Three families, three stories, and Sheikh Jarrah


Jerusalem's neighborhoods have a long and somber history with many stories to tell. Here are three that show what it means to lose a home

Israeli police officers detain a Palestinian man during a protest supporting Palestinian families under threat of eviction in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah

B Michael writes in Haaretz on 27 December 2021:

Once upon a time in Jerusalem there was a man named Tawfiq Canaan. He was a well-known physician and medical researcher, a senior doctor at Bikur Holim Hospital and the director of several hospitals, including Hansen, for people with leprosy (Hansen’s disease); Shaare Zedek and Augusta Victoria. He was also an ethnographer, a historian of Palestinian folklore, the owner of a large and impressive collection of local amulets and ritual objects, a resolute political spokesman for his people and a sharp-penned warrior against British and Zionist colonialism.

The Canaan family lived in an attractive home in the Musrara neighborhood, just one of several houses it owned. Their house stood opposite the Old City wall, on Godfrey de Bouillon Street, now called Ha’ayin Het Street.

In February 1948, Musrara was shelled for the first time. On May 5 the house suffered a direct hit. Dr. Canaan and his family left their home and found refuge in the Greek Orthodox monastery inside the Old City. They were sure that they would soon return home. Every day the doctor and his wife watched from the ramparts of the walls of the Old City as the contents of their home were looted, manuscripts destroyed and parts of their unique ethnographic collection stolen. The Canaans never returned to their home. Strangers live there now. On January 15, 1964, Dr. Tawfiq Canaan died, rich in accomplishments and bereft of all assets.

In 1951 the Salem family came to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, after they were robbed of their land and property, as is customary. They have lived here for 70 years. The Salems will be evicted from their home next month. Jews will receive their home. A combination of racist laws and shady legal maneuvers have made this abomination legal in Israel. After all, that’s the sacred Zionist rule: Any place where a Jew urinated or shed blood – is ours forever. But the home of an Arab family that has been living there legally for three generations is always an abandoned property, which is permitted to any Jew. That’s what their God told them.

In 1949 a Jewish family from the United States came to Israel. They had nowhere to live. At the time Jerusalem was flush with property: the homes of Palestinians who were expelled or had fled from the western part of the city. The trustee of the looted properties gave the family a handsome, empty house to live in. In late 1959 the family purchased the house. It paid 16,500 lira for it (according to the property registry). A real bargain for a one-family home in the heart of the city, on a lot measuring 581 square meters (6,254 square feet). For the sake of comparison, a 3-room apartment in Bat Yam was sold for 32,000 lira at the time; twice as much as the two-story villa in Jerusalem.

The parents lived to a ripe old age, and the house was inherited by two sons. One of them recently sold his 50-percent share in the property for 4.24 million shekels ($1.3 million).

Ownership of the second half remains in the hands of the second brother. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently he began using the house again. This house, at 4 Haportsim St. in the Katamon neighborhood, is also stolen Palestinian property that was given to Jews. In my opinion, its legal owners continue to be the late Dr. Tawfiq Canaan and his heirs. Yes, this house is also the property of Dr. Canaan.

Below is my proposal for an honorable compromise. The Canaan family house on Haportsim Street will be given to the Salem family of Sheikh Jarrah, and the Salem house in Sheikh Jarrah will in turn be given to the Netanyahu family. It’s a double good deed: First, because it’s not proper for a politician to become rich like that from stolen property. And second, this gesture will teach the Poles, the Ukrainians and all the other looters of Jewish property what a just restoration of property stolen from refugees looks like.

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