Boston Globe Editorial Promotes Falsehoods Over Sheikh Jarrah Dispute

In its Sunday edition on May 23, 2021, Boston Globe columnist Abdullah Fayyad turns a personal account of the alleged seizure of his grandfather’s land by the Israeli government into a tendentious discussion of the Sheikh Jarrah controversy. In “I learned how to ride  a bike in Sheikh Jarrah,”  Fayyad conceals from his readers the Jewish ownership of the disputed Sheikh Jarrah property dating back to the 19th century that was confirmed in legal proceedings. Fayyad uses his false assertion of Palestinian title to the disputed property as a launching-off point to broadly denounce Israel.

The column is organized in a propagandistic format; the first three paragraphs repeat the accusation of Israeli theft of his land, slightly modifying the phrasing on each repetition.

  • Fayyad accuses Israel settlers of “trying to steal Palestinian homes” in paragraph one.
  • Paragraph two begins with “The land theft that is happening in Sheikh Jarrah and across Palestine…”
  • Paragraph three starts with “Not only did Israel steal my grandfather’s land; it has also stolen Jerusalem from me.”

Fayyad then generalizes the theme of theft to broadly accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing and instituting apartheid. He employs fashionable jargon like “systemic discrimination” and “repression” of a people because of their “identity” in a flagrant effort to link the Palestinian cause to the American Social Justice movement. Fayyad contends, “That’s what an apartheid state looks like.”

He also labels the Palestinians as the “indigenous” inhabitants of the land, implicitly denying the existence of abundant archeological evidence of the Jewish presence in the land long before the Arab conquest in the 7th century.

For the capstone to his piece, Fayyad inverts history, turning the Jews’ tragic history of forced exile and dispossession and enduring memory against the Jews.  

He accuses Israel of trying to “erase” the Palestinians, a charge that is refuted by the  expansion of the Arab population in Jerusalem, Israel and the West Bank. Again, he employs inversion and projection. For, it is the Palestinians and their backers the Iranian regime – who proclaim with increasing fervor their desire to erase lsrael.

The dishonesty of Fayyad’s editorial can be seen by contrasting his claims with a court confirmed history of the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute. 

1. Jews legally purchased the land in 1876

The land plots in dispute were purchased by a committee of Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews from Arab landowners 1876. The Sephardic portion was developed but the Ashkenazic portion was left vacant.   

2. The massacre of a Jewish medical convoy and the Jordanian seizure of land in the 1948 war

In April 1948, the Sheikh Jarrah area was the site of a horrific massacre perpetrated by Palestinian attackers of a convoy of 78 Jewish doctors, nurses and patients (while the nearby British troops watched and did nothing to stop it).

3. The construction of Arab communities on seized Jewish-owned land

Jordan seized Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) – including the Eastern portion of Jerusalem and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood – in the 1948 war, forcing the surviving Jews living there to flee. Their abandoned homes and property were given to Arab families who were resettled there by Jordan. The Palestinian Dheisheh refugee camp was constructed entirely on Jewish-owned land, two other camps also partially sit on Jewish-owned land.

4. Sheikh Jarrah’s recent history

At Sheikh Jarrah, homes were built on the vacant plot and the Jordanian government set up a leasing agreement with its Arab occupants. However, unlike other Jordanian land seizures, the Sheikh Jarrah land continued to be held in a trust for the Jewish owners.  

After Israel captured the land from Jordan in the 1967 war, the Jewish owners of Sheikh Jarrah reclaimed their property. A court case confirmed their ownership. Palestinian tenants have contested Jewish ownership, but the courts have rejected their claim.

Falsely equating Israel with apartheid and accusing it of systemic discrimination

Fayyad use his false account of the disposition of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to propagate bigger lies about Israel engaging in ethnic cleansing,  instituting systemic discrimination and repression and stealing Palestinian land. Each of these charges is refuted by well established facts.

The charge of ethnic cleansing is contradicted by the population figures. The Palestinian share of the population of Jerusalem has increased from 26% when Israel took control of the entire city in 1967 to 38% currently.  Arab populations in both Israel and the West Bank have increased by multiples in the last 50 years. In the Gaza Strip, the rate of population increase has outstripped both Israel and the West Bank.

The charge of systemic discrimination and repression relies upon a distorted portrayal of Israeli laws and a failure to recall the reason Israel imposed security measures in the West Bank, including requiring specific ID cards to pass into Jerusalem. These impositions stem from the relentless terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians during the Palestinian Intifada of 2000-2005. Fayyad apparently hopes Globe readers have a short memory or none at all.

Meanwhile Israeli Arabs possess the full rights and protection of Israeli law. Palestinians who are not Israeli citizens do not possess the same rights as citizens, but they still have recourse to the Israeli legal system as occurred in the Sheikh Jarrah property dispute.

The disposition of the Sheikh Jarrah dispute

In the Sheikh Jarrah dispute, Jewish title to the property was well-established and the tenants failure to pay rent was cited as cause to evict them. Contrary to what Fayyad insinuates, the Israeli government has not forcefully moved to evict them.  The dispute has dragged on for decades. The recent attention the controversy drew resulted from a further court ruling on the property.

While the disposition of the private property remains contentious due to the partisan nature of the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that refuses to accept court rulings, the charge of stealing or theft of land reflects extreme bias. The Arabs rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 and the Arab-initiated war that followed stirred population flight on both sides of approximately equal numbers. Palestinian Arabs abandoned their homes for a variety of reasons, the majority were not driven out by Jewish armed forces.  Jews throughout the Arab world were compelled to abandon their property and flee to Israel.

Israel resettled Jewish refugees while the problem of Palestinian refugees has been allowed to fester

The response of both sides, however, has been very different. Israel settled its Jewish refugees and helped them build a new life in Israel. The Arabs put the Palestinian Arab refugees in camps, encouraging their sense of victimization and desire for revenge and ensuring that the conflict would fester.

Israel has offered compensation to Arabs who abandoned their homes, the Arab states have not offered any compensation to the 500,000 Jews who abandoned their homes, businesses and savings.

Palestinian Arabs have filed 14,692 claims, that has resulted in settlements of more than 200,000 dunums of land.  More than 10,000,000 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) has been paid in compensation, and more than 54,000 dunums of replacement land in Israel has been given in compensation.

Fayyad’s distorted and anti-historical piece does a disservice to Globe readers who would like to understand the underlying elements that feed the conflict. Propaganda disguised as moral outrage is a sorry substitute for informed discussion.


1 The court decision reaffirming the pre-1948 Jewish ownership 

2 In 1876 Jews bought Simon’s Tomb and an adjacent field of 18 dunams from Arab owners. Sheikh Jarrah is in close proximity to the Tomb of Simon the Just, Ashkenazi half remained vacant, the Sephardic

3 In April 1948, after Arabs rejected the United Nations resolution to partition the Palestine Mandate, Palestinian attackers carried out a horrific massacre 

4 Ownership of much of the Jewish land was transferred to the Jordanian government, which used it to construct government buildings in East Jerusalem and to create the– which is built entirely on Jewish-owned land. In addition, Palestinian refugee camps at Qalandia and Anata were built in part on Jewish land that had been taken by the Jordanian Custodian. (See Arab Building in Jerusalem: 1967—1997, Israel Kimhi, p48-49; for Dheisheh, see also, from the leaked Palestine papers, NSU Draft Memo Re: Rights of Jews Within the OPT Acquired pre-1967.)

5 In 1956 the Jordanian Government reached an agreement with UNRWA to use the vacant Ashkenazi land in Sheikh Jarrah to build houses for 28 Palestinian refugee families. Under the scheme the Jordanian Custodian leased the land to the Jordanian Ministry of Development, and the United Nations (UNRWA) funded the construction:

6 Re-settled Arabs agreed to rental status:  The refugees agreed to pay nominal rent for a probationary period of three years and three months. Those tenants who lived up to the lease terms would be allowed to sign a long-term lease of 30 years, and after that a further 33 years.

7The Myth of Israel expelling anyone:  It must be stressed also that this is a civil dispute over ownership rights and rent, and the Israeli government is not a party to the litigation. Over the years some of the Palestinian tenants have been evicted over non-payment of rent, but this is a private rather than a government matter. The Israeli government is not evicting anyone.
Once the Jewish claimants proved their ownership to the Sheikh Jarrah land in court, they also did not try to evict the Palestinian families – they merely informed them they would have to pay rent.

In 1982 the Jewish owners sued the Palestinian tenants for non-payment of rent and the lawyer representing the Palestinian families did not dispute the Jewish ownership of the land. Instead, he worked out a court-sanctioned agreement between the Jewish owners and the Palestinians, under which the families would agree to pay rent and would be considered “protected tenants.” As such, they could not be evicted if they lived up to the lease, including by paying rent, and under certain circumstances their families could inherit their rights to the apartment.

Perhaps under pressure from the PLO, along with monetary inducements, most but not all of the tenants soon renounced the agreement and once again claimed they owned the units and refused to pay rent.

8So How does Israel Handle Palestinian land:  Property left behind by Arabs who fled during the fighting in 1948 (i.e., absentee property) was turned over Israel’s Custodian of Absentee Property, which sold most of the property to state or related bodies for public purposes, such as housing the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who found refuge in Israel. The Custodian held the value of the property in trust for the registered Arab owner (with adjustments for inflation and interest).

Those registered owners are eligible to file for compensation from the Custodian, but Palestinians were pressured not to make claims, lest that legitimize Israel’s existence and sovereignty. 

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