In recent weeks, Israel's
citizens have been hearing about a new bone of contention in Jerusalem. Almost every Sunday, we receive reports about protests,
violent clashes and even arrests in Sheikh Jarrah or in what is referred to in some of the reports as the "Simeon the Just" compound. What is the capital raging about?
The issue, according to the mayor and those responsible for the entry to the homes which led to the protest, appears to be a simple one: The disputed property is owned by Jews and the time has come to return it to its owners. The matter even reached the court and this was the ruling.
I suggest that we stop for a minute and think about the far-reaching implications of this claim. Before 1948, according to the mayor and his supporters, the ownership of the disputed property belonged to Jews. It's true that Arab families have lived in the buildings since then, but now they must leave the houses and return the ownership rights to the Sephardic Community Committee, which held the ownership rights the year the State was established. In customary legal language, this is called "restitution". In other words, the property will be returned to its owner.
But will the mayor, in the name of justice and consistency, call for restitution of Palestinian property found in west Jerusalem? Or does Israel, by force of power or by force of Israeli legislation, aspire to work to return the property to Jews but not to Arabs? True, the Israeli legislation which designed the land laws, including laws of absentee landlords' assets and other pranks, makes it possible to turn Arab property into Jewish property but not vice versa. But is there anyone who believes that by doping this, an illegitimate act is turned into a legitimate one?
The solution for the issue of lands lost by their owners lost in 1948 is not an easy one. One day both sides may be wise enough to renegotiate living together in this country, dividing it into two states, or living together in one country, and they will also discuss difficult questions like this one. They may choose to return all the property to its owners before 1948, they may choose to return some of it to the owners and compensate them for the rest of it.
But until all these open questions are discussed, the favorable use of force Israel has in Jerusalem in order to determine what is allegedly right in terms of ownership rights – must not blind us from seeing the injustice in this matter. "Restitution" of ownership rights to one side only by force of favorable power is not a foundation for coexistence. Even if this has been done in the past in different places, for example in Gush Etzion where Israel implemented the "restitution" principle, there is no moral justice for this.
Israelis should remember the claims filed by Jews against the expropriators of their property in Europe. Israelis will also claim their property in the Arab countries they came from. But as long as we have not reached a settlement, Israel's aggressive moves do not show wisdom, nor are they based on justice and morals, even if the Israeli legal system authorizes them.
Prof. Arie Arnon, Ben-Gurion University