Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons

2020-2021 University of Pittsburgh CAMERA Fellow Joshua Beylinson

In early May, a host of anti-Israel groups published a petition calling on the international community to “stop Israel’s forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem!” As expected, it was rife with misinformation and entirely devoid of context. 

The petition lists Sheikh Jarrah, Al Bustan, and Batin al Hawa as three neighborhoods in which Palestinian residents face “expulsion.” The petition elaborates further that “this is part of Israel’s larger plan of racist colonial expansion throughout eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, forcibly displacing Palestinian families from their land and homes and replacing them with illegal Israeli settlements.”

The authors of the document would have us believe that “Israeli courts have ruled in favor of Jewish settlers and given four families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood until May to leave their homes.” However, this doesn’t accurately reflect the situation in Sheikh Jarrah. 

According to Avi Bell, a lecturer at the University of San Diego School of Law, the tenants living in Sheikh Jarrah appealed the decision by lower civil courts to the Israeli Supreme Court, but it hasn’t ruled on the case yet.

In 1982, Israeli civil courts granted the Palestinian residents “protected leaseholds,” although the Jewish owners retained title ownership, because they could easily prove that this property had been owned by Jews since the 19th century. Palestinians only began to live on the property after the Jordanian invasion (and occupation) of eastern Jerusalem in 1948.

It should be noted that the case of Sheikh Jarrah is unusual: According to Bell, “the [Israeli] 1970 Law and Administrative Arrangements Law (Consolidated Version) preserved the rights of private parties who received a title from the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property.” Accordingly, Israel respects the ownership of land by Arabs.

However, the Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah were never granted ownership of the property by the Jordanians. If they had been, Israel would have respected their rights, despite the Jordanian practice of confiscating land from Jewish landowners in eastern Jerusalem. 

Clearly, this is not a case of “colonial expansion” or “displacement” by the Israeli government; this is a property dispute between Jewish landowners and Palestinian tenants. The aforementioned petition focuses on the ethnicity of the parties, instead of the legal facts, in order to demonize Israel.

The petition also makes the claim that, “In the Silwan neighborhoods of Al Bustan and Batin al Hawa, a total of 21 families are facing home demolition as soon as May 11th to make way for an allegedly bible-inspired ‘King David Park’ tourist site.”

This claim completely misrepresents the municipal government in Jerusalem’s plans for this area, and provides no historical context. 

As CAMERA’s senior media analyst Ricki Hollander has explained, “when Israel gained control of the area in 1967, only 4 Arab structures stood on this land. Jerusalem municipality plans to preserve the land as public parkland were ignored and 88 Arab buildings, housing 700 residents, were constructed without permits on the conservation site, mostly in the 1980s and ’90s.” 

Hollander explains further that there is no infrastructure in this area because the houses are all built illegally, and the area is essentially a slum. The municipal government in Jerusalem attempted to solve this problem by legalizing 66 of the illegally built houses that were built in the eastern area of this neighborhood, while demolishing the rest of the illegally built houses in the western side; it would also give the people living in the demolished houses land on the eastern side to build new homes.  The western side would then become a nature reserve, as it was during Ottoman times.

Furthermore, there is no such thing as the “King David Park” in Jerusalem — the plan by the Jerusalem government is to maintain public parkland in the area, which was referred to as the “King’s Garden” in the Torah. 

A broader look at the situation in eastern Jerusalem also dispels the myths about colonial expansion and displacement proliferated in the petition.

Hollander notes that the Arab population of Jerusalem has increased since Israel gained control of the city and unified it in 1967  — from 26% in 1967, to 38% of the population in 2019.

Additionally, she explains that “the percentage of fulfilled requests [for building permits] in eastern Jerusalem in 2009 was 55%…vs. 63% in West Jerusalem. The proportion of granted requests for permits was similar, as well, in other years…In 2008, for example, 46% of building permits requested were granted in eastern Jerusalem vs. 47% of permit requests granted in west Jerusalem. In 2010, 80% of building permit requests for Arab-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem were approved vs. 89% in Jewish-majority neighborhoods.”

The groups responsible for this petition want to sensationalize the Sheik Jarrah case to condemn Israel. The rhetoric they use is inaccurate, and it emboldens antisemites who attack Jews in the name of anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism. 

This petition is just another attempt to demonize Israel without explaining any relevant context, and without placing any responsibility on Palestinians.

Originally published in The Algemeiner.

Contributed by 2020-2021 University of Pittsburgh CAMERA Fellow Joshua Beylinson.

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