Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A day in Sheikh Jarrah

Yesterday, I sat on a patio in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem home for 6 1/2 hours. The home has belonged to the Al Kurd family since 1956 and they are currently being threatened with eviction. The father, Mohammad Al Kurd is partially paralyzed and suffers from diabetes and heart problems. In 2001, the Al Kurd family was away to get Mohommad treatment when a group of settlers broke into and took over a part of their house. Presently, settlers continue to occupy half the house that has a separate entrance and through the courts are trying to get the Al Kurd family evicted completely.

Context: Since 1948, East Jerusalem has been the Palestinian side of the city and West Jerusalem the Israeli side. Since 1967, though mostly Palestinians still live in East Jerusalem, the whole city is controlled by the Israeli State. The Al Kurd's story is just one example of the ways in which the Israeli State is trying to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem.

It isn't one settler family who occupies the Al Kurd house, it is a settler movement that occupies the apartment by shifting a different family in every month or two. In this way, if the Al Kurd family tries to bring a case against an individual who is occupying their house, they can't because by the time the case is filed, that person is gone. A neighbor asks, "What does a homeland mean to them? I don't know. But to this mother, Fawzieh Al Kurd, this is home. She got married here and had all her children here, and her grand children. Since 1956."

The settler movements want the Al Kurds and twenty-seven other Palestinian families to leave the neighborhood altogether, so they can build a 200 units to house new Jewish immigrants and a commercial center. One Palestinian neighbor said yesterday, "We residents of this neighborhood are standing by and supporting this family, because we know our turn is coming."

All day, I sat drinking tea and talking to neighbors, Palestinian supporters, other internationals, and watching group after group come by to learn about the situation-- a Palestinian boys summer camp, a French delegation from CCIPPP, and others. Many Palestinian groups came in support and to strategize- a man from the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights, a woman from the Palestinian Counseling Center, and a large group from the Coalition for Jerusalem. We looked at photographs and heard stories about visits from the Anti-Zionist Orthodox group Naturi Karta, representatives from the different countries' embassies and many other powerful individuals and groups.

The Palestinian families are fighting in the Israeli Courts, and soon maybe international courts. A neighbor expressed, "International law declared the Separation Wall illegal and Israel ignored that, because Bush/the U.S. condones and supports the Wall. Still, these international rulings will be a document for future generations. This [the Al Kurd house] is one small example of these super powers' declarations that it is okay to occupy, to colonize." Another Palestinian woman there in support said, "Isreali people believe there should be a solution to the problem. We figured this out a long time ago. But it is not in their hands. It is Zionists abroad who dictate what the Israeli government does. That's politics.... They want to ethnically cleanse us... but we won't let them. We want to live as Palestinians."

Internationals from IWPS, ISM, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, and others have been staying with the Al Kurd family 24 hours/day in case the military shows up to forcibly remove them. One Palestinian there in support said, "It is important for people [internationals] to come. Israel gets worried about this. They are counting on people getting tired." Another said, "Even if you stay here for a week and you're overwhelmed by the tragedy, you haven't seen anything. This is our lives."

Throughout the day I felt humbled and insignificant, with the strange knowledge that if by some chance the military showed up, my role would be to hand cuff myself to the doors of the apartment and refuse to leave. This was unlikely, and so really my role was to learn, on this patio that has become one of the most vibrant movement spaces I have ever seen.

Fawzieh Al Kurd, the mother, is originally from West Jerusalem which she was forced to flee in 1948. Standing on her patio amongst banners that read "We will NEVER leave" and "This is Apartheid," a neighbor relayed that Fawzieh often says if they give her back her family's home in West Jerusalem, then she will leave her house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. And I can't help but wonder- if my family was faced with such attack, would our home turn into a space of such steadfast and dynamic activism?


The back story [My information comes from a lecture given by one of the neighbors, other Palestinians there in support, and the press release about this situation. It definitely may have inconsistencies or incorrect information based on me learning a lot quickly, which I apologize for.]

The Al Kurd home along with twenty-seven other apartments were built in 1956 by the Jordanian government for refugee families from 1948. Jordan promised that in 1959, if they had lived here harmoniously, these Palestinian families would be given official ownership of the homes. If they went back to their homes from 1948, the apartments would be taken away. I believe that though they had lived there harmoniously, no ownership documents were granted.

In 1967, when the Israeli State occupied all of Palestine, two groups of settlers were successful in falsely claiming property of the land based on the presence of ancient tombs nearby. In 1972, two settler associations (including I think a religious sect that takes care of the tombs) filed suits against the Palestinian families' property rights. The settlers submitted forged ownership documents supposedly from the Turks during the Ottoman Empire (though, at that time no Jew was allowed to own land). In 1982, the Israeli government did grant the settlers ownership documents for the land; and the Palestinians were granted tenant/lease rights. This agreement was agreed to by a lawyer that was working for the Palestinians, though the Palestinians in fact did not want to agree to it. In 1989, the twenty eight Palestinian families got a new lawyer and there was a new ruling- "live in peace" - not sure what that meant. In 2006, the land registration department agreed to revoke the settlers' ownership, but refused to declare rightful ownership to the Palestinians. Still, around this same time, two settler associations sold their property claims to an investment company that plans to demolish the Al Kurd homes along with 27 other Palestinian homes to build 200 units for Jewish immigrants and commercial center. In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court issued an order to evict the Settlers who had broken in and occupied the apartment in 2001. The eviction order has not been implemented. Now, in 2008, there is a security force constantly in the neighborhood to escort the settlers to where they are living. And for a reason I am not clear on, the Al Kurd family, not the settlers, are now at risk of forcible eviction.


Some personal writing:

"This isn't a Muslim way to behave" said a Palestinian man of the Settlers. He is being threatened with arrest if he doesn't leave his home.

I wanted to say, "This isn't a Jewish way to behave either." But I didn't. For it wasn't about me, or about bridge-building, right then. It was about his home that people were attacking.

He said, "the police are always saying the Jews are the good people and the Arabs are the bad people... Any person who supports me and my family are good."

* * *
I spoke slowly to Nasser, a Palestinian man who owns a nearby tailor shop and also works with the Jerusalem Center for Economic and Social Rights. I asked if the settlers here physically attack the Palestinians like in Khalil. Andjelka turned to me and said, "say Jews."
"Say Jews. He won't understand the word 'settlers'."
So, I repeated my question, "Do the Jews attack you here?"

* * *
She fingers her prayer beads
black and smooth
in her hands
she strains them
and her face
full with fight
small boys listen
to their lives, their futures,
their legacies


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