[News] Palestine - 1948 Again, in Sheikh Jarrah

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Nov 10 11:25:33 EST 2009

November 10, 2009

1948 Again, in Sheikh Jarrah

Heroism in a Vanishing Landscape


"Disputed” is a word often used about East 
Jerusalem and homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Would the 
international community have considered the homes 
of American blacks attacked by the Ku Klux Kla as 
“disputed”? Or those of Jews ejected by Brown Shirts in the early 1930s?

The rule of law exists to protect the victims of 
war and occupation by imposing sanctions and 
responsibilities on invaders. It is not to be 
stretched for the convenience of the US at 
Guantanamo, Russia in Chechnya, Israel in Gaza, 
or in East Jerusalem. Under the law East 
Jerusalem and all the Arab homes it contains are 
part of the occupied West Bank. Despite endless 
palm-greasing, casuist apologetics, semantic 
distortions and brute force, Israel’s 
responsibilities towards the territories it 
occupies remain articulated in the Fourth Geneva 
Convention of 1949 and Chapter 5 of the 1907 
Hague Convention IV. Occupying states are 
forbidden to seize the land and property of those 
they occupy, and forbidden to settle their citizens on occupied soil.

But Israel and its US patron have small regard 
for legal niceties, instead preferring 
Thucydides’ maxim: “The strong do what they can, 
and the weak do what they must.”

* * *

Late afternoon, October 16, 2009. Nasser Ghawe, 
46, barrel-chested, with an expressive face and a 
ready smile, calls out to his little girl when 
she strays too far down the street. “Come here, 
darling,” he says, scooping her up in his arms 
and cradling her. We’re seated on plastic chairs 
in the gathering dusk at one side of a street in 
East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The 
mother watches tiredly as Nasser talks with us.

The usual courtesy cups of strong Arabic coffee 
aren’t offered here; the family has none. For 
nearly eleven weeks they have been living on the 
street opposite the house that was theirs for 53 
years. On August 2 Israeli soldiers threw them 
out; minutes later, settlers from the violent 
organization Kach (“Thus”, founded by the late 
Meir Kahane), moved in and have been there ever 
since. And so the Ghawes are once again refugees, 
re-living a nightmare they had thought was buried 
in the Nakba. They watch from the street as 
settlers carry on life in their former home. When 
we visited, a guard hired by the settlers picked 
limes and gave them to one of the Ghawe women: “I 
am not against Arabs,” he said, “This is just my job.”

In 1948 Ghawe’s grandparents fled from Ein 
Sfarand near Lydda. Ein Sfarand was bulldozed 
into the ground along with over 450 other Arab 
villages. Pretty national parks and kibbutzim 
erased any trace of the traditional Arab 
architecture, agriculture and the rest of life 
which once characterized Palestine. Hebrew names 
– Lod, for example, for Lydda - replaced the 
Arabic ones. The Ghawes fled to East Jerusalem 
where UNWRA (The United Nations Works Relief 
Agency) housed them as refugees. In 1956 they 
returned their refugee cards and rented a house 
from a local Palestinian builder.

There they stayed in peace for nearly twenty 
years. In the early 70s settler organizations 
began trying to seize the homes of the Ghawes and 
those of over two dozen other Sheikh Jarrah 
families including the Hannouns who lived down 
the street and around the corner. For 37 years 
the families staved the settlers off in court. In 
2006 the Ghawes were evicted but settlers didn’t 
move in; the Israeli police simply put locks on 
the doors. The Ghawe family shattered the locks 
and moved back in. The Hannouns put up a website 
and appealed to the international community for 
protection. According to one of the older Hannoun 
children, 20-year-old Sharihan, some 1000 
internationals came through to sleep in their 
home, in much the same way as internationals now 
come to help Palestinians with their harvests. 
(The website - 
– gives essential historical background.)

When we visited, the Ghawe family was living on a 
plywood platform under an improvised roof – white 
sheets stitched together and strung up on poles. 
In the dim interior we could see mattresses and a 
simple bed. Children’s drawings were tacked to an 
improvised wall. There were also stuffed animals, 
a TV set on a card table, a generator, and other 
necessities of life – small testimonies to the 
family’s efforts to impose some normality in the midst of lunacy.

That afternoon Sheikh Jarrah looked like 
Williamsburg, Brooklyn – settler men strolling 
about in long black caftans, leggings, fur hats; 
settler women in long-sleeved shapeless dresses, 
wigs and hats. A special large enclosure had been 
erected for the settlers’ holiday festivities, 
its lights beaming across the area as dusk 
descended. Many baby-strollers announced a race 
to the finish with the arabushim. (The settlers 
address Israel’s “demographic problem” 
viscerally. Thirty years ago settlers from Gush 
Emunim – Bloc of the Faithful, the radical 
right-wing spearhead of Israel’s drive to settle 
the West Bank -- told me with pride that their 
own large families would win against the Arabs).

In 1979 I reported from Kiryat Arba, a major Gush 
Emunim stronghold. A settler interviewee 
whispered with pride that Meir Kahane had an 
apartment there. For the Gush settlers, Arabs 
were at very least inferior. One woman said she 
believed in a “chain of being”: on top, Jews. 
Then, lesser human specimens. Then animals, 
vegetables, minerals. Somewhere in the lower 
reaches of lesser humanity were Arabs. “Let them 
bow their heads. If they won’t, they should 
leave,” was a frequent Gush statement about the untermenschen.

At that time the Gush had just established a 
“squat” in the former Hadassah Hospital in 
Hebron. Miriam Levinger, the wife of the Gush 
leader, Rabbi Moshe Levinger, said the squatters 
were there to stay. Israel let them. Israel’s US 
patron did nothing but continue its usual $3 
billion annual largesse. Today’s visitors to 
central Hebron can observe the results: the 
central Palestinian market lies emptied and 
closed after years of settler pogroms. One of 
many hate-filled graffiti reads: ARABS TO THE GAS 
CHAMBERS. (For essential information about these 
settlers see the late Robert I. Friedman’s 
Zealots for Zion, Rutgers University Press, 1992, 
and Lords of the Land by Idith Zertal and Akiva 
Eldar, Nation Books, 2005, 2007).

Thirty years ago Kach was considered a pariah 
organization. (In 1988 Israel barred Kach from 
elections because of Kach’s stated desire to 
expel all Arabs from Israel. In 1994 the US 
declared it a terrorist group). Gush Emunim was 
also considered “lunatic fringe”. But Labor and 
Likud alike bowed to Gush demands, enabling 
settlements like Gush Etzion, Kiryat Arba and 
Elon Moreh – the rest of Israel’s West Bank 
“settlements” (whole cities and red-roofed 
California-style suburban sprawl) followed. “The 
lunatic fringe” is now the mainstream, dominating 
Israel’s armed forces and its political life.

* * *

Down the street and around the corner from the 
Ghawes we found the Hannoun family’s house. A 
line of Israeli flags fluttered triumphantly 
along the arch of its roof. A dark-green 
synthetic material hung behind a crude fencing of 
wire mesh, obscuring the entire front of the 
house. Through tatters in the green fiber we saw 
the settlers’ Shabbat candles glimmering. 
20-year-old Sharihan Hannoun sat on a lawn chair 
on the sidewalk with other family members. She 
wore a black, long-sleeved sweater, jeans and 
sneakers. A blue hijab framed a pleasant young 
face with dark, arching eyebrows.

Sharihan said the army arrived at five in the 
morning August 2nd. One of the police shoved a 
gun through a window. He shouted, “Open the 
door!” “They break the door,” said Sharihan, 
“broken everything they see, threw all the 
tables, the chairs, and then come to me and hit 
me with a gun. Even my little brother, they put a 
gun in his back. My father say, ‘Don’t touch my 
son, he’s only eight years old.’ But they threw 
my father and my little brother outside and then 
go to my mom room. She say, ‘Let me wear my 
clothes, I cannot be in the street in pajama
[But] they refused. And they let her to walk on 
the broken glass ‘cause they broken everything 
they see . . . I sat and I put my arms around the 
door. [I said], ‘This is my house, I will never 
leave.’ But [the soldier’s] body is strong. He beat me.”

In the street, their cell phones and cameras 
confiscated, the family watched as the soldiers 
displayed their “purity of arms”: they tossed out 
all the furniture. Then they began playing 
football, something that particularly astonished 
Sharihan. “They didn’t care. They kick us 
outside, they eating my little brother chocolate 
and playing football. My brother say, ‘I want to 
sleep in my house.” And I can’t do anything for him.”

The day we visited, the family had been living 
for two months and ten days on the streets, with 
periodic help from relatives (bathing, toilet, 
etc.) The Palestinian Authority put the family up 
in a hotel during Ramadan, then refused to pay 
anymore. On our visit, Sharihan had just returned 
from her classes. How could she study in these 
circumstances? A shrug: “I study in the street. I 
don’t have another place. I have to study and, 
like, have a normal life. I can’t give up. If 
they took my house it is not the end for me.”

I returned four days later to record Sharihan’s 
story. The next day she was to leave for the US 
with other Palestinian representatives of Sheikh 
Jarrah: all had been granted visas. Sharihan was 
to be interviewed by press in the US, and also to 
testify before the UN. Friends kept arriving to 
say goodbye and wish her luck. Did she want to 
stay in the US? “I want to return to my country. 
I want to open hospital, for old people. I think 
everyone forget what the old people do when they 
younger.” And how did the exams go? She beamed: “I am second in my class.”

* * *

Days after our visit, the settlers danced in 
triumph in front of their victims while the 
latter banged pots and pans to make them leave. 
The Jerusalem municipality has approved plans by 
Florida billionaire Irving Moskowitz, to build 
twenty apartments in Sheikh Jarrah. 
] The settler organization, Nahalat Shimon 
International, also filed plans this past August 
with the Jerusalem Local Planning Commission to 
demolish Palestinian homes and build a 200-unit 
settlement. On Nablus Road, not far from Sheikh 
Jarrah, I saw that one Arab street name had been 
whited out. All that was left was a Hebrew name 
at the top of the sign, and the English one at the bottom.

Ellen Cantarow, a Boston-based journalist, has 
written from Israel and the West Bank since 1979. 
This article is part of a series, “Heroism in a 
Vanishing Landscape,” about non-violent 
Palestinian resistance to Israel’s occupation. 
She can be reached at <mailto:ecantarow at comcast.net>ecantarow at comcast.net

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