From Sheikh Jarrah to Sheikh Munis
At the top of the hill, a few dozen meters from where a house now stands, there used to be an irrigation pool for the village citrus groves. I swim every morning at the municipal swimming pool built on the ruins of the village irrigation pool. Palestinian Jaffa oranges grew in the now-vanished groves. My house stands there now. The land was "redeemed," as land acquisition was called in Zionist propaganda. In the case of Sheikh Munis, it was redeemed by force, and Tel Aviv's Ramat Aviv neighborhood was built there, including Tel Aviv University, a magnificent academic institution built on the ruins of a village whose 2,230 inhabitants were surrounded and threatened. They fled, never to return.
All that remains of the large village is Habayit Hayarok (now a conference and party center) another house on Levanon Street and the cemetery, which sits neglected on the outskirts of the parking lot of an intimidating government facility - no outsiders allowed. Of course, there is neither a memorial nor a monument to the village that was wiped off the face of the earth - one of 418.
Somewhere, perhaps in a refugee camp in terrible poverty, lives the family of the farmer who plowed the land where my house now stands. According to the Israeli judicial system, they have the right to get their land back immediately, destroy my house, return and grow Jaffa oranges for export on its ruins, and remove me by force if necessary. The Jerusalem District Court, which recently ruled that representatives of the Sephardi community committee had the right to take back the Hanun and Gawi families' apartments in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, has opened the 1948 file.
That is, if Israel had an egalitarian system of law and justice, if the legal system were fair, because then millions of Palestinians would be able to applaud the court and demonstrate their joy in the streets at the ruling. The road to justice denied in 1948 has been opened to everyone. From now on, Jews and Arabs will be able to demand the restitution of their property. The return is in the offing, with the backing of the Israeli justice system.
But of course, it's not like that. The court that sealed the fate of the two Palestinian families and allowed extremist settlers to live in their place has once again laid bare the rule of law's true state in Israel: racist and applying a double-standard, with separate legal systems for Jews and Arabs.
We should perhaps thank the court for its scandalous ruling, which not only sparked a justifiable international wave of protest against Israel, but also revealed its true face. "There are judges in Jerusalem," as Menachem Begin said, and they have made it official: apartheid. Ownership rights are for Jews alone.
The distance between Sheikh Jarrah and Sheikh Munis has been shortened in one fell swoop. Those who contend that Jews must be given back their property cannot in the same breath deny the Palestinians' property rights because of their national origin. It's true that a system of strict laws and regulations denies the Palestinians what it allows the Jews, but all reasonable Israelis must now ask themselves if this is the system of justice and the law of the "Jewish" state they want to live in.
It is impossible to ignore the injustices of 1948 while hundreds of thousands of refugees rot in the camps. No agreement will hold water without a solution to their plight, which is more feasible than Israel's strident scaremongers suggest. But rulings like the current one make it harder to distinguish clearly between Sheikh Jarrah and Sheikh Munis, between the conquest of 1948 and the conquests of 1967. My house stands on land stolen by force, and it is the obligation of Israel and the world to redress the injustice without creating injustice and new dislocation. My house stands on land that was stolen, but the whole world has recognized the Jews' right to establish their state there. At the same time, no country in the world has recognized Israel's right to conquer Sheikh Jarrah as well.
In my morning musings on the way to the pool, I sometimes think about the land's original owners. I long for the day when Israel takes moral and material responsibility for the injustice done to them. Now, because of the court ruling, my right to continue to swim here may also be in doubt.
© Copyright 2009 Haaretz