Far from the media spotlight, a most absurd case is being heard before the Jerusalem District Court. In “the State of Israel vs. Diana Al-Kurd” the state is attempting to cancel Mrs. Al-Kurd’s widow’s pension because at the time of her husband’s death he was residing outside of Jerusalem’s city limits. Actually, mostly outside, since the Jerusalem city boundary passes straight through the Al-Kurd house – leaving part in Jerusalem and part in the Occupied Territories.
The house in question is located in Anata, a village that straddles the ’67 border. Like several of the buildings in East Jerusalem, the Jerusalem boundary passes through this village arbitrarily: in this case through the Al-Kurd’s living room.
The Jerusalem military commander during the Six-Day War, Shlomo Lahat, told me that situations like this arose in ’67 “because there was a tremendous mess” and borders were determined by drawing a straight line between two points without considering what lay in between.
The Al-Kurd family rented their house and before taking it, checked to the best of their ability that it was within the Jerusalem city limits, aware that over recent years the National Insurance Institute and the Ministry of the Interior had been revoking the residency status of people living outside the boundary. The apartment owner presented as incontrovertible evidence, the fact that the house was charged property tax by the municipality. He added that the garbage along the street was collected by the city. The family also approached the Anata Council to determine the village’s legal boundary and were given a map that proved that the specific street on which they rented the house was entirely within Jerusalem. They did not bother to ask the Jerusalem municipality since they knew that it does not supply answers.
In 2002 Diana’s husband fell ill and died, leaving a widow and five small children. The widow began receiving the legal survivor benefits. Three years later, in 2005, the National Insurance Institute surprisingly announced the cessation of survivor benefit payments, claiming that it had become clear that most of the house was in the Occupied Territories. The frightened widow hurriedly moved to another apartment, but soon realized that it wasn’t enough. Following her change of address, she is still entitled to receive child benefits, but not survivor benefits due to the boundary issue.
At present, the suit is being heard to determine what percentage of the house is within the city limits. The State, equipped with maps from the “Israel Cartography Center” claims that more than 60% of the house is outside the city limits. The family, equipped with UN maps, argues that more than 60% of the house is within. Regarding the Anata Council’s maps, the state refuses to acknowledge them. Since the court recognizes the authority of the “Israel Cartography Center”, the Al-Kurd family’s chances of receiving a favorable ruling are not too good. With respect to the claim that the family acted in good faith when checking the house’s location and the issue of property tax payments to the municipality, the state argues that the payment of property tax is not evidence of the house’s location and if the city illegally charged property tax, the family may demand a refund. In response to the charge that the city collected the garbage on that street, the state says that indeed this is true since the sidewalk is in Jerusalem, as is the front of the house. As aforesaid, the rest of the house is not! This is simply Kafkaesque, dreadful.
Israel State Map
Anata Council Map
Click here to large maps
Their instance is such that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The state – the National Insurance Institute, expends great energy and sullies the court’s time in a battle with a widow on the “principle” question of how much of a house is within its borders. Is there a more grotesque example of insensitivity and moral bankruptcy? Is there more persuasive evidence that the state has no conscience? The Al-Kurd case is a prime example not only of the inability to distinguish between the important and the trivial, but of the fact that not only have we lost our shame but also our elementary Jewish values. We have lost our sense of proportion and also our humanity. The state of the Jews is robbing a widow and her children of their lifeline and even asks the court’s approval for this. What has happened to the commandment not to torment or proselytes widows and orphans? Maybe the Midrash meant one will not be tormented as long as 60% of one’s homes is within the city limits?
Maybe those people who argue that this is a substantial issue are correct. In a state without clear borders, trying to move east all the time and bite off a little more territory, the question of borders is “the mother of all problems”. This issue has caused blood to flow like water. Thus the Al-Kurd house is the essence of the whole dispute, a metaphor for all the territories. An imaginary line crosses it arbitrarily and because of this imaginary line, the state bleeds Mrs. Al-Kurd and her children, who are all of our children in miniature. All the elements are present in this case – insensitivity, evil, an empty struggle about trivial matters, ill-treatment of the weak, etc. Perhaps, the whole discussion is not about the Al-Kurd home but the national home that we established sixty years ago. The question is not about the percentage of the Al-Kurd house here or there but about how much of our national home is in the moral section of the map and what percentage is in the dark part where evil and insensitivity reign. We have lost our sense of proportion and together with this our humanity. There were days when the lines were clear and we wanted to belong to the human part of the world. Now the boundaries are uncertain and most of our national home is within the borders of arbitrariness, insensitivity and obstinacy. The question is how we return the state borders to the enlightened part of humanity.