A Palestinian family's appeal against forced eviction from their East Jerusalem home received bittersweet news today. Instead of ruling for or against eviction, the Supreme Court offered a compromise — the Shamasna family can stay, but pay higher rent — which does little to ameliorate the outrage over unequal treatment of Palestinians that is eroding Israel's long-term credibility and security.
Last December, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that the Shamasnas had to leave their home, the latest in a string of evictions from the run-down Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and across East Jerusalem. This came at the urging of right-wing Israeli groups, who cite strict reading of a 1970 law that "enables Jews, but not Palestinians, to reclaim property they left behind enemy lines in 1948" when war forced many to leave.
Although the Shamasnas have owned their residence since 1964, the law allows residents and their descendants from before 1948 to reclaim it as theirs. This has prompted some rightist NGOs to "track down the Jewish heirs of properties in East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods and assist them in 'releasing' the property, held in trust by the Custodian General. They then buy the property from the heirs or rent it to Jewish settlers."
Contrary to being an isolated incident, this case is the latest in what can only be seen as an attempt by radical conservative groups to diminish the chance of a Palestinian state by populating predominantly Palestinian areas with Jewish settlers. Furthermore, the institutionalization of unequal treatment in Israeli law permits these unfair incidents to occur.
East Jerusalem, though annexed by Israel after 1967, occupies symbolic importance as the possible future capital of a Palestinian state. In order to erode the likelihood of this, "ideological (generally religious) settlers have set down stakes in formerly Palestinian areas," which is "part of an effort to establish a Jewish presence, and at the same time make a future division of the city violent and difficult, if not impossible."
It is important for Israeli leaders, however, to view this issue not only as a moral one, but as a threat to its long-term credibility and security. Unequal treatment of Palestinians is gasoline on a seemingly interminable fire that, according to a study by an Israeli think tank, "undermines sustainable economic growth, burdens the budget, limits social development, absorbs most of the energies of the political leadership, calls into question the legitimacy of the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces, and isolates Israel internationally."
The institutionalization of discriminatory practices is as wrong in Israel as it was wrong in the United States of the Jim Crow era and South Africa under apartheid. It is in Israel's own interest to eliminate this sort of treatment in an age of online media and instantaneous worldwide connectivity, or else their legitimate claims will carry little weight.
It is on Israeli society and its leaders to demonstrate to the world that the radical right is not representative of its society as a whole in the same way that radical terrorists are not representative of Palestinians. A good start would be to amend or eliminate discriminatory policies and laws that lead to international condemnation and fuel terrorism at home and around the world.
The Shamasna family, even if not evicted, is undergoing legal unequal treatment, which will likely "provide Hamas with ammunition to fight the Arab Peace Initiative" in the short term, while ultimately prolonging a conflict so old that it is the only way of life many Palestinians and Israelis have ever known.