Democrats Are Lying About Sheikh Jarrah. But Facts Matter—Even in Israel | Opinion

As clashes intensify in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli police and violence quickly escalates on the border with Gaza, many have been blaming the conflict in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem for the bloodshed that's left two Israelis and 28 Palestinians dead. But it's important to separate fact from fiction. And unfortunately, a lot of what you're seeing from high profile Democratic politicians is fiction.

If you read the tweets of people like Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, you would think that Israel is "forcing families from their home during Ramadan and inflicting violence," as AOC put it. But no matter how many times the lie is repeated, there is no truth to this version of the story.

We stand in solidarity with the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Israeli forces are forcing families from their homes during Ramadan and inflicting violence.

It is inhumane and the US must show leadership in safeguarding the human rights of Palestinians.

— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 8, 2021

The situation in Sheikh Jarrah is not about forcing families from their home. It involves a years-long process of owners suing tenants whose leases have expired, or in a few cases, suing squatters with no tenancy rights at all; the owners are simply asking for their rent to be paid.

Moreover, contrary to what Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, it does not involve the State of Israel at all; it is a private property dispute that has been going through the proper legal channels for decades.

Of course, outside pressure is mounting for the State to overturn a legitimate court ruling based on the ethnicity of the parties; as Avi Bell has pointed out, no one would care if Jewish owners were suing Jewish tenants. And you can be pretty sure that if Palestinian owners were asking Jews for overdue rent, those same outside forces would be demanding that Israel speed up the process of enforcement.

But because some people do not like the optics here of Jewish owners asking for rent from Palestinian tenants, they want to decide the case differently.

But contrary to the demands of Democratic lawmakers, facts matter. Yes—even in Israel. And even in Sheikh Jarrah.

So here are the facts: There is no real disagreement that the property in question was legally purchased by the Jewish community in 1875 and was registered as such in the Ottoman land registry. Of course, the Jewish connection to the area goes back much further; it's known to Jews as Shimon Hatzaddik or Simon the Just, after the 3rd Century BCE Jewish High Priest who is buried there.

A small Jewish community lived in the area peacefully with their Arab neighbors until 1948, when Jordan invaded Jerusalem and evicted all the Jewish families. After this illegal invasion and occupation, the Jordanian government assumed custodianship of the neighborhood and leased the property in question to Palestinian families, but Jordan crucially did not transfer ownership to them. That is an important because the British legislation that Jordanian law is based on holds that without that transfer, the original owners rights have never been extinguished.

Sheikh Jarrah
Palestinians protest in front of an Israeli settler's house as Palestinian families face eviction, part of an ongoing effort by Jewish Israelis to take control of homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied east Jerusalem, on May 5, 2021. - Israeli Jews backed by courts have taken over houses in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem on the grounds that Jewish families lived there before fleeing in Israel's 1948 war for independence. The claimants seek to evict a total of 58 more Palestinians, according to the watchdog group Peace Now, and Israel's Supreme Court is set to announce a decision for four of those families on May 6, 2021. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

This became relevant after the Six Day War in 1967 and the reunification of Jerusalem, when Israel passed a law allowing anyone whose property had been seized as enemy property in 1948 to reclaim their property. But there were some important caveats: They could only reclaim the property if they could demonstrate proof of ownership. And because Jordan never granted ownership to any of the Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah, they were unable to provide proof of purchase or any legal transfer of title. So in 1973, the properties now in question were registered to two Jewish groups.

In 1982, the Jewish groups, now the owners of the properties, sued the families living there for squatting on their property. But the Israeli courts initially ruled in the Palestinians' favor, determining that though the Palestinian families could not demonstrate ownership, they did still enjoy Protected Tenant Status, so they could not be evicted from the property so long as they paid rent and maintained it. Both parties signed the mutually agreed upon arrangement, in which the tenants recognized the trust's full legal ownership.

But things began to change when some residents stopped paying rent, and others began carrying out illegal construction on the property. So in 1993, the trusts began proceedings against those residents based on their non-payment and unlawful changes, and there has been a series of cases periodically ever since.

In February 2021, the Jerusalem District Court upheld an earlier court decision that if they continued to refuse to pay rent, some of the Palestinian residents would have to vacate the premises. The tenants appealed to the Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear their case.

And that is the case whose verdict we're waiting on. Far from the "illegal" evictions of Senator Warren and Sanders' tweets, this is a housing dispute in which one side has refused to pay rent. And the court will now decide whether this means they can be evicted.

The forced removal of long-time Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah is abhorrent and unacceptable. The Administration should make clear to the Israeli government that these evictions are illegal and must stop immediately.

— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) May 8, 2021

Rather than an "abhorrent and unacceptable" abuse of law, this is exactly how the rule of law is supposed to work.

There may very well be two sides to this argument, but shame on those politicians who in their moral grandstanding call this decades-long real estate dispute between private properties "illegal evictions" that are "abhorrent," and "inhumane" on the part of the State in which they are happening. Shame on those who demean the Geneva conventions by pretending that they forbid landowners to exercise their private property rights against non-paying tenants.

Of course, not one of those politicians offered any actual insight as to what is wrong with how the process is proceeding, or explained why tenants should not pay rent they had agreed to. Perhaps in honor of Jerusalem Day, these lawmakers could take a break from stirring the pot and take a moment to learn a little more about an issue they claim to care so much about.

Rabbi Dr. Mark Goldfeder, Esq. is the Director of the National Jewish Advocacy Center.

The views in this article are the writer's own.

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