The story of the eviction of the Arab Shamasneh family from a house in Jerusalem’s Shimon Hatzaddik neighbourhood has spread like wildfire around the world (See here, here and here). The item was carried by countless Arab media and even the measured mainstream western press such as the Washington Post and the Times of London.
It’s a gift to the Palestinian propaganda machine: Israelis are being painted as heartless creatures who are throwing elderly Arabs out on the street. Even the Borneo Bulletin has transmitted this damning impression to its readers.
With one or two exceptions, even the Jewish and Israeli press are failing to state the full facts of the case.
Sixty-nine years ago, the Hubara family, a Jewish family living in Shimon Hatzaddik, were expelled when the British-led Arab legion invaded and occupied the city during the early stages of Israel’s War of Independence.
Called ‘Sheikh Jarrah’ by the city’s Arab population, Shimon Hatzaddik, the site of Simon the Just’s tomb and surrounding pilgrims’ residences, was owned by the Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities. It was emptied of its Jews in 1948, the Jews being the first refugees of the war. Their homes came under the jurisdiction of the Jordanian Custodian for Absentee Property who proceeded to rent the properties to local Arabs.
When the Israelis recaptured East Jerusalem in 1967, the former Jewish owners found themselves in a position to reclaim what had been theirs. Dozens of former owners have embarked on protracted legal struggles to recover their homes.
However, the Israeli courts have protected the Arab tenants’ rights. Only where they have failed to pay rent have the courts’ judgements gone against the Arab residents.
Of all the press reports of the Shamasneh case, only Ynet News and Arutz Sheva (and an early report in Haaretz) have reported that the Shamasnehs failed to pay rent. Few press have bothered even to mention the historical context of the Jewish expulsion from east Jerusalem in 1948. The motive attributed to the Jewish claimants has been to ‘judaise’ Jerusalem – ‘to throw out the Arabs and expand Jewish settlement.’
Ten years ago, the Hubaras sold their property rights on to Aryeh King of the Israel Land Fund. King declared that the Arab family ceased paying rent five years ago. “I don’t trust them anymore because they have a debt of 180,000 shekels [about $50,000] for rent, and damage of another 160,000 shekels.” King says he told them if they provide a cheque from a guarantor he could trust, he would consider letting them stay longer, but they refused. It’s unpleasant, he said, but “they did everything possible so [the eviction] would happen.”
As for reports that the elderly Arab parents are being turned out on the street, King told Haaretz: “The elderly parents have no reason whatsoever to remain in the street because their daughter lives right next door, and there is evidence they will receive housing aid from the European Union.”
The Israeli courts have been known not to enforce an eviction order against Arab squatters where they have no other home to go to.
Another misleading claim propagated by the media has been that ‘the law allows Jews to reclaim their property but “no such law exists for Palestinians”.
However, according to the Israel Lands Administration, as of 1993, 14,692 Arabs claimed compensation under the Absentee Property Law and the Validation and Compensation Law. Claims were settled with respect to 200,905 dunams of land, a total of NIS 9,956,828 had been paid as compensation, and 54,481 dunams of land had been given in compensation (Israel Lands Administration Report for 1993).
As recently as 21 March 2016, Gulf News Palestine reported: “Increasing numbers of Palestinian landowners are accepting monetary compensation for land and properties they owned inside the Green Line….Active groups of land dealers and lawyers have been implementing the Israeli regime’s plan to convince the displaced Palestinian landowners to accept compensation deals and give up their rights to their lands and properties.’
The landlords are warned not to accept compensation lest it jeopardise the Palestinian ‘Right of Return’.
Meanwhile, the international chorus of disapproval mounts against Israel, as EU emissaries, officials, conscience-stricken writers and leftists visit the poor beleaguered Shamasnehs to express their empathy. Yet the debate is utterly lopsided: not a single Israeli has ever received compensation for seized property in Arab lands. No NGO or western government upholds their rights to compensation or restitution. No leftists demonstrate their sympathy outside Jewish homes in Baghdad, Sana’a or Tripoli, and no media finds the mass dispossession of Jews worthy of coverage.