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September 02, 2012

Not Asking for The World, Just Balance

World PRI logo.png

As with their earlier film, Budrus, the creators of My Neighborhood are enjoying a warm, uncritical reception in the mainstream media. PRI's "The World," from the BBC, PRI and the NPR affiliate WGBH, had this enthusiastic endorsement of the film about the eviction of 11-year-old "Mohammad [al-Kurd]’s family and his neighbors from [Sheikh Jarrah, in eastern Jerusalem] homes they’ve lived in since 1956, part of an ongoing push by Jewish settlers for more control over Palestinian areas." The PRI feature details:

'“I live in Jerusalem in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,�? Mohammad says. “This is my father. This is my library. I have lots of books.�?

It’s a peaceful introduction. And then Mohammad’s life is upended.

Soon, we hear Mohammad’s grandmother shouting at Israeli settlers in 2009. . . .

You hear so often about this conflict but it’s translated into these broad political processes that people can’t really think of in tangible terms,�? said Nadav Greenberg, the film’s associate producer. “Seeing someone kicked out of their home in the middle of the day, and then other families moving in in front of their very eyes is something that’s very difficult to remain indifferent to.�?

Indeed, telling the story through the point of view of the grandson and grandmother definitely depicts the situation in "tangible terms." Tangible terms, but not accurate and balanced terms. While the independent filmmakers are free to present a one-sided documentary, PRI, BBC and WGBH are obligated to maintain impartiality.

Specifically, PRI never mentions that the property in question, where the Kurds had been residing for decades, is Jewish-owned. Furthermore, while "The World" describes the disputed neighborhood as part of "Palestinian areas," the area, known to Jews as Shimon HaTzaddik, has a centuries-old Jewish significance and presence: As detailed by former Ha'aretz reporter Nadav Shragai, writing for the JCPA:

The mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik has for decades been a vital corridor to Mt. Scopus, home for 80 years of Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital. For hundreds of years the Jewish presence in the area centered around the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik (Simon the Righteous), one of the last members of the Great Assembly (HaKnesset HaGedolah), the governing body of the Jewish people during the Second Jewish Commonwealth, after the Babylonian Exile. His full name was Shimon ben Yohanan, the High Priest, who lived during the fourth century BCE, during the time of the Second Temple.7

According to the Babylonian Talmud, he met with Alexander the Great when the Macedonian Army moved through the Land of Israel during its war with the Persian Empire.8 In that account, Shimon HaTzadik successfully persuades Alexander to not destroy the Second Temple and leave it standing. According to tradition, Shimon HaTzadik and his pupils are buried in a cave near the road that goes from Sheikh Jarrah to Mt. Scopus. He appears as the author of one of the famous verses in Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers) which has been incorporated into the Jewish morning prayers: “Shimon the Righteous was among the last surviving members of the Great Assembly. He would say: ‘The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness.’�?9

For years Jews have made pilgrimages to his grave to light candles and pray, as documented in many reports by pilgrims and travelers. While the property was owned by Arabs for many years, in 1876 the cave and the nearby field were purchased by Jews, involving a plot of 18 dunams (about 4.5 acres) that included 80 ancient olive trees.10 The property was purchased for 15,000 francs and was transferred to the owner through the Majlis al-Idara, the seat of the Turkish Pasha and the chief justice. According to the contract, the buyers (the committee of the Sephardic community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel) divided the area between them equally, including the cave on the edge of the plot.

Dozens of Jewish families built homes on the property. On the eve of the Arab Revolt in 1936 there were hundreds of Jews living there. When the disturbances began they fled, but returned a few months later and lived there until 1948. When the Jordanians captured the area, the Jews were evacuated and for nineteen years were barred from visiting either their former homes or the cave of Shimon HaTzadik.

Furthermore, "The World" does not mention that the Kurd family was evicted because they refused to pay rent to the Jewish owners. As the New York Times reported:

In the 1950s, Jordan and the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees gave 28 refugee families homes there. The families say that Jordan promised them full ownership, but the houses were never formally registered in their names.

In the early 1970s, the Israeli courts awarded two Jewish associations ownership of the compound based on land deeds that were a century old. The Palestinian residents were allowed to stay on as protected tenants on the condition that they paid rent to the Jewish groups.

Rejecting the court ruling, many of the Palestinian families refused to pay rent, making them eligible for eviction.

Posted by TS at September 2, 2012 07:24 AM


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