Why is Israel trying to rekindle Nakba memories it wants forgotten through legislation?

by Yaniv Reich on November 23, 2009

This story should probably be filed in the category of institutional and individual Israeli racism toward Arabs. But the Shaya family story is so compelling on a variety of levels, including the relationship between Israeli Palestinians, the Nakba, and the neo-fascism of Foreign Minister Lieberman, that its significance rises above the more basic (but still fundamental) point of racism.

The story revolves around the Shaya family, longstanding members of the Palestinian community in Jaffa, who are now facing legal action by a Jewish state trying to evict them and cash in on their property.

Here is Didi Remez’s account:

In the 1920’s, Salim Khoury Shaya, head of Jaffa’s once prosperous Greek Orthodox Palestinian community, built a house for his family. He had seven children. In 1948, a census was taken of the remnants of Jaffa’s Palestinian community. Empty houses were taken over by the State of Israel, according to the Absentee Property Law (more about that at the bottom of this post). The Shaya house was a unique case. Three of the siblings were absent (in Lebanon), but four were present. So the State proclaimed itself “partner” and legally took over 40% of the house.

Decades passed and, except for a number of failed attempts in the 50’s and 60’s, to sue for full property rights, the Shaya family didn’t hear much from the government. Their area of Jaffa (near Ajami) was a slum no one was really interested in. That all changed about four years ago. The Jaffa coast went through accelerated gentrification and property prices skyrocketed. Amidar, the government owned housing company that administrates most Absentee Properties, saw an opportunity for a windfall. Contrary to popular perception, most of the Palestinians living in the area are not descendants of the pre-1948 residents, but descendants of refugees displaced during the war from other parts of the country, and are now tenants of Amidar. Therefore, their eviction, on a variety of pretexts, was relatively simple. In 2007-2008 alone, Amidar issued at least 400 eviction notices in the Ajami neighborhood.

The few Palestinian owners were more of a problem. But in 2007, some bureaucrat looking through old case files discovered the Shaya family’s vulnerability and hatched a plan — slap them with an exorbitant demand for years of back rent for the 40% of the house “owned” by the government and then demand that the “partnership” be dissolved through sale of the house to a third party. The Shayas don’t want to leave their ancestral home, but their attempts to buy out the State were rebuffed, and now Amidar and the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) have taken them to court. They want them out.

Even from the perspective of Lieberman’s Jewish-Nationalist school of thought there is a lot wrong with this story. As a devil’s advocate, I would ask his disciples in the government, why persecute “good Arabs?” The Shaya’s are fully integrated in Israeli society. One of the second generation siblings worked at the Tel-Aviv municipality for his entire life. An uncle was the first Palestinian policeman recruited in Jaffa by the Israeli police in 1949. A visitor at the Sunday family gatherings hears a mix of Arabic and Hebrew. Why is Israel taking them back to the Nakba that it wants to force them to forget through legislation?

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