GRAPEVINE: Talbiyeh tale

ONE OF the more historic properties in Talbiyeh is up for sale with a NIS 30 million price tag.

July 3, 2019 17:21
3 minute read.
MK Merav Mikhaeli and mother Susie Kastner light a candle for Rudolph Kastner in Knesset ceremony

Mk Merav Mikhaeli and mother Susie Kastner light a candle for Rudolph Kastner in Knesset ceremony April 12, 2018. (photo credit: YONATAN ZINDEL/KNESSET SPOKESMAN)


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■ ONE OF the more historic properties in Talbiyeh is up for sale with a NIS 30 million price tag. People who frequented the old AACI building would have often passed an imposing house with a wide, steep staircase leading to the front door. The late Supreme Court justice Benjamin Halevy resided there for many years prior to his death in 1996 at age 86. He had lived on the huge property for quite a long time before his family purchased it in 1997. Like many buildings in Talbiyeh, it had been home to an affluent Christian Arab family. Amin Shukri al-Jamal built it in the late 1920s.
According to Hazem Nusseibeh, writing in The Jordan Times, Talbiyeh in the 1930s and 1940s was the most elegant and fashionable Christian Arab quarter outside of the Old City.
Fearing for his family’s safety during the 1948 War of Independence, Jamal took them out of the country, and later was unable to return. The property, like so many others, was classified as abandoned and transferred to the authority of the State Custodian, who in turn rented it out to Halevy.
The house, which sat on a 3.4 dunam plot, part of which was purchased by the Israel Brothers for the adjacent luxury apartment complexes that they built, is currently occupied by Halevy’s grandson, Shaul Halevy, who has been appointed as the family representative in negotiations for the sale.
Benjamin Halevy sat on many cases throughout his long career, but the two for which he is best known are the Eichmann trial and the Kastner trial some years earlier.

■ RUDOLF ISRAEL KASTNER was a Hungarian journalist and lawyer who was one of the founding members of the Budapest Aid and Rescue Committee that smuggled Jews out of Nazi-occupied Hungary. In a daring move, Kastner met with Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible for deporting Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz, and offered him a huge bounty in gold, diamonds and cash if he would allow him to take 1,600 Jews out of Hungary and into neutral Switzerland. The wealthier passengers paid for everyone’s cost of transportation, including some of Kastner’s relatives.
Kastner could not warn all the Jews of Hungary of the fate that awaited most of them. To warn anyone who was not on the train would have jeopardized the whole project, because everyone would want to be on board. The train, with 1,670 passengers, left Budapest on June 30, 1944.
After the war Kastner migrated to Israel and, following the establishment of the state, became spokesman for the Commerce and Trade Ministry. Other Hungarians, who had survived the war without having been included in his train, began to spread rumors alleging that he had collaborated with the Nazis.
One of the prime activists in this vicious enterprise was Hungarian-born Malchiel Gruenwald, who in 1937, while in Vienna with his family, was trapped in a pogrom and severely beaten. He was left with broken bones and missing teeth. After recovering from his injuries, he and his wife, together with their son and daughter, migrated to British Mandate-ruled Palestine in 1938, settled in Jerusalem and opened the Austria Hotel in Zion Square.
At age 72, Gruenwald decided to retire from the hotel business and focus on journalism by writing political pamphlets in which he consistently attacked both political and religious leaders. When he targeted Kastner, he accused him of being responsible for the deaths of 400,000 Hungarian Jews.
Kastner’s life became a nightmare. The situation became so serious that Haim Cohen, who was then attorney-general, had no choice but to file defamation charges against Gruenwald, in order to either prove Kastner guilty or enable him to clear his name.

■ HALEVY, WHO was the sole judge, acquitted Gruenwald at the conclusion of the two-year trial, saying that Kastner had sold his soul to the devil. The Supreme Court later overturned the verdict, but it was too late for Kastner. He filed an appeal, but in the first week of March 1957 he was assassinated by a paratrooper by the name of Ze’ev Eckstein, who was a member of a group of extremists who took the law into their own hands.
Halevy’s reputation suffered as a result of the “execution.” It would be ironic if the purchaser of the property were to be former Labor MK Merav Michaeli. Kastner was her grandfather.

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