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US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield deplores Sheikh Harrah evictions

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, UN Security Council, US Ambassador to UN

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US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield deplores Sheikh Harrah evictions

Linda Thomas-Greenfield mentioned the eviction and demolition this morning in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah while addressing the UN Security Council. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald

On January 19, exactly one day before the UN adopted “by consensus” a resolution on the need to combat Holocaust Denial, the American Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, deplored “unilateral steps” by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including “evictions.”

A report on her speech to the UN Security Council is here: “US Ambassador to UN Calls on Israel to Refrain From Evictions,” Algemeiner, January 19, 2022:

Linda Thomas-Greenfield mentioned the eviction and demolition this morning in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah while addressing the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

“To make progress, both Israel and the Palestinian Authority must refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution,” Thomas-Greenfield said, reiterating the US support for a two-state solution.

“That includes annexations of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, and evictions — like what we saw in Sheikh Jarrah — incitement to violence and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”…

All four of the “unilateral steps” the Ambassador mentions refer only to Israel. The first was “annexation of territory.” Israel annexed East Jerusalem and the Old City in 1980, and the Golan Heights in 1981, but for the last 41 years the Jewish state has annexed nothing. So far, a needless worry. The “settlement activity” she refers to is that which Israel supposedly is engaged in, though Israel has not built a single new settlement in two decades. What it has just approved is something different: additional living units to be built in existing settlements, in response to the “natural growth” of the population. Like many others, Thomas-Greenfield confuses “new settlements” with “new housing units.” Furthermore, she fails to recognize that Israel has every right to build settlements, no matter how many UN resolutions declare them to be “illegal.” According to Article 6 of the Mandate for Palestine (1922), the mandatory authority, Great Britain, was obligated to encourage “close settlement by Jews on the land.”Which land? The land which the League of Nations assigned to Mandatory Palestine. It included all of the land from the Golan in the north to the Red Sea in the south, and from the Jordan River in the west to the Mediterranean Sea in the east. Like many others in the Biden administration, Thomas-Greenfield is apparently unaware of the significance of the League of Nations’ Mandate for Palestine, or of the UN’s duty, under Article 80 of the UN’s own charter, to fulfill the terms of any still-existing League of Nations’ mandates; the Palestine Mandate was the only one still existing at the time the UN Charter was adopted, in 1945, which is why Article 80 is referred to as “the Jewish people’s article.”

The “demolitions” Thomas-Greenfield mentions may mean one of two things. Thomas-Greenfield may be referring to Israel’s policy of “demolition” of the family houses of terrorists, as a way to discourage would-be future terrorists. Israel is a country that has been plagued with terrorism since its birth: 3,500 Israelis have been killed, and more than 25,000 wounded, in terrorist attacks since 1948. It turns out that those who are willing to die as “martyrs” can sometimes be held back by the thought that their families will suffer from the demolitions of their homes. The Israelis, it should be underscored, do not automatically demolish the houses of all terrorists. Many requests by the IDF to demolish a house have been rejected. If there are people with disabilities living in these homes, or the elderly, or evidence that family members had tried to persuade a relative from going ahead with a terrorist act, their houses may be spared. Both the Shin Bet and the IDF believe that this policy of home demolitions does in fact work, and has dissuaded many would-be terrorists who did not want their families to suffer from their deeds. How dare anyone, including Linda Thomas-Greenfield, presume to lecture Israel on what it can and cannot do to lessen the terrorism directed at its people?

A second kind of “demolition” she may be referring to is that of structures illegally erected on land not owned by the Arab builders. These can occur when simple property disputes, between Palestinian tenants living on Jewish-owned land without paying rent, and the owners, or between an Arab family falsely claiming title to public land, and the Jewish state, are finally settled. The owners at that point are free to demolish whatever structures the squatters had built. These property disputes in Sheikh Jarrah have been maliciously presented by the Palestinians as a sinister plot by Israel to “judaize” a neighborhood. The facts are quite different. The Arab population of East Jerusalem has increased by nearly eight times since 1967.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield has, like so many others around the world, been snookered into misunderstanding the “evictions” at Sheik Jarrah. These are simple property disputes, involving false claims of ownership by Arab squatters. In one case, four Arab families living on land that had been owned by Jews since 1875, with the titles to prove it, had for years refused to pay rent. They had no proof of ownership. The Jewish owners, who did have such proof, were even willing to negotiate a compromise, whereby the Arabs would be allowed to stay if they began to pay a most modest rent. They still refused, and at that point, a court ordered their lawful eviction. This was a simple property dispute, a matter of landlord-and-tenant law, as practiced all over the world. If you don’t pay rent, you can be evicted. In the U.S., there are about three million evictions a year, almost always, as in this case, for non-payment of rent. Why should Israeli property owners not be allowed the same remedy as is allowed all other property owners — that is, the eviction of non-paying squatters?

Let’s go over that first Sheikh Jarrah eviction in detail:

In 1875, the Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem, both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, bought the Sheikh Jarrah properties from Arab owners. Then until 1948 Jews lived on the land, that was indisputably owned at the time by two Jewish organizations. In 1948 Jordan’s Arab Legion captured east Jerusalem and expelled all the Jews, including those living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem. In 1956, 28 Arab families moved onto the plots in Sheikh Jarrah; UNRWA built homes for them. In 1967, the Israelis captured east Jerusalem. But Israel did not, as it might have, simply expel the Arabs and move Jews back onto the land to which Jewish organizations had clear title, but that had been seized by Jordan in 1948 and kept until 1967. Instead, after 1967 the Arabs continued to live in their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, refusing to pay rent and claiming “to own” the properties in question.

Here’s a summary of the legal status both of the disputed properties in Sheikh Jarrah, and of those residing in them over time.

Legal status of the property

According to the Supreme Court, the land in question “was owned by Chief Rabbi (Hacham Bashi) Avraham Ashkenazi and Chief Rabbi Meir Orbach until the War of Independence [1948], after they purchased it in 1875 from its Arab owners.”

Subsequently, two Jewish organizations, Va’ad Eidat HaSfaradim and Va’ad HaKlali L’Knesset Yisrael, worked to register the land with British Mandatory government in 1946.

The properties were registered with Israeli authorities under these two organizations in 1973.

These organizations sold the properties to the Nahalat Shimon organization in 2003.

Status of the residents

According to a 1989 High Court decision, and re-affirmed repeatedly in subsequent cases, as in the case of any tenant living on someone else’s property, residents living on the land owned by these organizations were required to pay rent to the organizations that owned the properties.4 Their failure to do so, along with instances of illegal building and illegally renting properties to others, resulted in the current legal proceedings against them, culminating in the District Court decision.

Crucially, in 1982, a number of residents- including those whose descendants appealed to the District Court- agreed in Magistrate Court that the 2 Israeli non-profits were the legal land owners.5

How did the District Court address the current residents’ claims of ownership?

The District Court case addressed the ownership claims of the eight appellants. The court found that:

Three of the appellants are the children and grandchildren of residents who acknowledged the ownership of the Israeli organizations in court proceedings in 1982.

Four of the appellants claim to have purchased the properties in 1991 — 19 years after the properties were registered under the Israeli groups — from a man named “Ismail.” The court notes that the appellants never identified “Ismail,” nor did they prove that they had indeed purchased the properties from this person.

One appellant represents the estate of a deceased former resident. In 2009, the Court determined that she had not paid rent as required, had built illegally on the property, and therefore could be evicted.

How did the District Court address the current residents’ claims of ownership?

The District Court case addressed the ownership claims of the eight appellants. The court found that:

Three of the appellants are the children and grandchildren of residents who acknowledged the ownership of the Israeli organizations in court proceedings in 1982.

Four of the appellants claim to have purchased the properties in 1991— 19 years after the properties were registered under the Israeli groups — from a man named “Ismail.” The court notes that the appellants never identified “Ismail,” nor did they prove that they had indeed purchased the properties from this person.

One appellant represents the estate of a deceased former resident. In 2009, the Court determined that she had not paid rent as required, had built illegally on the property, and therefore could be evicted.

Previous court decisions on the ownership of the property

In October 2020, the Magistrate Court rejected the residents’ claim that the property had been promised to them by the Jordanian authorities, during the years in which Jordan controlled the area. According to that decision, “all of the witnesses were born after 1967 or were very young at the time and testified that they heard about the [Jordanian] promise from an older relative.”

The court added that “the only document presented” to prove this alleged Jordanian guarantee “is a copy of a standard document from the Jordanian equivalent of the Housing Ministry, but this form is un-signed and does not bestow ownership on any of the defendants.”

Similarly, earlier Supreme Court decisions rejected ownership claims of Sheikh Jarrah residents based on what the court found to be an apparently altered Turkish deed and an “inauthentic” contract.6

Moreover, in 2020, the Magistrate Court noted, “throughout all of the deliberations, the defendants claimed through their counsel that they were not tenants but rather held the property rights…  Apparently, as they realized that they had not convinced the Court that they were the owners of the property, the defendants claimed for the first time that they are tenants who should not be removed from their homes.”

This record of the legal dispute is quite something: the forgeries (altered Turkish deeds), the “ownership deed” presented by the Arab appellants that turned out to be an unsigned standard document readily available at Jordan’s Housing Ministry, of no legal validity; the claims – without any documents to back them up – that a mysterious man named “Ismail” had sold them properties; the three Arab appellants who in 1982 changed their stories and admitted they did not own the land on which they were living; the four Arab appellants who in 2020 did the same thing, and dropped their claim of ownership, that they had maintained for so long, and realizing that they had no case, now claimed to be “tenants who should not be removed from their homes.” No written evidence has been presented, at any time, by any of the Arab appellants, other than one forged Turkish document, to support their claim.

The plaintiff and its predecessors in title have spent four decades in court seeking to recover possession of the properties. In every case, courts have ruled in favor of the owners. In the latest lawsuits, the courts ruled that four of the eight Arab defendants were squatters with no legal rights in the land, and the remaining four were descendants of tenants who had never paid rent.

Nevertheless, Israeli courts have treated the Palestinian squatters and leaseholders alike as “protected tenants,” and would have shielded them from eviction indefinitely if they agreed to pay rent. They have refused to do so.

Why does Linda Thomas-Greenfield feel compelled to deplore the rulings by many Israeli courts over four decades, as they have determined title to the land in question? Has she studied those court cases? Is there anything about the handling of these cases that is any different from how millions of evictions are handled in the U.S. every year? And when she says that both Israel and the PA “must refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions,” doesn’t she know that anything Israel does, no matter how justified or innocuous, is going to “exacerbate tensions” with the PA, so quick to find fault with the Jewish state?

The second Sheikh Jarrah case involves a Palestinian family, the Salhias, who built several structures, including a house, and a plant nursery, on what had always been public land, and which the Israeli government now wanted to use to build a center for Palestinian children with special needs. The Salhia family failed to produce any document or other evidence that it “owned” the public land in question. The father managed, however, to make a melodramatic threat: that if Israel were to demolish the structures his family had built, he would immolate himself. The Israelis proceeded to demolish those structures built on public land, and the father failed to immolate himself. But the world media, ignoring all the evidence, have presented this as a case of tremendous injustice by cruel Israelis snatching a home and livelihood from an inoffensive Palestinian family.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield has no reason to believe that either of these evictions was carried out wrongfully. It took decades for these property disputes to wend their way through the Israeli courts. Now that they have on so, the Jewish owners who have produced clear title to the land on which several Arab families had been living for many decades without paying rent can at long last recover their property.

And the courts have similarly upheld the Israeli claim that the state owned the land on which the Salhia family had illegally built its dwellings and its plant nursery. Israel had, therefore, a legal right to demolish those structures and remove the Salhia family.

Neither property dispute can be seen as an attempt to “judaize” East Jerusalem, as the Palestinians continue to claim. Since Israel took possession of that territory, the Arab population has increased from 44,000 to 348,000. That can hardly be described as Israel’s “judaizing” of the population. In fact, the public land recovered from the Salhia family squatters will be used, one might say, to “arabize” the neighborhood, when the18 classrooms and six kindergartens are built, as planned, for Arab children with special needs, coming from all over Jerusalem.

After these four accusations aimed at Israel, each more inapposite and unfair than the next, Linda Thomas-Greenfield also mentioned two things that the Palestinians should end: ”incitement to violence and providing compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.” That “incitement to violence” is mentioned too quickly; she ought to have spelled out what she meant. She might have called for an end of “incitement to anti-Israel and antisemitic violence in schoolbooks and on television programs, and the honoring of terrorists by naming schools, streets, parks, and sports teams after them.” And she could have used that useful, because impossible-to-forget, phrase – the “Pay-For-Slay” program – thus: “The Pay-For-Slay program, that provides generous stipends to imprisoned terrorists and, if deceased, to their families, must stop. It rewards past, and incentivizes future, terrorism.”

There. Food for thought for Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Even for one so exalted, it’s never too late to eat and digest.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. David Singer

    January 26, 2022 at 06:32

    Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield obviously was missing in action when the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process -Tor Wennesland – told the Security Council on 19 January during its quarterly debate on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”:
    “Efforts must also continue to encourage all Palestinian political factions towards political consensus and bringing Gaza and the occupied West Bank under one legitimate, democratic Palestinian authority. Gaza remains integral to a future Palestinian State as part of a two-State solution”

    Bringing “Gaza and the occupied West Bank“ under “one legitimate, democratic Palestinian authority” requires a miracle of truly biblical proportions.

    What is now required to defuse further violence between Arabs and Jews are negotiations between Israel, Jordan and Egypt to restore as far as they can agree the status quo existing in Gaza and Judea and Samaria (West Bank) at 5 June 1967.

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