Yachad, known as the ''British J-Street'' by some, has been extremely busy this week drawing attention to the plight of the Sumarins, a Israeli Palestinian family living in East Jerusalem, who are being evicted from a house they claim to be theirs. Yachad, which describes itself as ''pro-Israel'' and a hasbara organisation, is outraged on the family''s behalf. Is this a genuine stand for justice? (although, quite how it falls under the activity of hasbara is unclear) Or is it jumping on the bandwagon of a populist cause, designed to legitimise themselves as a ''progressive'' voice?
Neither, it is a indisputable example of Yachad contributing to the delegitimisation of Israel. In fact, regardless of whether Yachad''s original designs emerged from naivety or stupidity, it has now turned into something really quite nasty.
Here is Yachad''s side of the story:
In 1989 Musa Sumarin, the owner of the house under question in Silwan, was declared absent, and as such, the property fell into the hands of the Custodian of Absentee Property, who sold a number of the homes in Silwan to the Development Authority ... Later that year (1991), Himnuta filed an eviction suit against the Sumarin family demanding that they vacate the property. In a court case that then lasted until 1999 it was proved that the property had in fact incorrectly fallen under the Absentee Property Law and that Musa Sumarin had not been absent in 1967 but had been living in his home in Jerusalem until the time of his death in 1983. The Sumarin family that is now under threat of eviction are the children of Musa''s nephew, who lived with him until he died.
However, because Musa''s children were absent at the time of his death (one in Jordan, two in Saudi Arabia), the state declared that the property should be considered Absentee Property, and the Sumarin property was subsequently transferred to the Custodian for Absentee Properties (see above), despite the fact that Musa''s wife was still alive and that the family were living in the house (and had been continually living in the property since before 1967).
The Israeli Courts have made their decision, so, surely, why should this be questioned? Yachad explains:
Despite the fact that, under Israeli law, it has been ruled by the courts that the house belongs to belong to Himnuta, the family have been living in the property since before 1967 and if the eviction goes ahead there is a very high moral cost involved, making a 12 person family (including 5 children) homeless. Furthermore the eviction will be considered illegal under international law.
The policy of ''Judaizing'' Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem makes the possibility of sharing Jerusalem in a final status agreement a harder goal to achieve. Without a shared Jerusalem there will not be a two-state solution, which threatens the character of Israel as the democratic homeland of the Jewish people.
Well, there are several points to be made here, before we even begin to question Yachad''s version of events. Firstly, according to Yachad, there will be a high moral cost that will be considered illegal under international law. Hang on a second, the Israeli judiciary is an important branch of the state, that balances other powers, as in any democracy. It operates under the clarity of law and without political influence, and often concludes in favour of Palestinians claimants.
So, according to Yachad, the ruling of the Israeli courts can be ignored, but conversely, we must be wary of the nebulous concepts of international law? - constituted by a vague collection of bodies which are generally unaccountable, and mostly suffering under political influence by hordes of despotic states and politically partisan human rights activists - persons who obsess over the Jewish state while ignoring atrocities in Sudan, the Congo, inter alia.
Most countries have similar approaches to absentee property. In Jordan, the question of inheritance falls to the sharia courts, an institution in which a male testimony is worth twice that of a woman. Or even here, in Britain, we have the concept of bona vacantia, where estates that belonged to the deceased, in which any relatives are not legally in a position to inherit, are passed to the Crown.
And yet, in Israel, Yachad has highlighted the plight of Sumarin family as example of great injustice - indecent treatment by the Israeli courts and the ''shadowy'' Himnuta (''shadowy'' being the choice description of a recent Independent article) which must be challenged by all those with a conscience - that is, those who recognise the great "moral cost" which afflicts all those who support Israel and allow this eviction to happen. So is it just a bad decision by the Israeli court? Ah, no, as Yachad reminds us, it is because of the wicked plan to "Judaize Jerusalem".
As Samuel Hayek, chairman of the JNF recently noted: "We are disappointed that Yachad has thought it prudent to describe the outcome of this court case as proof of Israel''s ''policy of Judaizing Jerusalem''. This is a lie that gives a great deal of legitimacy to those who seek to demonise the state of Israel and dehumanise the Jewish people. ... The actual facts of the case paint a rather different picture to the demagogic interpretation provided by Yachad."
Quite so. "For a pro-Israel organisation", as one of my Muslim colleagues recently told me, "they don''t seem to have done anything pro-Israel."
Here''s the actual story: The original owner, Musa Abdallah Sumarin, died in 1983. His inheritors were absentees landowners, living in enemy countries, sworn to the destruction of Israel. Absentee Property Law, which, as mentioned, exists in similar forms in most Western countries, transferred the house to the State. In the 1990s, the Israeli State gave the house to Himnuta, who, in exchange, provided land in the Wadi Ara area, which was later turned into an Arab village to help provide for the Arab community there (a point Yachad mysteriously fails to mention).
A distant nephew (Muhammed) illegally took over the home after the death of Musa. He forged a document which claimed Musa sold the property to Muhammed’s father (Machmud). This was presented to the court. The judge believed the document was bona fide and ruled in Muhammed’s favour.
Later, using the same forged documents, Muhammed also tried to seize property next to the house he had won in court! The case was reopened and during the investigation it was revealed both by witnesses who came forward and by the Police Criminal Forgery Unit that the documents presented by Muhammed were fraudulent. In light of this information, Muhammed lost his case and counter-charges were filed against him which re-opened the original case. He lost the original property (because of using forged documents) and was fined 500,000 NIS. He has since refused to vacate the property.
Additionally, the organisation so maligned by Yachad, Himnuta, in spite of the court’s decision, has been in contact with the Sumarin squatters for the past 5 years, offering financial compensation if they leave, a generosity certainly not mandated by the Israeli court.
So, two fairly big points here: Firstly, the court has recognised that the current occupants illegally seized this property, and presented forged documents to try and obtain rights to this property and other properties that similarly do not belong to the Sumarin family. This is well-documented, and it is a pity that the various campaigns involved with trying to raise the issue did not include these facts. The legal record number for the case is 633/99 – I have uploaded the original documents here
. As a result of the proved forgery, the Israeli court ruled against the Sumarin family and in favour of Himnuta as the legal owners of the property.
Secondly, it has been verified by a number of non-profit organisations that the Sumarin family owns a two-storey building nearby, which the family has rented out in the past. The notion that they would be left without a home is simply not true. There is hardly a great "moral cost" involved.
So, Yachad jumped on the bandwagon because they were eager to attack the Israeli judiciary and the JNF, whom they regard as ''right wing'' and thus dangerous. But if this conversation took place within the confines of Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, then maybe it wouldn''t be so bad? We''ll never know, Yachad has done its utmost to bring this speciously concocted tale of injustice to the attention of the media and wider world. So successful have their efforts been, that even the Palestinian Diplomatic Mission in the UK has adopted their campaign.
Additionally, they ''tweeted'' the story to the appalling awful Harriet Sherwood, a virulently anti-Israeli Guardian journalist, to try and draw greater attention to this claim of injustice dispensed so callously by the Israeli courts, which are clearly regarded by Yachad as being too busy "Judaizing Jerusalem" to bother with the rule of law.
But why? This must be a valid question. I''m sure quite a few people within Yachad think of themselves of pro-Israeli, but it is a form of support accompanied by the notional ''critical love'' with which Yachad enthusiasticly employs to justify its outpourings. The answer, I would suggest, lies in the absolutism of their Yachad''s political position, which is staunchly left wing. In trying to define themselves as the Leftish, progressive, pro-Israel, pro-peace group, they have adopted an identity which must react against the machinations of the Israeli state and anyone vaguely right wing.
Consequently, out goes any sense of moral clarity or realpolitik. If a Palestinian family is at the centre of a civil dispute, the guilty party must be those damnable right-wing Zionists. Similarly, Yachad''s obsession with the settlements is patently predicated on the belief that if the settlements were to disappear, a peaceful two-station solution would instantly emerge. Yachad sees itself as the voice of compromise, inbetween the moral turpitudes of the far-Left and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and the unapologetic support for Israel from the original pioneer Zionists; however, in reality, it is not capable of compromise, and its dogma of its self-belief leads it to be most irrational in its approach.
Yachad takes such an absolutist approach in order to satiate its political ideals. I would suggest that the struggle to support Israel among Diaspora Jewry is not a political struggle; rather, it is a moral imperative for Jews everywhere. It is a belief in the importance Jewish self-determination, a belief far more important than the politically-influenced, didactic condemnation and proscription of the Israeli state and its actions practised so thoroughly by Yachad and Jewish anti-Israeli organisations alike.
Jumping on the bandwagon is a sign of great irrationality and intense stupidity; aiding the enemy is just plain dangerous.