Hell hath no fury like a liberal Zionist scorned by a settler.
Jerry Haber, May 16, 2008
"Several years ago I privately began inquiries with Palestinians to see if I could find the original owners of the house on which I live. What would I have done had I found them? Well, first of all, I would have apologized for living on top of their house. Second, I would have tried to come to a a financial understanding with them that would not prejudice any future claims they would have to state-compensation. And third, and more basically, I would ask their permission to live on top of their house."
The settler looks disdainfully at the liberal Zionist and says, "We are doing in Judea and Samaria what you guys did for a century throughout the Land of Israel." If the Zionist leftie happens to live in a formerly Arab neighborhood, like Jerusalem's Katamon, Baka, Talbieh - or in Sheikh Munis, the Arab village where Tel-Aviv University sits today -- the settler gloatfully throws this at him: "You guys are worse than we are. At least we built settlements on land where nobody ever lived. You live in Arab houses."
At this point, the liberal Zionist generally sputters in outraged response: "There is no comparison. Where we live is internationally recognized, albeit de facto, as part of the state of Israel. Even the Palestinian national leadership has recognized Israel's right to the lands within the pre-67 borders, or at least it doesn't demand more than this. What was done by a Zionist movement in pursuit of independence, and during a war, cannot be compared to the actions of a sovereign state after independence and during peace time. Moreover, the actions of the settlers thwart the possibility of a two-state solution." Some may even add that they are willing to move out of their formerly Arab neighborhoods in the case of a peace settlement, provided they get fair compensation.
Yada, yada, yada....
All this is well and good when discussing the behavior of states and their citizens. But I want to talk in this post about personal morality,. And I will start with myself.
I am a Baka Leftie. I live in that part of South Jerusalem that Gershom Gorenberg and Haim Watzman write so elegantly from and about in their South Jerusalem blog. Baka was a Palestinian middle to upper-class neighborhood before 1947; after the war it was used to house Jewish immigrants from North Africa. Some of those original immigrants still live in Baka, although many have died or moved elsewhere. The neighborhood has been undergoing "gentrification" for over two decades, with a lot of the old properties bought up, at outrageous prices, by American and French absentee owners. Local residents, less well-off, have purchased flats in the shikunim ("projects") that are slowly being renovated, at least on the outside. These owners include a fair number of liberal American Jews who made aliyah in the seventies and the eighties. Not all the lefties are Anglos. Aging Peace-Now activists like the philosophers Avishai Margalit and Menachem Brinker live in Baka, though you won't see them frequenting synagogues like Yedidya, Shira Hadasha, bastions of the Anglo-orthodox left, or Kol ha-Neshama of the Anglo-reform left.
Now I don't live inside an Arab house, but I do live on top of one; my flat was built around ten years ago on somebody's roof. Needless to say, the Palestinian owner of the roof didn't get a penny from the purchase. I have no idea who he or she is/was. I can console myself with the idea that I am not living inside his house. But so what -- I am living on a roof that does not belong to me, utilizing air rights that don't belong to me.
So how do I justify this to myself morally? The answer is that I can't.
It took me thirty years to realize that there is no justification. Of course, there are a lot worse things than what I am doing, but that doesn't make me feel better. Robert Fulghum said it best: One of the things we learn in kindergarten is not to take things that don't belong to us. Living in a house which was taken from the owners is stealing. It's that simple. True, others do it all the time. But so what?
After forty years it is time that the "Baka Lefties" get together and discuss the problem, critically and honestly. Preferably that discussion should be with Palestinian groups.
Several years ago I privately began inquiries with Palestinians to see if I could find the original owners of the house on which I live. What would I have done had I found them? Well, first of all, I would have apologized for living on top of their house. Second, I would have tried to come to a a financial understanding with them that would not prejudice any future claims they would have to state-compensation. And third, and more basically, I would ask their permission to live on top of their house.
I did all this without telling anybody, including my family, who gave me hell for not involving them. I wasn't very successful. Since then I heard that an acquaintance of mine, who lives in Talpiyot, had successfully done the same thing. I am not at the liberty to divulge his name, especially since I haven't spoken with him about it. But when I was making my inquiries as to the owners, I was encouraged by the Palestinians with whom I was in contact (with the notable exception of the London-based Salman Abu Sitta, who told me to give up the whole project, and just support a group like Zochrot.)
I think the time has come to organize. There is now a critical mass of Baka Lefties -and not just Baka Lefties, but Israelis of all sort, who, I believe, would be willing to try to attempt some sort of encounter between settlers and refugees. Perhaps we should try to work through Zochrot; perhaps somebody has a better idea of proceeding.
But we must stop saying that this is only a matter for the government. If we wait for the government to do something about the injustice, we will die waiting. And, frankly, as bad as I feel about living on top of somebody else's house, without his or her knowledge, or permission, I feel a lot worse about living out my life and dying there.
Liberal guilt? You bet. But I am tired of hearing facile raitonalizations. I see no reason why I have to wait for other people in order for me to do the right thing.
Help me out here, ye gang of agin' sixties activists! Let's do something about this thing before we are sent to Baka old-age homes -- which also belong to Arab refugees.
Jerry Haber blogged this here