The defendant has nothing to complain about in this case except for himself, writes Judge Schneider after conducting an in depth investigation as to the validity of the claimant’s assertion that the defendant no longer had the status of “Protected Tenant” (a status granted to certain East Jerusalem Palestinians who had had rental agreement with the Jordanian Custodian for Enemy Property prior to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967) and that the property should be ”returned” to Jewish control, based on Jewish ownership documents from before 1948. Having ruled in favor of the claimant’s argument, the Judge ordered that the Shamasneh family leave their home and that the property to be transferred to the Israeli General Custodian, a governmental body that then has the ability to rent or sell the property to whomever it wishes. Like other cases in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the process was carried out in a rational, civilized manner, the competing claims were weighed against one another, and in this case, the Palestinian family’s claim did not convince the Israeli judge. The law ruled. Had the case gone differently, the Palestinian family could have won, and the government ministry and its settler partners would have been sent away empty handed. Although we may not like the results, there is little that is more important in a democracy than the rule of law. Isn’t that so?
That is so. Only here’s the catch: Israel is not a democracy and the “law” with which it governs millions of Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is fundamentally discriminatory, unequal and, ultimately, illegal.
In this case and in thousands of others, as described powerfully by Military Judges themselves in Ra’anan Alexandrovich’s brilliant documentary film, The Law in the These Parts (2011), the Israeli Judge examined, questioned, pried and prodded, searching for details, for facts, for dates, for truths. There are a few questions that Judge Schneider never asked, and which Israeli judges dealing with the Occupied Territories could never ask without the pillars of their invented Legalistic and Seemingly-Just universe beginning to crumble. One of them is this: Why should Israeli Jews — whether in government positions or as private individuals — be allowed to use documents from before 1948 to reclaim ownership of houses lived in by Palestinians for decades when there are tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees with pre-1948 ownership documents who are not even allowed to visit their old homes, let alone sue for ownership and legally expel the current Jewish residents? This question cannot be asked, because the only answer is as follows: Israeli law grants one set of rights to Jews and another to Palestinians living under occupation; Israeli law, as manifested primarily — but not exclusively — in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, is based neither in values of equality nor of democracy, but rather is a complex code of ethnic privilege, and even supremacy.
Mitt Romney caused a firestorm last week in Jerusalem by commenting on the cultural dimensions of Israeli economic growth. Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat, correctly seeing an implied criticism of Palestinian culture, called Mr. Romney a “racist” and complained that Palestinian economic woes are really caused by the Israeli occupation. Analysts said Mr. Erekat’s reaction was a sign that Mr. Romney has disqualified himself as a broker for peace. The episode reveals as much about the dynamics of the Middle East conflict as about presidential politics.
In making his brief case, Mr. Romney cited two books: “Guns, Germs and Steel,” by geographer Jared Diamond, and “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations,” by economist David Landes (my father). As in other fields of social “science,” economists argue about whether development derives from cultural advantages or from natural ones such as resistance to disease and access to primary resources. Prof. Diamond, whose book focuses on societies’ natural advantages, last week wrote an op-ed in the New York Times emphasizing both culture and nature and trying to draw Prof. Landes in with him.
But Israel (which neither book examined) and the Arab world (which only the Landes book examined) illustrate the primacy of culture as both necessary and sufficient for economic development. Israel, a country with no natural resources, an economic backwater even in the Ottoman Empire, rose to the top of the developed world in a century on culture alone. The Arab nations, on the other hand, illustrate the necessity of a certain kind of culture: Even those with vast petrodollars still have among the least productive economies in the world.