Terra Incognita: From Nataf to J'lem

It's hypocritical that Jewish Sheikh Jarrah protesters retire to homes built on former Arab land.

April 13, 2010 22:44
4 minute read.
Terra Incognita: From Nataf to J'lem

seth frantzman 88. (photo credit: )


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On January 22 the weekly leftist and Arab protesters in Sheikh Jarrah were joined by a number of Israeli Jewish notables, including former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg and one-time education minister Yossi Sarid.

They were protesting against Jewish settlers moving into Jewish houses whose residents had been forced to flee in 1948, when they ended up on the Jordanian side of the border.

On March 7, Burg explained his feelings in an op-ed, “Once justice dwelled here. Now the settlers do, murderers of the nation’s soul... We shall not be silent when Ahmed and Aysha are sleeping in the street outside their home.” For him the protesters were the “people of integrity.” Jews must “leave Sheikh Jarrah now!”

Another celebrity activist in the struggle in Sheikh Jarrah is Sahar Vardi, daughter of Dr. Amiel Vardi of the Hebrew University. Sahar, who refused to do her army service, claimed in an interview that it is “unconscionable for me to live in my home in the German Colony and study whatever I like” when Arabs are being evicted from homes in east Jerusalem.

In late March another Sheikh Jarrah Jewish activist named Michael Solsberry was arrested at his home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze’ev.

There is a common stream that runs through those who are active against the occupation. Many are from leading families, come from a wealthy background and live in the most expensive neighborhoods. Nothing in itself is wrong with this, except when one considers what they demand of others. While they claim to be at the forefront of human rights, their activism obscures a darker truth. They believe it is acceptable to live where they want without being protested against, but deny that others might live in certain areas they deem to be off limits.

A recent suit aimed at preventing Jews from living in Arab parts of Jaffa was aided by attorney Gil Gan-Mor of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The supposed logic behind ACRI’s opposing the Jews who want to live there is that they are members of Be’emuna, a religious Zionist organization.

The same ACRI supported Adel and Inan Kaadan in their quest to move into the Jewish village of Katzir. ACRI went to the Supreme Court and received a ruling from then court president Aharon Barak that “being a democratic Jewish state, as the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom asserts, Israel must act in accordance with the principle of equality.”

Consider Meretz’s motto for the 2008 city council elections in Jerusalem: “Put an end to the haredization of the city.” Pepe Alalu, Meretz’s city councilman has been at the forefront in the “struggle” against the supposed haredi takeover of neighborhoods such as Kiryat Hayovel, a struggle that has seen the tearing down of an eruv (a border around a community that permits religious Jews to carry items on Shabbat) erected by religious Jews.

Ironically, Alalu would be first to speak out against a slogan demanding the “end to the Arabization of Gilo and Pisgat Ze’ev.”

NOW LET us return to the story of Burg, Vardi and Solsberry. Burg resides in the beautiful, quiet communal settlement of Nataf in the Jerusalem foothills. Founded in 1982, it features large villas overlooking the Green Line. In 2006 it had 387 residents. It was built on land acquired from Arabs from neighboring Abu Ghosh. Nataf had once been the home of an Arab effendi and had 16 Muslim residents in 1922 and 40 in 1945.

A photo of Burg in The New York Times in 2008 shows him in his peaceful home adorned with maps and vases.

Vardi, according to an interview in Haaretz in March, resides in the German Colony, a leafy neighborhood in Jerusalem that once housed German Christians. Solsberry lives in Pisgat Ze’ev, a Jewish community in Jerusalem established beyond the Green Line.

Yossi Sarid, who also took part in the Sheikh Jarrah protests, resides in Margaliot, a moshav in the North that was the Shi’ite village of Hunin before 1948.

For all the Jewish activists in Sheikh Jarrah, it seems the height of hypocrisy that they can retire to their homes, built on former Arab villages or even in “illegal settlements” at the end of their protest against Jews who they decry for settling in former Jewish homes in an Arab neighborhood. For ACRI and Alalu, there is one equal right for Arabs wishing to reside in Jewish areas and another for religious Jews wishing to reside in Arab areas or among secular Jews.

The double standards employed by these organizations, politicians and activists are not unique to Israel. In places like Arizona, Vermont and Montana, it has often been common for people to move into a “pristine” area and then complain when other “developers” wish to build new homes that might ruin their view of what the land “should” look like.

Israel is increasingly divided between those who have settled in pristine places and those who would like to live the dream for themselves. It has some secular people who wish to live in peace and yet would deny others their lifestyle. It also has Arabs who want their communities 100% Arab, yet wish to have equal rights to live in Jewish areas.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University.

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