It isn’t every day that a local title dispute makes the New York Times, but, hey man, when it comes to the Middle East anything makes it into the august pages of the Grey Lady, as long as the news can be spinned unfavorably to Israel, and favorably to Arab claims, no matter how outlandish. And so, unsurprisingly, the recent eviction of Arab squatters in a Jerusalem neighborhood, following a successful quiet title action by the buildings’ Jewish owners has become a Big Deal.
Case in point: the August 3, 2009, issue of the NY Times (Isabel Kershner, Israel Defiantly Evicts Some Palestinians From Their Homes, at p. A4). Defiantly? Golly. That sounds bad. But is it? Not really. Not if you get past the provocative headline and actually read the facts disclosed in the article that follows. The thrust of that article is that Jewish Israelis have filed a successful action to quiet title to some buildings in the Jerusalem Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and have won. The Times won’t have any of that. After all, when it comes to reporting from that part of the world, the Times takes it as axiomatic that the Arabs are right and the Jews wrong, especially when the Jews can be charged with being – gasp! shudder! – “settlers,” even where, as here, they are the lawful owners of the subject property and the Arabs are the “settlers” who grabbed those buildings by force of Jordanian arms in 1948. This title dispute may make for some politically correct copy, but if you are into property law, a whole other picture emerges, and you don’t have to look beyond the four corners of the Times’ own article.
Before 1948, the neighborhood was mixed – both Jews and Arabs lived there. But when in 1948 the Jordanian Army crossed the Jordan river and invaded what is now called the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Jordanians (or Trans-Jordanians as they were then called) drove out the Jewish population and, as the Times puts it, “gave the [Arab] families ownership of the houses.” Actually, what they did was to give those Arabs possession, not title. As the Times concedes, they failed to observe a persnickety detail; they “had not formally registered the building in their names.”
After the Arabs’ unsuccessful 1967 attempt to “drive the Jews into the sea,” as they were fond of putting it, the Israelis recaptured all of Jerusalem, and the day of reckoning came. The rightful owners of the subject building then sued to quiet title, relying on deeds in a chain of title going back to the Turkish Ottoman Empire days before World War I. Guess what? They won. Even before that, when first confronted with reality, the Arab occupants of the property conceded their lack of title, accepted their status as tenants, and duly paid rent to the Jewish building owners for years. It was only later that they had an epiphany and realized that their Jewish landlords’ deeds were – gasp! – forged. The problem is that, putting aside their inability to prove their contention in court, as readers trained in law know, you don’t get to win a quiet title action on the asserted weakness of your adversary’s position – you have to do it on the strength of your own title. And the Arab tenants’ belated claim of title was BS because, as is uncontested, they did not own the property when the Jordanians let them move onto it, and they concededly acquired no title to it afterward.
If that had happened in, say, Van Nuys, a story of this kind wouldn’t see the light of day, not even in the local paper, much less the New York Times. But as we said, hey man, it’s the Middle East where, as far as the Times is concerned, the Israelis can do no right and the Arabs no wrong, not even when the Arabs de facto concede they’re wrong..