Eviction assaults Israel's values

By Hannah Weisfeld, December 9, 2011

The Jewish National Fund has been a household name across the Jewish world for more than a century. Many of us grew up with a little blue box proudly displayed on the mantelpiece. The JNF has led the effort to transform Israel into the thriving, modern country it is today.

Yachad shares with the JNF a vision of a healthy and sustainable Israel. We, too, recognise the necessity of Jewish national self-determination and the right of Jews to have a place they can call home. We, too, are concerned when Israel is singled out for condemnation. However, it seems we differ on how British Jews can best support Israel.

Over the past fortnight, Yachad has been collecting signatures to a letter to JNF UK, asking it to do what it can to halt the eviction of the 12-person, Palestinian Sumarin family from their home in Silwan, East Jerusalem.

Himnuta, the company pursuing the eviction, is a subsidiary of the JNF in Israel and has a history of leasing its properties in Silwan to the settler organisation, Elad.

Although this is a complex legal case, some facts stand out. The Sumarin family have lived in their home for more than 40 years. The original owner, the uncle of the family living there now, built the house lawfully. When he died in 1983, his three sons were living abroad and the state took ownership of the property, despite the continued presence of the rest of the family in the home.

The Sumarin family has lived there for 40 years

The state was able to seize ownership due to the absentee property law, which was applied to East Jerusalem after the 1967 war. After a land exchange deal with Israel's development authority, the property came under the ownership of Himnuta.

The Sumarin family are not entirely blameless. In 2004, an Israeli court cast doubt on a document purportedly showing that the original owner sold the property to his nephew. But the court did not dispute that the Sumarins had permission from their uncle to live in the family home, and, consequently they remained living there. And, regardless, the legal case does not change the fact that the law - which originates from the time of Israel's creation and applies only to Arab residents - permits the eviction of a Palestinian family for the purpose of Jewish settlement.

Why should a Jewish pro-Israel group care about the eviction of a Palestinian family from Jerusalem? Our answer is clear: It is precisely because we love Israel that we speak out. Israel's own government has said repeatedly that a two-state solution is the only way to secure Israel's future. Leaders across the spectrum have acknowledged that this will involve difficult compromises on both sides. We believe a two-state solution will only work if a formula can be agreed for Jerusalem. As recent history shows, it is never easy to take the necessary but painful steps towards peace.

Evictions such as this one are regressive; they undermine the possibility of a two-state solution and make Israel's future less secure.

Diaspora Jews have often witnessed events in Israel that they feel clash with their Jewish values. Far too many have believed they could not speak out within the community and, as a result, have disengaged from the Israel debate.

Through this campaign and others, Yachad wants to empower British Jews and show that it is not just our right but our responsibility to speak out when Israel's Jewish and democratic future is under threat.

We care about the Sumarin family because we care about Israel and the principles on which the state was founded, as enshrined in its declaration of independence - to be a land "based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel".

Hannah Weisfeld is the director of Yachad

Last updated: 11:14am, December 9 2011