Akiva Eldar
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 8, 2008 - 1:00am

It happened four weeks before the heroic evacuation of the House of Contention in Hebron. In the middle of the night, police officers entered a small apartment in the Shimon Hatzadik compound in the Sheikh Jarra neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The police officers easily overwhelmed a handful of human-rights activists and evicted the al-Kurd family, which had lived there for 52 years.

The media barely covered the incident. An article about Jews evacuating Arabs has long since become as uninteresting as a "dog bites man" story. Even the death of Abu Kamal al-Kurd, a disabled man in a wheelchair living in a tent next to the house - before the tent was destroyed by the municipality - generated no interest. The family and a Palestinian paramedic on the scene said al-Kurd had a heart attack during the evacuation, but was never treated for it.

In the case of the East Jerusalem home, the Supreme Court upheld a District Court order to evict the family, despite a legal dispute over the validity of the Ottoman-era ownership documents held by the Nahalat Shimon settler association. Over the weekend, while the media were busy analyzing the 2008 Hebron riots, the homeless widow Umm Kamal set up a tent in western Jerusalem's Talbieh neighborhood. There, between the lovely stone houses, is where her home was located before 1948. In the war, another part of the family left behind a large building in the village of Lifta. Like the refugees of the Jewish neighborhood of Hebron, the al-Kurd family and tens of thousands of 1948 refugees (and the 1967 displaced persons) have documents from the Ottoman era.

The realization of a Jewish right of return to the area some refer to as Judea and Samara, or to the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Nahalat Shimon, invites a reopening of the 1948 file. There is no better recipe for an end to political negotiations based on the borders of June 4, 1967. Like the eviction of the al-Kurd family from its East Jerusalem home so Jewish settlers could live there, the real story of the House of Contention is not one of a private dispute concerning property rights; in both cases, the main test is not about the rule of law or even about law enforcement. This is a political-ideological conflict between segments of Israeli and Palestinian society.

The fate of this conflict will determine whether Talbieh remains part of a Jewish and democratic Israel and Hebron becomes part of Palestine, or whether they will both be part of a binational and/or non-democratic state. The hilltop youth did us a good turn. In the midst of the election campaign, they are bringing back to the agenda the existential issue to which their parents and grandparents gave rise. Perhaps at the last moment, two months before the polls open, we will know what the hell this election is about.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will not meet her obligation simply by promising voters she won't allow any refugees to return to Israel. She has to explain how she thinks the Hebron settlers should be treated if she is elected prime minister. The United States and several European countries have already filed formal protests with Livni regarding the eviction of the al-Kurd family from its home, which is beyond the Green Line. The Kadima leader must say whether she is willing to promise she will concede the realization of the Jewish right of return to Nahalat Shimon in exchange for the realization of the Palestinian right of return to Talbieh (which has been officially renamed Komemiyut).

Defense Minister Ehud Barak cannot allow himself to rest on the laurels of the commando operation in Hebron. The chairman of the Labor Party must tell the public what he is willing to do for the sake of the slogan "We are here" (in Talbieh) and "They are there" (in Hebron), just as he used to say he had adopted the "No partner" doctrine. He must promise he will continue to evacuate all illegal outposts and completely halt settlement expansion. The lightning evacuation showed that a stated fear of civil war is nothing but the hollow excuse of cowardly politicians.

Likud chairman Benjamin Netanyahu cannot be permitted to hide behind general declarations of support against a handful of lawbreakers. He must reveal whether "Yesha is here," as per the Hebrew acronym for Judea and Samaria printed on stickers that the Yesha Council of settlements once distributed on Tel Aviv's Sheinkin Street - and as the right wing maintains - or whether he plans to continue political talks with the Palestinians, as he did when he served as prime minister, in negotiations over the Hebron agreement and the Wye River Memorandum.

The Palestinian neighbors of right-winger Baruch Marzel in Hebron and the East Jerusalem neighbors of the widow al-Kurd can tell Netanyahu just what an "economic peace" looks like.


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