“There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. But the pauper had nothing except for a little lamb he had acquired. He raised it, and it grew up alongside him and his children. It used to eat his food, drink from his cup, and sleep in his arms. It was just like a daughter to him. When a traveler arrived at the rich man’s home, he did not want to use one of his own sheep or cattle to feed the traveler who had come to visit him. Instead, he took the pauper’s lamb and cooked it for the man who had come to visit him.”
–Samuel II, 12:1-4
So you think the Nakba ended in 1948? Think again. There are a few brilliant Israeli bureaucrats who are happy to perpetrate ever-newer mini-Nakbas on contemporary Palestinians. The Shaya family of Jaffa is a case in point. They are Palestinian Israelis and have resided in this neighborhood for generations:
Tziona Tajer Street in Jaffa…begins with a lush park and ends in a narrow picturesque alleyway bounded by refurbished old homes. One of these houses, behind a heavy blue gate, belongs to the Shaya family. Hanging by the entrance is a large portrait of the family patriarch, Salim Khoury Shaya, a priest who served in the 1920s as the spiritual leader of the Christian Arab (Greek Orthodox) community. Around that time he also built the house on a hill in Jaffa.
In 1948, when so many Palestinians were driven from Jaffa into exile, the Shayas remained. But what the Nakba then couldn’t achieve government bureaucrats in cahoots with real estate speculators are happy to do today.
While Ajami has for decades been a depressed backwater compared to its sister city Tel Aviv, in recent years due to its beachfront location, property values have skyrocketed. Poor Arab residents have been evicted by the hundreds to make way for real estate speculators who tear down shacks and shanties and build sleek modern properties which they sell for millions. But these are tenants and not owners who the municipal and national government dispose of. It’s harder to do that with owners like the Shayas. But where there’s a will there’s a way and bureaucrats have found one through a unique piece of subterfuge.
After the 1948 war, the Israeli government took over the property of Arabs who had fled including the Shaya home (even though most of the siblings still lived in it). After much wrangling, in 1959, the State agreed to create a partnership and retained a 40% stake in the ancestral home (given that several siblings could not return from Lebanon after 1948). Don’t ask why a government which expelled its own residents and prevented them from returning should presume to take ownership of property that is not properly the government’s to being with, especially when family members remain in the home.
In the ensuing decades the Shayas sued the government for restitution of full ownership even offering to pay for the 40% share it didn’t own. No deal. Here’s where the subterfuge comes in:
…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…now Amidar and the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) have taken them to court. They want them out.
This is where the story of the Pauper’s Lamb which opened this post comes in. The family’s Israeli Arab solicitor offered this Bibilical passage as part of his argument in court on behalf of his clients. In other words, the Shayas built this home with the sweat of their brow. In it they raised a family many of whom have integrated themselves fully into Israeli society working for the Tel Aviv municipality and the police force. At home, they speak both Arabic and Hebrew. And this is the thanks they get. When the moneygrubbers at Amidar and the ILA see dollar signs in their property inventory, they think nothing of slaughtering the lamb that should never have been theirs to being with.
If Israel ever wants to achieve real integration of its minority Palestinian citizens into the nation’s ethnic fabric, this quotation from one of the family’s current residents in the home should be a permanent stain:
“I have no doubt that if we were Jews the state would not be doing this. Our whole lives we have felt that we are part of this society. Even as a member of a minority I never considered anywhere else home. But it’s clear to me that if I were to convert, they would behave differently.”
The Shaya’s lawyer also told the court that the ILA has usurped its original role, which was meant to be temporary to protect abandoned property from looting. He notes that members of the first Knesset were distinctly sensitive to the notion of expelling and dispossessing residents as they had the experience of what happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust right before their eyes.
Ironic isn’t it that a state of the Jews could perpetrate the same dispossession on its Arab inhabitants. The case continues in Tel Aviv magistrate’s court in January. You may express your support to the Shaya family directly. H/t to Didi Remez.