Sound and Fury on the Israeli Left
Anyone who is unfamiliar with the rhetoric of the Israeli left might want to check out responses from Peace Now and Haaretz to the recent purchase of homes in Jerusalem – by Jews. With predictable frenzy they anticipated the imminent collapse of morality in the Jewish state after Jews moved into their new homes in Silwan, a few meters south of the Old City, duly purchased from a willing Arab seller. Arab property owners in Silwan denied any sale and initiated “legal procedures” to nullify it. (More about that below.)
“The implication of this offensive act,” declared Peace Now, “has far reaching consequences.” With a mastery of arithmetic that would make any third-grader proud, it reported that 6 buildings, comprising 20 housing units, could increase “the settler presence” by 35%, enlarging the number of Jews by one hundred. For Peace Now, that is a shanda of monumental proportions, posing a severe threat to the population of Silwan, which already includes 500 Jews – and 50,000 Arabs. This “unjust and dangerous reality” climaxes more than twenty years during which “the Israeli government and police are allowing and supporting” settlements.
An editorial in Haaretz (October 10) condemned the occupancy by “dozens of Jewish settlers” in an “East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood” as proof that Prime Minister Netanyahu is “an enthusiastic supporter of annexing the territories and of handing the State of Israel . . . to the settlers.” The “seizure” of homes in Silwan was “another nail in the coffin of the peace process” – which, Haaretz concluded, was its intended purpose. But Israel’s “illegitimate colonialist policies” would surely “infuriate not only the Arab world but also Israel’s closest friends.” House buying in Jerusalem (but only by Jews) was “a destructive move,” which “could exacerbate the tense situation and spark another round of violence.”
The next day the Arab “legal procedures” touted by Peace Now were displayed when a 50-year-old Arab resident of Silwan was stabbed to death by a fellow Arab. According to local residents, “he was killed in a dispute over selling property to Israeli Jews.” The murdered man and his killer were members of a family in whose building seven of the Jewish newcomers had recently arrived.
Politics become dirty when Jewish settlers can be blamed by the Israeli left for obstructing the “peace process.” Hardly coincidentally, Peace Now released its report of the Silwan move-in to embarrass Prime Minister Netanyahu while he was in New York to address the United Nations. Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat, with the bygone Oslo Accords to his credit, castigated the Jewish arrivals as “illegal Israeli settlers protected by occupation forces” and by a government that launches “land grabs and attempts at changing the identity and demography of Palestine and particularly occupied East Jerusalem.” Fadi Maragha, a local Fatah representative, warned: “They think they can drive us out. But we are the landowners. We were here, and we will be here until we have all of Palestine without any Jewish people in it.” The Mufti of Jerusalem labeled the arrival of Jewish residents in Silwan a “criminal act” that furthered the “Judaization” of Jerusalem.
Silwan, to be sure, repeats a familiar story in the Land of Israel. In 2005, in the ancient biblical city of Hebron where Jews had lived since Abraham negotiated with Ephron (the Hittite, not Palestinian) over the Machpelah cave as a burial place for Sarah, the Jewish community purchased a four-story building. It overlooked a street where twelve Israelis had been murdered in a deadly terrorist attack three years earlier. The purchaser, New York businessman Morris Abraham, had relatives who lived in Hebron until the Arab riots of 1929 slaughtered sixty-seven Jews, decimated the community and emptied it of Jews until after the Six-Day War.
Although no evidence emerged to invalidate the Hebron purchase, leftist Jews were furious. Meretz Party chairman Yossi Beilin planned to submit a bill in the Knesset calling for the evacuation of all Jews from Hebron – until a political opponent indicated that he would introduce an identical bill calling for the removal of all Arabs. The human rights group B’Tselem, declaring the house to be a “new settlement” that Jews had “invaded,” demanded their immediate eviction “without regard to the question of ownership.” Not even signed purchase and sale agreements, and a video of the Palestinian seller receiving and counting his money, satisfied Jewish critics. Despairing of “Israeli democracy,” Morris Abraham noted that anywhere else “when a person purchases private property his purchase is honored.” The new residents of Beit HaShalom were forcibly evicted by Israeli security forces. It took seven years before the High Court of Justice validated his purchase.
Like Hebron, Silwan has biblical roots. For Zionism to have meaning, the return of Jews to their ancient homeland – purchasing land to build homes and rebuild communities – should remain a source of Jewish pride. Those who only feel shame missed a good opportunity recently to atone for their groundless hatred against fellow Jews.
Jerold S. Auerbach is a frequent contributor to The Algemeiner