What if It Happened to Them?

By Joharah Baker – The West Bank

For the Jews, certain words have become taboo, especially when used by non-Jews. These include Holocaust, Apartheid and Nazism. Because of the atrocities that took place against Jews throughout history, namely the killing of six million during World War II, political Judaism has allowed itself a near monopoly over human suffering. What is worse, anyone who dares parallel this to the atrocities now carried out by the Jewish state of Israel against Palestinians risks being branded as "Anti-Semitic", a "Jew hater", or an "Israel basher."

Perhaps this fear of being ostracized and branded with such ugly labels is Israel’s most clever tactic because it gives it a guise under which to implement its own schemes, unhindered and largely un-judged. This must be the case in Jerusalem, where so many injustices and racist policies are being carried out on a daily basis against its Palestinian residents, with the world community hardly batting an eyelid.

I say these things, not because I condone any kind of injustice against any people, but because of the flagrant double standard that takes place right before my eyes. In the heart of east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah quarter, an elderly couple, Um and Abu Kamel, have been evicted from their modest home of 52 years upon an order from the Israeli High Court. On November 9 at 4:00 am, Israeli police raided their home and forced the couple out. Israeli settlers, who claim that the land belongs to them, immediately moved in.

In 2002, the Hanoun and Ghawi families were also evicted from their Sheikh Jarrah homes, which were later taken over by Jewish settlers. Today, 27 homes face the same potential fate, all of whose cases are now pending in Israeli courts. Israeli settlers are supposedly planning to build a new settlement neighborhood in their place, complete with 200 housing units.

I find it unnecessary to delve into the details of the court proceedings and the bogus claims of the Jewish settlers who say the land belongs to them, for the sheer reason that this is not an isolated incident. If it were, perhaps it would be worth pondering the claims and counter claims, even though it is clear the land was given to the families following their eviction from their homes in 1948. The families agreed with Jordanian authorities at the time to forfeit part of the services they received from UNRWA in exchange for housing, which was to become their own property in three years’ time. However, one only has to look at the broader picture of what is happening in Jerusalem to see that this newest encroachment on Palestinian territory is just one piece in the intricate puzzle of Jewish dominance over the entire city.

Barring the larger and more insidious policies such as ID confiscation and residency rights, in the past month there have been a series of blatantly discriminatory actions against Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents. Since November 5, Israeli authorities have demolished four Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem under the pretext of illegal construction, two of which are in Silwan, a village which Jewish settlers have had their sights for years.

Earlier in the month, Israeli authorities announced it would build the Simon Weisenthal Museum of Tolerance over an ancient Muslim cemetery. The green light was given after a two year hiatus during which Palestinian and Muslim authorities appealed the court order and protested the move. Muslims say there are graves of up to 400 years old there and that their exhumation is a desecration of the bodies. Nevertheless, the court has approved the construction of the museum, which ironically "seeks the promotion of unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths."

In yet another part of Jerusalem, in what is now the Jewish quarter of the Old City, construction is underway to complete the construction of a synagogue in direct proximity to the Abdullah Bin Omar Mosque. The high domed synagogue will eventually overshadow the mosque, thus creating a more "Jewish skyline" to the Old City, according to the Aqsa Foundation for the Preservation of Muslim Heritage. The entire quarter was originally the Moroccan quarter pre-1967, but it was completely destroyed by Israel during the war to make room for the settlement of Jews in the area around the Aqsa Mosque, or what Jews claim as the Temple Mount. The Palestinian inhabitants of the quarter were duly evicted and the Omari Mosque, in the Sharaf area of the quarter has been shut down for lack of renovation.

Let us pose a hypothetical question here, just for argument’s sake. What would have happened if a Jewish family were evicted from their home in Tel Aviv, or even in Jerusalem? What if a "museum of tolerance" was built over an ancient Jewish gravesite or a Jewish family was forced out at dawn from their home only to have it bulldozed to the ground? We all know atrocities such as these happened to Jews during the Holocaust but does that justify the perpetration of equal atrocities against another people that were in no way responsible for this part of Jewish history? On the contrary, if anyone has the right to call the Israelis out on their own hypocrisy, it is the Palestinians. Most families still hold the deeds to their homes in what is now Israel and west Jerusalem from which they were kicked out of in 1948. Should they not be allowed to return to them as well?

The answer is clear. If Palestinians were ever to attempt the eviction of Israelis, the demolition of their homes, or the construction of a museum over the remains of their deceased, they would be charged with anti-Semitism, labelled Holocaust deniers or supporters of Israel’s destruction. In short, Israel would not stand for it and the international community would suddenly wake from its slumber to protect the "only democracy" in the Middle East. I think it’s time that Israel is treated on equal grounds. Its history is no excuse for its present.

-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at mip@miftah.org. (Originally published in Miftah.org, Nov 17, 2008)

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