The most recent upsurge of violence in Israel and Gaza has called to mind a book I read last summer, “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East,” by Sandy Tolan. It’s the chronicle of the unusual relationship between a Palestinian who as a boy had fled with his family from their home during the 1948 war concurrent with the creation of the state of Israel, and an Israeli woman who thereafter grew up in the house with her family after the newly-formed Israeli government assigned the property to them. I’m not a fan of lawyers stretching the law and the judicial process to address issues more appropriately dealt with through legislation or international relations, but this situation suggests a straightforward issue of an individual’s legal rights, and a straightforward remedy: why not sue to get your property back?
More about the book: It’s an account by an American reporter about a house in the town of Ramle a/k/a al-Ramla, Israel and the two families that had occupied it over the past several decades. The house had been the home of a Palestinian family until they fled during the fighting in **1948. The house then became the home of a Jewish family recently emigrated from Bulgaria, where they had narrowly avoided annihilation in the Holocaust. As I recall, after the fighting stopped the newly-formed government of Israel had assigned the empty houses in the town (most of the town’s residents had been Palestinian, and had fled) to newly-minted Jewish Israelis. The book offers an uncommon look, through very common means, at one of the most intractable, emotional and bloody issues of the past several decades (and at this rate, several more to come).
While I’m familiar with the basics of recent Middle East history, I by no means claim expertise. I also do not support, at all, the terror tactics and annihilation goals that over the years have been the hallmark of the PLO, PFLP, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc. But how is it that apparently significant numbers of Israelis are living in houses and on property that were taken from others without their consent?
For curiosity, I tried to Google for efforts by Palestinians to use Israeli courts to recover such property, but had little success. It did produce a 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article of interest in a commercial context. (Intel Corp. apparently has or had a factory in Israel where the underlying ownership of the land was challenged.)
The situation seems all the more odd in that in recent years many people whose property had been taken from them during the Holocaust have successfully used courts to recover such property.
Obviously there are all sorts of issues raised here, from macro issues of history to micro issues of statutes of limitation and repose, but I’m just curious about the discrete issue of an individual’s legal rights, and would be interested in any information or thoughts on the subject.