[News] Turkey's Fallout with Israel Deals Blow to Settlers

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 25 19:19:18 EDT 2009


http://www.counterpunch.org/cook03252009.html
March 25, 2009


Ottoman Archives Show Land Deed Forged


Turkey's Fallout with Israel Deals Blow to Settlers

By JONATHAN COOK

A legal battle being waged by Palestinian families to stop the 
takeover of their neighborhood in East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers 
has received a major flip from the recent souring of relations 
between Israel and Turkey.

After the Israeli army's assault on the Gaza Strip in January, 
lawyers for the families were given access to Ottoman land registry 
archives in Ankara for the first time, providing what they say is 
proof that title deeds produced by the settlers are forged.

On Monday, Palestinian lawyers presented the Ottoman documents to an 
Israeli court, which is expected to assess their validity over the 
next few weeks. The lawyers hope that proceedings to evict about 500 
residents from Sheikh Jarrah will be halted.

The families' unprecedented access to the Turkish archives may mark a 
watershed, paving the way for successful appeals by other 
Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank caught in legal 
disputes with settlers and the Israeli government over land ownership.

Interest in the plight of Sheikh Jarrah's residents peaked in 
November when one couple, Fawziya and Mohammed Khurd, were evicted 
from their home by an Israeli judge. Mr Khurd, who was chronically 
ill, died days later.

Meanwhile, Mrs Khurd, 63, has staged a protest by living in a tent on 
waste ground close to her former home. Israeli police have torn down 
the tent six times and she is facing a series of fines from the 
Jerusalem municipality.

The problems facing Mrs Khurd and the other residents derive from 
legal claims by the Sephardi Jewry Association that it purchased 
Sheikh Jarrah's land in the 19th century. Settler groups hope to 
evict all the residents, demolish their homes and build 200 
apartments in their place.

The location is considered strategic by settler organisations because 
it is close to the Old City and its Palestinian holy places.

Unusually, foreign diplomats, including from the United States, have 
protested, saying eviction of the Palestinian families would 
undermine the basis of a two-state solution to the 
Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The help of the Turkish government has been crucial, however, because 
Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire when the land transactions 
supposedly took place.

Israel and Turkey have been close military and political allies for 
decades and traditionally Ankara has avoided straining ties by 
becoming involved in land disputes in the occupied territories. But 
there appears to have been an about-turn in Turkish government policy 
since a diplomatic falling-out between the two countries over 
Israel's recent Gaza operation.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, accused his Israeli 
counterpart, Ehud Olmert, of "lying" and "back-stabbing", reportedly 
furious that Israel launched its military operation without warning 
him. At the time of the attack, Turkey was mediating peace 
negotiations between Israel and Syria.

Days after the fighting ended in Gaza, Mr Erdogan stormed out of a 
meeting of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, having accused 
Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, of "knowing very well how to kill".

According to lawyers acting for the Sheikh Jarrah families, the 
crisis in relations has translated into a greater openness from 
Ankara in helping them in their legal battle.

"We have noticed a dramatic change in the atmosphere now when we 
approach Turkish officials," said Hatem Abu Ahmad, one of Mrs Khurd's 
lawyers. "Before they did not dare upset Israel and put us off with 
excuses about why they could not help."

He said the families' lawyers were finally invited to the archives in 
Ankara in January, after they submitted requests over several months 
to the Turkish consulate in Jerusalem and the Turkish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Officials in Turkey traced the documents the lawyers requested and 
provided affidavits that the settlers' land claims were forged. The 
search of the Ottoman archives, Mr Abu Ahmad said, had failed to 
locate any title deeds belonging to a Jewish group for the land in 
Sheikh Jarrah.

"Turkish officials have also told us that in future they will assist 
us whenever we need help and that they are ready to trace similar 
documents relating to other cases," Mr Abu Ahmad said. "They even 
asked us if there were other documents we were looking for."

That could prove significant as the Jerusalem municipality threatens 
a new campaign of house demolitions against Palestinians. Last week, 
Nabil Abu Rudeina, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud 
Abbas, called the recent issuing of dozens of demolition orders in 
Jerusalem "ethnic cleansing".

Palestinian legal groups regularly argue that settlers forge 
documents in a bid to grab land from private Palestinian owners but 
have great difficulty proving their case.

Late last year the Associated Press news agency exposed a scam by 
settlers regarding land on which they have built the Migron outpost, 
near Ramallah, home to more than 40 Jewish families. The settlers' 
documents were supposedly signed by the Palestinian owner, Abdel 
Latif Sumarin, in California in 2004, even though he died in 1961.

The families in Sheikh Jarrah ended up living in their current homes 
after they were forced to flee from territory that became Israel 
during the 1948 war. Jordan, which controlled East Jerusalem until 
Israel's occupation in 1967, and the United Nations gave the refugees 
plots on which to build homes.

Mrs Khurd said she would stay in her tent until she received justice.

"My family is originally from Talbiyeh," she said, referring to what 
has become today one of the wealthiest districts of West Jerusalem. 
"I am not allowed to go back to the property that is rightfully mine, 
but these settlers are given my home, which never belonged to them."

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. 
His latest books are 
"<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0745327540/counterpunchmaga>Israel 
and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the 
Middle East" (Pluto Press) and 
"<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1848130317/counterpunchmaga>Disappearing 
Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair" (Zed Books). His 
website is <http://www.jkcook.net>www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National 
(<http://www.thenational.ae>www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.




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