Among the knottiest of problems Israelis have to deal with are the aspirations of Jews to move into areas thickly settled by hostile Arabs.
The issue is not the simple one of most settlements in the West Bank or the established post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Think what you will about justice of those, but they are mostly built on vacant land, not contested by Palestinian owners, and supported by Israeli government decisions with considerable (if not wall to wall) support by the Jewish population.
The issue more troubling by far is illustrated by the hassle about a structure in Hebron, near the Cave of the Patriarchs, ostensibly purchased by Jews. Several families moved in. The Defense Ministry, with authority on such matters, ordered their evacuation insofar as they lacked the MInistry's approval for moving into sensitive areas of occupied territories.
Right-of-center Ministers in the government, Knesset Members, and outward to voters of Likud, Israel our Home, and the large community of settlers and their supporters demanded that the residents be allowed to stay. Those backing the residents say that they bought the property from its Palestinian owners, via the typical route of the owner selling it to another Arab, perhaps living overseas beyond the reach of Palestinian Authority officials who might be inclined to impose the death penalty for selling land or buildings to Jews. The "straw man" buyer was the seller to the Jews, or it may have passed through several additional straw men on the way to the Jews, each meant to support one another's claims of not violating Palestinian norms and laws. (Those sensitive to issues of gender should realize that there is probably no need in this case to consider the possibility of females in the chain of Arabs buying and selling on the way to the Jews.)
Palestinian authorities for their part are making the standard assertion that the documents are forgeries, and that the sellers (some of them already in custody) had no right to sell the property.
We heard that the evacuation order had been stayed until after Passover and beyond to give the buyers an opportunity to substantiate their claims. Speculation was that pressure would build on the Defense Minister, and he would put the evacuation order in a back drawer.
Alas, the Attorney General and the Defense Minister decided that the evactuation had to occur, and its implementation was kept secret until it was done two days before the Seder.
At the same time this was brewing, we heard again from Irving Moscowitz. He is a wealthy American whose mission in life is to finance the movement of Jews to Arab neighborhoods. His most recent plans are to bankroll an entire neighborhood to be built alongside the Arab neighborhood of Abu Dis. That is on the fringes of Jerusalem which the Palestinians have designated as the site of their Parliament Building, should they ever be able to claim a piece of al Quds as their national capital. Jerusalem's mayor has announced his endorsement of the new neighborhood, to be called Kidmat Zion (Advance Zion), and his intention to bring it to planning authorities for approval. Reports are that some of the land has been owned by Jews for decades but left undeveloped, while other parcels have been purchased by Moscowitz.
The claim that land has been owned by Jews for decades is a problematic justification for settlement activity. It raises the issue--dealt with by Israeli law but not to the safisfaction of everyone--about Arab property abandoned during or since 1948, taken over by the State of Israel, and provided to Jews via long term leases.
Judgement is complex, no matter what is decided about one propoerty or another by Israeli authorities, along with the media circus and threats of Palestinian violence that are inevitable.
On the one hand are the desires of Jews, political extremists and even messianic, to place themselves in locations chosen for their religious and nationalist significance. It may be their intention to arouse Palestinian nationalism, or at least to sprinkle Jewish residents among Arabs and make it even more difficult to divide the land on the way to an accommodation between Israel and Palestine.
In these cases, the Jews claim proper ownership, subject to examination by administrators and judges, along with assertions of their rights to live where they will.
Remember restrictive covenants in those desirable American neighborhoods that forbid the sale of property to Jews, African-Americans, and/or Catholics. If those are no longer politically correct or legally kosher in the United States, why should Israel forbid Jews from acquiring property alongside Arabs?
Arabs rent or buy property in neighborhoods of Jerusalem and other Israeli cities that are almost entirely Jewish. Individual Jews may object, and there can be unpleasant incidents, but there is no legal barrier. There are numerous cases of peaceful co-existence in the neighborhoods of French Hill and Pisgat Zeev that abut Arab neighborhoods. Some of us have trouble deciding if we would rather have--or would rather not have--additional Arabs or additional ultra-Orthodox Jews moving onto our street.
Admittedly the movement of Jews into hostile Arab neighborhoods is not wise in the perspective of the slim opportunities for an Israel-Palestinian peace. But who said that the Palestinians are ready for peace, with their anti-Semitic school books, death penalty for selling property to a Jew, and the weight of Hamas and even more extreme organizations in the Palestinian community?
Among the complicating factors:
•The expense and danger to soldiers resulting from having to protect Jewish settlers from Arab neighbors
•The complications to Israeli politics that result from the passions involved.
Jerusalem's politics may depend on the secular mayor keeping left-wing secular parties in his coalition while giving into right wing nationalists, against the possibility of the city falling once again to an ultra-Orthodox mayor if the secular left wing cannot swallow the mayor's support of this new neighborhood.
It's something for everyone to decide.
No need to hurry. The problem will still be here after Passover.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem