DFI-CA STATEMENT ON SHEIKH JARRAH AND HAMAS ATTACKS
Like many communities around the world, the Jewish Democratic community in California is following the events unfolding in Sheikh Jarrah. Whatever the complex history, we know that these evictions are unjust and do not reflect our values as Democrats, especially when there are readily available avenues by the court and the government to resolve these matters. What is clear - justice, reform and confrontation of untruth are the key to healing, not re-litigating the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. A de-escalation of both the violence and rhetoric will also be helpful in getting on this path, including stopping Hamas from firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, which has now led to civilian fatalities and damage to Israeli Jewish and Arab-populated cities and villages. Hamas' involvement only makes the damage, death and destruction worse.
Sheik Jarrah is not about gentrification; this situation has amplified greater issues around the abuses of the Israeli Right who push to turn Israel from a Democracy with Jewish character (as Bernie Sanders described it) away from democratic and inclusive structures and institutions, toward a less inclusive vision. To that end, we believe a Knesset review and update to the laws around expropriation of land subject to claims may be in order, to avoid future injustices perpetrated by right wing groups while protecting the rights of individuals to live in and purchase a home in Israel.
Democrats for Israel California welcomes thoughtful discussion about a path forward that focuses on justice, stands up to the extremists, and de-escalates the conflict. Democrats for Israel California also calls for direct confrontation to the falsehoods around this conflict and engagement in dialogue amongst our American counterparts to find common ground.
There is a path forward, but the parties must work together to find pathways to focus on justice and stand up to the extremists in the conflict. Democrats for Israel California has reached out to members of the Pro-Palestinian community to engage in those discussions and we look forward to meaningful dialogue.
Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood north of the Old City of Jerusalem, consisted of a Jewish and Muslim quarter for well over a hundred years. As of 1905, the neighborhood had 167 Muslim families and 97 Jewish families that lived close to the tomb of “Simeon the Just,” an ancient high priest that bears the name for the quarter where Jews lived since several rabbis purchased the land in 1875 for their organizations, seeking to provide opportunities to live in the community. As a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jews fled parts of East Jerusalem and Jordan drove out remaining Jews from East Jerusalem, including Sheikh Jarrah, and with UNRWA gave the homes in Sheikh Jarrah to Palestinian families displaced from West Jerusalem (this is not unusual, Israel did the same thing throughout Israel after the war creating their own absentee property laws).
When Jerusalem was reunited in 1967, Israel passed a law allowing displaced landowners to recover the land and the religiously-affiliated organizations and families sought to recover the land. In 1982, the issue went to the Israeli Supreme Court which upheld the law and the claims but worked a deal for families to stay in Sheikh Jarrah and pay rent. Not all the tenants paid rent, and some made improvements to their properties without permits (Jerusalem is notorious for refusing building permits to Palestinians). These residents have the right to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, but Palestinian activists strongly discourage this sort of participation, which would give them input to fight this sort of discriminatory behavior.
At the same time, Israeli religious right-wing groups have purchased the rights to these properties from the original Jewish families and groups that owned the properties prior to 1948, and are seeking to move Jewish families into the neighborhood. Further, aggressive policies have resulted in Israelis literally moving into and occupying part of a home already occupied by Palestinians for decades. In 2019, the Israel Supreme Court again revisited the issue, and rather than remunerate the absentee landowners and settle ownership once and for all, the Court held that religious right-wing organizations that purchased the rights to these properties from the original landholders could evict not only the four families fighting eviction, but the ruling could also open to the door to evict any residents in these properties, affecting more than 300 families.
While this may seem like a simple legal issue, it is not. As with everything in the region, there are layers of complexity, including deep income disparities, neglect of Jerusalem’s Arab residents and a focused campaign by the Israeli Right to, through both legal and illegal means, push Arabs out of Jerusalem, even in the middle of a pandemic. These issues and a long outmoded set of laws that were once intended to reunite Jewish landowners with their properties, are being increasingly abused 70 years after the conflict by the Israeli Right to push Arab families out of the West Bank and Jerusalem. As such, this has created a tinder box of resentment by the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian community, making Sheikh Jarrah a symbol of a larger struggle than the legal issues presented. The Jerusalem Institute, a non-profit organization focusing on urban sustainability, urban planning and economic justice, presented a solution in 2010 recommending possible solutions that would keep Palestinians in their homes such as expropriating the homes from these organizations.
Justice, Reform and Confrontation of Untruths Are the Key to Healing.
Whatever the complex history, we know that these evictions are unjust and as Democrats we do not support them, especially when there are readily available avenues by the court and the government to resolve this dispute, which has been ongoing since 1982, and the Israeli Supreme Court and government can take these steps. Just because the Israeli government can enforce long outdated laws to displace a minority indigenous population with a majority indigenous population does not mean that they should or that it is the right thing to do. The Israeli Government and Supreme Court should take such steps to allow these families in their homes and demonstrators, and both Palestinian and Israelis, should take steps to refrain from violence or provocation.
Just as Democratic Pro-Israel advocates and Pro-Palestinian advocates agreed on resolutions calling for all countries - including Israel - to share COVID-19 vaccine surpluses and and opposed Israeli Annexation of the West bank, supporting a country's right to exist does not mean it is without grounds for criticism (US, Israel or anyone else) even when uncomfortable as is the case here. That also means directly confronting the falsehoods and intentional confligrations that are being propagated by extremists and not encouraging the violence that has affected both Israeli and Palestinians..
Democrats for Israel California is usually not inclined to involve itself in domestic affairs of Israel. While our member clubs expressed reservations about the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel ahead of the peace processes, we supported the right of Israel to determine its capital. We have only spoken out against domestic policy on the attempts to deny women access to the Western Wall and the involvement of Kahanists in the Israeli governing coalitions of Netanyahu.
It is clear that Israel must prioritize justice for all of its residents. It must consider both the Jerusalem Institute recommendations and review its laws around land expropriation, which may have made sense in 1967, but are being used more and more by right-wing nationalist groups to push Arab/Palestinians out of homes they have been in for 70 years or more.Organizations and corporations buying up rights of families to land lost decades ago in the West Bank and Jerusalem has led to countless abuses and fraud. Perhaps, non-transferable remuneration by the state to Jewish families with claims to properties in Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, not return, should be the key for resolving ownership claims and avoiding displacement of families.
Democrats for Israel California also calls for direct confrontation to the falsehoods around this conflict and engagement in dialogue amongst our American counterparts to find common ground. Palestinian operatives continue to spread lies that Israeli police teach American police how to kneel on suspect’s necks and attack and have used the conflict to attack civilians or declare every act of private Israeli citizens is a war crime, or that Israel's very existence or broad brush statements that Zionism in every form is a racist endeavor). Similarly, the Israeli Right has sought to characterize the entire conflict as an Arab invasion and make it sound like the case involves only four families when the decision can have a direct effect on over 300 families in Sheikh Jarrah. We understand why the disputes over Sheikh Jarrah are reflective of greater issues facing Palestinians and Israelis, but the path to avoid further conflagration and violence is through dialogue.