Yesterday, in the neighbourhood of Jabel Mukaber in Jerusalem, a court order to evict squatters who had taken over a house was carried out. Such events of course take place every day, all over the world, and rarely make the headlines as international news. But in this case the house in question had been found, after a lengthy legal process, to belong to Jews, the squatters happened to be Arabs and the event took place in a city which many foreign commentators appear to believe that modern egalitarian principles opposing racist differentiation should not apply.
The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood, was quick to arrive on the scene and file her report of the events in which nameless, faceless Jews are described only in one form of terminology.
“Jewish settlers today moved into a house in East Jerusalem …”
“The move will dismay US officials who are striving to discourage settler activity in East Jerusalem ….”
“….Jabel Mukaber, a new target for ideologically driven settler activists…”
The question which springs to mind, of course, is how would Harriet Sherwood describe an Arab family who bought a house and moved into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem? Would they be described as ‘settlers’ too?
Earlier today I spoke to Mr. Yair Gabai, a member of the Jerusalem City Council, who pointed out that the number of Arab families living in mainly Jewish areas of the city is actually considerably greater than the number of Jewish families living in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is an open city” he said, explaining that the City Council is committed to principles of democracy, free market activity and title to property. “No person should be subject to limitations when buying a place to live with his own money”.
Indeed, one hopes and presumes that Harriet Sherwood and the Guardian would find the idea that someone should be prevented because of their race from buying property in a specific part of London or New York extremely offensive. It is therefore highly incongruous that in Jerusalem, and only in Jerusalem, the idea of racist differentiations between Jewish buyers and Arab buyers should be seen by “the world’s leading liberal voice”, as the Guardian likes to describe itself, as being a progressive stance.
Now, it is not that Harriet Sherwood was unaware of the facts surrounding yesterday’s events in Jabel Mukaber; after all, she clearly states that the eviction took place “following a court ruling that ownership of the house was now in Jewish hands” and quotes the police spokesman on the subject:
“Police spokesman Micky Roseneld (sic) said that the contents of the house had been removed on a court order “based on the fact that the house was sold by an Israeli-Arab family to a Jewish family”. The family had not been in the house at the time, he added. Their possessions were removed in three vans in an operation which took three and a half hours. “The police presence was to prevent any disorder.”
This, however, did not prevent her from dedicating the body of her article to unsubstantiated allegations from assorted politically motivated sources and interested parties and, as she so frequently does, adding for good measure her own interpretation of “international law”.
“There are already a number of highly volatile settlements in the heart of Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, such as in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. These are orchestrated by politically motivated activists, and are distinct from big Jewish settlements in the east of the city, although all are illegal under international law. East Jerusalem was captured by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day war and later annexed in a move not recognised internationally.”
As a liberal and a progressive, maybe Sherwood should devote a little more time to considering the fact that the eastern portion of Jerusalem was captured in 1948 and later annexed by Jordan in a move that was not recognized by the international community (except for Britain and Pakistan) and as a result of which the Jewish residents of that part of the city were actively driven out, denied access to their property and holy sites and the city artificially divided for 19 years. Having done that, maybe she could also consider which scenario is more worthy of her progressive support: one in which all residents of the city have the right to live wherever they choose and worship freely – as is currently the case – or one in which certain people would be barred from living in particular areas simply on the basis of their race.
I know which scenario I think deserves the support of a true liberal and progressive, and it is certainly not the one based on racist differentiation between Jews and Arabs.