The evacuation photos of the Salhiyeh family from Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, on one of the coldest nights of the year, documented a sad story that would upset anyone with a shred of humanity.
The pictures told only part of the story and the most amazing thing is that precisely in this instance, in which the municipality had a proper case, the municipality made it possible for this case to become the flagship story of deportation and abuse of Jerusalem's Arab residents. In public opinion in Israel and around the world, these shocking images were established as another chapter in the saga of the expropriation of Arab residents from their homes in the city’s eastern neighborhoods for the benefit of NGOs that settle Jews in the eastern part of the city – but this is not the case and the municipality has done nothing to refute this view and tell the real story.
This story begins in 1977, when it was determined according to the area's approved outline plan that the plot in question located in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was brown, meaning designated for public use. As such, the authorities, in this case the municipality, are allowed to expropriate the land in order to implement a plan for public purposes – in this case, a school for Palestinian autistic children living in the neighborhood and in the east Jerusalem. (It is important to note that expropriations for the benefit of public use is a means used by authorities everywhere in the world, and the only means of protest at the disposal of residents is to dispute the value of the real estate expropriated.)
One of the reasons that led to the municipality’s demand to expropriate the plot lies in a decision by the High Court of Justice years ago (submitted by the Meretz list at City Council) that the municipality must build classrooms for the children of Arab residents in the east of the city as part of state education, which is free. Residents there demanded public schools, including for special education, rather than the private and expensive education that had been offered to them. According to the instructor, there was a need in this neighborhood for a school for autistic children, which has been sorely lacking in the capital's eastern side.
However, the municipality expropriated a plot not far from the compound where the Salhiyeh family lived and, for several years, has not begun building a school there. Moreover, the tenants claim that it was an idle demand and the municipality had no intention of building a school there, but only to expropriate them in order to hand over the plots to Jewish residents who would take over. This claim was based on the fact that part of the expropriated plot was rented by the municipality to the people of the Ateret Cohanim NGO, but the court rejected the claim because the rent was determined in advance for a year only.
The ownership of the plot was divided between two tourism companies and a private family. Yet at the beginning of the procedure at the Jerusalem District Court, the petitioners’ ownership of the plot was questioned, as it turned out that the owners of the two tourism companies and the Salhiyeh family had never completed the registration process – a phenomenon that usually exists in the east of the city and causes many disputes with the authorities. It is worth noting that the procedure continued without regard to this fact.
As noted above, these facts were not brought to the public’s attention by the municipality or any city council members. The explosive situation in the same neighborhood, in which groups of left-wing demonstrators protest every week against the expropriation and deportation of Arab residents (for the benefit of Jews who seek to exercise their entitlement to Jewish property from before 1948), has crept into this case, though there is no connection between them.
Parents among Arab residents in east Jerusalem have long complained that due to a lack of special education institutions, especially for autistic children, they are forced to go to the city's western part to receive treatment. The lack of command of Hebrew of the parents and especially of the children complicates their already complex situation.
All of the background discussed here could have put the whole case in a different light. However, the lack of any communication and, worst of all, the evacuation in the cold darkness of night, did their job – and the resulting impression was completely the opposite of the real situation on the ground.