Facts Are Unimportant When They Contradict Our Preconceived Opinions

September 12, 2009

by Maurice Ostroff

Is non-payment of rent grounds for eviction? What if the tenant is a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem?

A Google search for Israel evictions yields 195,000 results, almost all condemning Israel because two families were evicted from homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood on August 2, implying that this was done by the government solely for political reasons. All reports ignored the fact that the action was not initiated by the present Israel government and that it was not a plot hatched by the new government.

The saga began as long ago as 1972. The eviction resulted from a Supreme Court ruling in a protracted legal battle over ownership of properties in the area. The applicants claimed to own the property occupied by the Ghawi and Hanun families and sought to evict them on the grounds of rent delinquency. The defendants claimed the Jewish appellants had forged their ownership documents, but after examining all the evidence, the Supreme Court ruled that it was in fact the Arab documents which had been forged while the Jewish deeds were legitimate.

Even Israel’s fiercest critics acknowledge the high judicial standard of the Israel Supreme Court, which is often accused of erring on the liberal side. It has frequently ruled against the government in favor of Arab residents and Palestinians and it authorized the demolition of Jewish settlements in Gaza. It also halted the destruction of a suicide bomber’s house and its judgment in this matter too, can safely be regarded as based on the merits of the case.

Not only did the media reports distort the story by ignoring the above facts, they failed to mention that of the 28 families who occupied the premises, only two were evacuated for the valid reason of refusing to pay rent. While the Israeli court accepted the appellant’s claim of ownership over the property, it nevertheless recognized the Palestinian residents’ status as “protected tenants” who could not be ejected as long as they continued to pay the rent in terms of Israel’s Protected Tenant Law. Most of the 28 families continued to do so and eviction orders were issued only against the two families that refused. All those journalists and politicians who immediately condemned Israel, ignored this essential fact.

Nor did the facts on the ground deter international politicos from grabbing this opportunity to shoot from the hip. A headline in The Telegraph summed up the knee-jerk international reaction. It screamed, “Israel provokes international anger over eviction of Palestinian families in Jerusalem.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “Israel’s Evictions in East Jerusalem Provocative.”

Pakistan Times UN Special Correspondent reported, “UN envoy speaks out against Israel’s ‘unacceptable’ evictions of Palestinians.”

And the following aggressive statement from the British Consulate in Jerusalem, caps it all. “We are appalled by the evictions in East Jerusalem. Israel’s claim that the imposition of extremist Jewish settlers into this ancient Arab neighborhood is a matter for the courts or the municipality is unacceptable. Their actions are incompatible with Israel’s desire for peace. We urge Israel not to allow extremists to set the Agenda.”

The Consulate’s declaration that the judgments of the Israel courts are “unacceptable” is all the more troubling because in every country, except Israel, Britain urges obedience to local laws, even those it considers unreasonable like child marriage and slavery. In fact the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises expatriates to respect local laws and religions at all times. For example, it exhorts obedience to Saudi Arabian laws, including prohibition of public practice of any form of religion other than Islam and the death penalty for homosexuality.

Would the British consulate in Saudi Arabia dare to declare that any of these Saudi laws are “unacceptable”?

In view of the hysterical condemnation of the eviction of two families in Jerusalem for non-payment of rent, one must ask whether the politicos and journalists who so freely express strong opinions about Israel, are unconcerned about, or are plainly ignorant of evictions that are happening daily around the world. Do they not care about the more than 15,000 people who have been made homeless in recent forced evictions in Angola to make way for condominiums and shopping centers? Many of those affected claim they have documents signed by the municipal administrator giving them rights to the land. But according to the provincial government of Luanda, the families were occupying the area unlawfully and therefore will not be provided with alternative accommodation.

Do they not care about the Botswana Government’s forced eviction of the Gana and Gwi tribes (better known as “Bushmen”) from the ancestral lands they inhabited for more than 20,000 years and forced into grim resettlement camps they call “places of death”?

Are they too focused on demonizing Israel to pay some attention to the 52,000 huts that have been bulldozed in Mumbai where, YUVA, the Youth for Unity & Voluntary Action, reports that millions of people have been thrown out of their houses at the peak of the winter season and are living around the demolished site without shelter, food, livelihood or basic amenities.

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