[News] Sheikh Jarrah residents organize in the face of mass house evictions

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Apr 7 10:49:12 EDT 2009


Sheikh Jarrah residents organize in the face of mass house evictions

http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10454.shtml
Jeff Pickert writing from occupied East Jerusalem, Live from 
Palestine, 7 April 2009

"We are like the roots of a tree. The Israelis may cut us in places, 
but we will never die. We will not be transplanted from Jerusalem. I 
will not leave this house," Maher Hanun tells a crowded room of 
Palestinian community members supported by Israeli and international 
solidarity activists. Hanun is one of 51 residents of the Sheikh 
Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem living in two housing 
units that are facing imminent eviction by Israeli authorities.

The mood is tense as more than 25 individuals pack into a small room 
in Hanun's house to plan how to fight the house evictions. 
Palestinian residents, organized under the Sheikh Jarrah Committee, 
have invited solidarity activists to come and support their struggle. 
Internationals from more than 10 countries and Israelis sit in chairs 
and on the floor as Hanun tells them his story. After his speech, 
they divide themselves into groups to cover the two threatened 
housing units. Both the families and the activists gathered in 
support are determined to stay inside the houses as long as possible 
when the police arrive to carry out the evictions.

The people living in these housing units, belonging to the al-Ghawe 
and Hanun families, are due to be forcibly removed from their homes 
this week, as the papers from the Israeli court they were served with 
are valid between 15 and 22 March. The courts have justified these 
evictions by saying that the land that the houses are built on is 
disputed. Yet, the houses were built under a joint construction 
project by the United Nations agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) 
and the Jordanian government in 1956, 11 years before Israel occupied 
East Jerusalem. The houses were given to the families, both made 
refugees in 1948 after Palestinians living in what became the state 
of Israel were expelled and dispossessed during what Palestinians 
call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

Now these families are threatened with another Nakba. Israeli 
settlers that have moved into Sheikh Jarrah have falsified documents 
claiming ownership of the land. The Hanun and al-Ghawe families have 
presented their legitimate documents and an Israeli judge has not yet 
ruled on the legality of these papers. Yet the eviction orders are 
still proceeding, even though no official decision has been reached 
as to whom the Israeli courts recognize as the true owners.

Both the Hanun and al-Ghawe families were forcibly evicted once 
before in 2002, after which they lived in tents for four months 
within sight of their former homes. This traumatic experience stands 
out as a vivid memory even for the children of the families. As they 
brace themselves to be evicted for the second time, the distress and 
apprehension in both households is clearly noticeable. Family members 
have spent many sleepless nights waiting for the police, never 
knowing exactly which night they will come. Women in the al-Ghawe 
residence often recount how their small children were thrown from a 
second floor window by police when they were evicted the last time.

In addition to the al-Ghawe and Hanun families, 25 other households 
are also threatened with eviction in Sheikh Jarrah, though official 
orders have not yet been issued by Israeli courts. In November 2008, 
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article9978.shtml>the al-Kurd 
family was evicted from their home in the middle of the night despite 
widespread public support and diplomatic pressure from American and 
European diplomats on the Israelis to halt the eviction order. The 
al-Kurd family has erected a protest tent in the middle of Sheikh 
Jarrah from where they continue to demand the right to return to 
their homes. The Israeli police have destroyed the tent five times on 
the grounds that it is an "illegal structure" even though it is built 
on private Palestinian property.

Now, with the threat of removal again hanging over their heads, 
community members of Sheikh Jarrah are organizing. "Stop ethnic 
cleansing" is their main message to the Israeli authorities and the 
broader international community. These words can be seen on posters 
hung in the windows of neighborhood shops, on large banners over the 
entrances to the al-Ghawe and Hanun residences, as well as the 
T-shirts that organizers have distributed in the community.

This past week has seen a buzz of activity in the neighborhood. The 
Sheikh Jarrah Committee, supported by the Coalition for Jerusalem, 
the International Solidarity Movement, and other human rights 
organizations, have utilized a myriad of tactics to fight the 
eviction orders. Throughout the week, dignitaries from foreign 
nations, journalists, consular representatives from numerous European 
countries, and even Knesset members have all visited the homes and 
the protest tent to express their support for the residents of Sheikh 
Jarrah. The committee has held press conferences, demonstrations 
outside of court hearings and drafted statements condemning the orders.

The community also attempted to host an event as part of the 
Jerusalem Capital of Arab Culture festival at the protest tent on 23 
March. Israeli authorities have banned the festival in occupied East 
Jerusalem, yet organizers have continued to defy the ban in order to 
celebrate Jerusalem's rich Palestinian heritage. Sheikh Jarrah 
residents also gathered to protest the impending house evictions in 
addition to the increased repression of Palestinian communities in 
East Jerusalem. Police violently prevented Sheikh Jarrah residents 
from praying in front of the tent in conjunction with the festival. 
Participants were badly beaten and eight people were arrested. The 
following week, another resident was arrested by police inside the 
tent for refusing to take down a Palestinian flag hanging inside.

The Sheikh Jarrah Committee members view their struggle against 
eviction as part of a larger struggle against Palestinian 
dispossession from East Jerusalem. The nearby neighborhoods of 
Silwan, Beit Hanina and Shufat refugee camp are also facing 
large-scale house demolitions and evictions. In the al-Bustaan 
neighborhood of Silwan alone, 88 houses are slated for demolition. 
<http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10381.shtml>Al-Bustaan 
residents have erected a protest tent similar to the one in Sheikh 
Jarrah, and this model of resistance seems to be spreading.

For now, the families and supporting activists wait for the police to 
come each night. They take shifts to make sure someone is up in each 
house to alarm the community when the Israeli authorities arrive. 
Some of the family members have removed all of their furniture in 
anticipation of the coming raids, but they continue to sleep on mats 
in the floor. The message is clear: they will not go quietly in the 
face of this injustice.

Jeff Pickert is an American who has been working in the West Bank and 
occupied East Jerusalem for the past four months.



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