Yom Yerushalayim

Jerusalem Day 5781

Today is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, a day that I wish were a day of celebration, instead it’s a day of tension and violence. Hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli police officers have been injured in the last few days, and this afternoon could be a very dangerous time. It breaks my heart.

I am happy that Israel won the war in ’67 and was able to reunite Jerusalem. I’m happy that Jews can pray at the Western Wall, something they couldn’t do for 19 years during the Jordanian occupation. I’m happy that Mamilla is now the location of some of the priciest real estate in Jerusalem, instead of a no man’s land where no one wanted to live because of the constant danger from Jordanian snipers.

But I’m not glad that this day has become a day for the celebration of the ugliest, most nationalistic, racist side of Israeli society. I’m saddened by the fact that we have not learned how to live in peace with our Palestinian cousins. The “settler youth” that dominate today’s parade like to march through Muslim neighborhoods and raise hell, curse people, and do damage. This is not what Judaism stands for.

Those of you outside Israel may be wondering what the fighting is about. There are several things. The Israeli police have been very heavy handed toward the Palestinian population all month, for example, not allowing people to sit on the steps of Damascus Gate, a favored hangout of young Palestinians, especially during Ramadan.

The other bigger problem is the continued “Judaization” of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Robby Berman explained the situation well in a Facebook post that I append below. The problem is the property laws here are inherently unjust. Israelis can reclaim property in East Jerusalem that they lost in 1948, but Arabs cannot reclaim property in West Jerusalem that they lost in that same war. Whatever the law is, it should be fair: either everyone gets to reclaim their property, or no one gets to reclaim their property. It would be less disruptive and expensive to say no one gets to reclaim their property. The Israeli government could stop the problem in Sheikh Jarrah very easily: all they have to do is use eminent domain to seize the property owned by Jews in Sheikh Jarrah (and compensate them) and allow the Palestinians to continue living there. 

In the meanwhile, I’m also afraid the violence may derail the negotiations to form a government without Netanyahu as prime minister; Lapid needs the support of the Arab parties, but it may be difficult for them to do that with what’s happening in Jerusalem right now.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We need it.

Robby Berman


For many years I have been going to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to protest about the eviction of Arabs from their homes. It may surprise you to learn that I want those Arabs thrown out. They don’t own the houses or the land under it – other people do (who happen to be Jews). I’m not there protesting the evictions. 

I’m there protesting the immoral Israeli laws that say what is mine is mine and what is yours is mine. If you are a Palestinian at least. 

In short, Israeli laws allow Jews to reclaim their homes from Palestinians but not Palestinians reclaim their homes from Jews. You can be the biggest Zionist in the world and still smell a whiff of miasma from this last sentence. 

I, for example, hypocritically live in a home that rightfully belongs to a sweet elderly Palestinian woman living in Australia. Her name is Barbara Ames (nee Sahhar). I won’t go into Barbara’s whole story (Barbara I invite you to tell your story here on this thread) but after she came to visit me two years ago, I went to TABU (the Israeli land registry) and I found that indeed the land and building indeed belonged to her dad (see attached photos). 

I would love to receive an eviction notice and have the building rightfully returned to Barbara and her family. 

Here are the facts as I understand them. I may be wrong and I’m happy to have people correct me. 

In 1950 Israel passed the “Absentees’ Property Law” https://knesset.gov.il/…/eng/law/kns1_property_eng.pdf which states that any owner of property in Israel that is not present on his land loses his title to the land. That law was written in order to confiscate all the land and homes of Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war all the while Israel DID NOT ALLOW them to return to their land, as Barbara and her family tried to do for TWO YEARS. Kafka could not have scripted this better. 

So in 1948 Jews in East Jerusalem fled to West Jerusalem and lost their homes to Jordan. And Palestinians in West Jerusalem fled to Jordan and lost their homes to Israel. In 1967 Israel conquers and annexes East Jerusalem unifying our capital. Now Jews are demanding their homes back – which they deserve. Since the Absentee Property Law only applied to land inside Israel of 1948 Jews never lost their title to their homes in East Jerusalem. So the Israeli courts are giving Jews their homes back while still applying the 1950 law to inside Israel’s 1948 borders depriving Palestinians of their homes.

If you want property rights to be respected they should be respected for all people regardless of nationality. Laws and justice should be sisters but in this country they appear to be second cousins who refuse to talk with each other.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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