Even compared to the low ethical standards which most people, outside the United States, ascribe to the actions of the Israeli government of occupation, the recent decision of their Supreme Court to evict long-time residents of Arab neighborhoods and to replace them with Jewish Israelis signals a particularly low point in the Jewish state’s brutally harsh treatment of Palestinians.
In a sparsely reported incident which occurred on Sunday, August 2nd, Ofra Ben-Artzi, the sister-in-law of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, was detained by police in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The 58 year-old Ben-Artzi, an editor for the anti-occupation magazine, HaKibush, spent several hours in police custody before being released without any charges being filed. Her apparent crime was her sympathy with the Palestinians who had recently been evicted from their homes.
Ben-Artzi is the mother of a conscientious objector who served time in a military jail for refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. She is the wife of the brother (Matania Ben-Artzi) of Sarah Netanyahu, the present Prime Minister’s wife.
Ben-Artzi described what she saw while being held in a police vehicle in an article reprinted here. She wrote about what she terms “a complete Judaization of the neighborhood” and had some harsh comments about her brother-in-law, the Prime Minister:
I have spent an hour sitting there. We went deeper in the neighborhood, into the area where the families had been expelled from their homes. I could see the ultra-Orthodox men and women, in their distinctive clothing, walking quietly along the road, towards the grave of Shimon the Tzadik. No police blocked their way. I reflected that I was seeing the beginning of an innovation. No longer simply a “Jews Only” road. From now on, roads would be reserved to a specific kind of Jews, to those who “look Jewish”, those who – as PM Netanyahu once said “have not forgotten what it means to be a Jew.” Nor did the bars prevent me from seeing that Umm Kamel’s tent, where she had been living since her own expulsion, was also gone. The ground where it had stood was completely bare, the whole area infested with police – hundreds at least, possibly thousands. From the floor of the police car I saw what looked like a complete Judaization of the neighborhood. I would not be surprised if they also take off the very name of Sheikh Jarrah from the signs and the map.
In the story about her arrest in Ha’aretz (Hebrew edition, only), Ben-Artzi is quoted as pulling no punches in her criticism of the recent evictions of long-time Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah.
Their are no words to describe the injustice and folly of this, we are walking with our open eyes into the abyss. If we will not be smart enough to live together, Arabs and Jews, as in the days of the [British] Mandate when there were two mayors in Jerusalem, then we will be dragged into transfer, and if this is not enough, what will we do then? Erect concentration camps?
The two latest evictions came as a result of an Israeli Supreme Court decision which says that decades old property titles, held by Jewish families, were valid despite the owners’ absence for the better part of this century. The Jewish families claim that their descendents were illegally and forcibly evicted by Palestinians in the 20s. The Palestinian families say that they have legal titles dating back to the Ottoman times and that the Jewish documents are forgeries.
The court ruling seems to open the door for Palestinians to make claims upon property that they abandoned during the 1948 War. This is a result that one would think the court would certainly want to avoid. Ben-Artzi states that the court has opened a “Pandora’s Box.” One property that she says could be transferred to Arab ownership is owned by the Prime Minister’s own family. Of course, Israel would never apply the court decision to expel Jewish residents.
I know that Bibi’s family has a house in Talbiyeh and it also is abandoned property, maybe it also will be returned to its owners.
Talbiyeh (or Talbiyah, Talbeih) is a neighborhood in now Jewish West Jerusalem in which there are many opulent homes and villas that were owned by Palestinians, who, according to the the Hebrew Wikipedia, fled as a result of a campaign of threats by the main Jewish militia (Hagana) in 1948. Talbiyeh remains an exclusive Jerusalem neighborhood, and of course few if any Palestinians live there today.
IRA GLUNTS first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in Madison, New York where he operates a used and rare book business. Mr. Glunts can be reached at gluntsi[at]morrisville[dot]edu.