arab attacks during the War of Independence, and later became populated by Jordanian Arabs. The latest court ruling recognizes the Jewish ownership of houses there, and orders the Arab squatters removed.
PA Fears: Two Dozen More Arab Families May be Evicted
Rafik Husseini, an aide to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, lamented the ruling. He asked foreign diplomats to intervene, warning that the ruling could lead to the eviction of two dozen other Arab families. A spokesman for "Settlers of Zion" said, "He knows what he's talking about."
The "Settlers of Zion" association, under the sponsorship of MK Rabbi Benny Elon (National Union) and the Beit Orot yeshiva in eastern Jerusalem, has been the power behind the years-long drive to reclaim the neighborhood for Jews. Plans have been submitted for 200 new housing units in the area, designed to restore the Jewish character of the area and create Jewish contiguity between the Old City and French Hill. Seven Jewish families already live in the area.
It is not known precisely when the latest eviction order will be carried out, though it is likely to be in the coming weeks. Neither is it known when some 20 other evictions that are expected to follow in its wake will be ordered.
PA Said No to Compensation, Squatters Lose
The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Jewish rights in Shimon HaTzaddik over the years, and some Arab families have been evicted. After one such eviction, a spokesman for Yeshivat Beit Orot said, "This neighborhood used to be a thriving Jewish neighborhood up until 1948, when we lost the eastern part of Jerusalem and Arabs took over the Jewish houses. It's taken us many years, but we're now in the process of reclaiming that neighborhood. We would prefer to do this by paying compensation to the squatters, in order to save us long legal battles, and we have done this in previous cases. However, if they refuse this compensation, we are forced to take them to court. Those who were evacuated last night not only refused compensation - at the behest of the PA officials in the Orient House and the like - but also violated their landlords' rights by refusing to pay any rent…
MK Elon: Refugees Have to Start Moving Out
MK Elon said, "The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn - as we read in the Bible, 'Zion will be redeemed in justice.' In this case, the Arabs forged documents, trying to show that all the property belonged to one Arab, but the courts on all levels - the Magistrates Court, the District Court, and now the Supreme Court - saw through the forgeries and ruled that the properties are Jewish."
Abbas-aide Husseini, complained to foreign diplomats that Arabs do not demand that Jews leave Arab-owned properties in western Jerusalem. MK Elon countered this claim: "I have long said: Whoever can prove ownership over a given property will receive compensation. I am interested in ending this mish-mash, and not keep the situation of refugees frozen forever, as the Arabs have tried to do for 60 years - with our help, it must be said."
"Our goal must be that the refugee camps have to start emptying out," Elon said, "either in the direction of Europe, as MK Yossi Beilin has just proposed, or other Arab countries, or wherever - but it must be clear that the Arabs are the temporary sojourners here, and not us."
Asked how he would respond if the Arabs of Lifta - the neighborhood of abandoned Arab homes at the entrance to Jerusalem - would demand to return, Elon said firmly, "Jerusalem is not up for discussion. I am willing to negotiate on the matter of refugees, and borders, and other issues - but not Jerusalem. The Jewish People are sovereign in Jerusalem, period. Aside from the fact that the legal situation in Lifta was different and allows for compensation but not for re-claiming, the principle is clear: We will not let Arabs return to their houses in neighborhoods such as Lifta."
"The solution to the current situation can only come when the Arabs are seen in their proper light," Elon said, "as the temporary element here. Until now, the Jews have always been perceived as always 'on wheels,' but we have to change this. As soon as the first few thousands of Arabs from Gaza, or from a refugee camp somewhere else, start receiving money from international elements and visas to move to foreign countries - as MK Beilin has just asked for - then things will start to happen. We have to break this myth of some kind of Arab nationalism in the Land of Israel, and as soon as they start moving out, this will happen."
This past Thursday, far-left MK Yossi Beilin of Meretz indicated that the tricky problem of "Arab refugees" would have to be solved, at least partially, by European countries. Speaking in a closed session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Beilin took the unprecedented step of telling a group of European ambassadors that their countries must announce how many refugees, and their descendants, they would be willing to absorb as part of a future Israeli-Arab peace agreement.
Though Beilin later clarified to The Jerusalem Post that only a "certain, not large" number of refugees would be likely to go to third countries, Elon said that these remarks indicate that the establishment of a Palestinian state is no longer seen as the absolute end-all solution, even by left-wing MKs. Elon said that Kadima MK Tzachi HaNegbi, Likud MK Silvan Shalom and others feel that the Palestinian state option is no longer practical.
Elon is the author of the "Right Road to Peace" plan, also known as the Israel Initiative, which he has long promoted as an alternative to the accepted Roadmap two-state solution. "The establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza will only prolong the Arab-Israeli conflict and exact a heavy toll in human life," Elon has often explained. "The establishment of such a state will not solve the real problems that perpetuate the conflict: The Palestinian demand for the right of return of refugees to areas within the State of Israel, the rehabilitation of the refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and the nature of the Palestinian state and its borders. Within a short time, these unresolved problems will resurface and draw the region into yet another war."