Sheikh Jarrah: An introduction
This neighbourhood of East Jerusalem is a fault-line of Palestinian-Israeli tension. Twenty-eight Palestinian families, representing approximately 475 people, are under threat of eviction orders on their homes. The precedent has already been set: in August 2009, the al-Ghawi family was evicted from their home, and the following December, the front part of the al-Kurd family’s house—which stands opposite the al-Ghawi’s—was annexed by settlers. Two other families have also lost their homes.
The al-Ghawi family now lives on a tent on the pavement opposite their home, an act of protest that they say they will not abandon until they can return. Their house is occupied by ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers who make no attempt to hide their Zionist ideals. “We came here because it is crucial for our sovereignty over Jerusalem”, quoted a Jerusalem Post article. The Israeli government provides financial and military support for these actions; their goal to secure the possession of Jerusalem by effectively ethnically cleansing the Palestinians from the belt of neighbourhoods that surround the city.
At night, Orthodox Jews from other areas often come down to incite disorder, knowing they have the backing of Israeli police and soldiers. Zionist tour-groups also often visit the settlements; three days previously, this had resulted in violence, and one of these Orthodox Jews hurled a rock at a four-year old Palestinian boy, hitting him in the face, just below the eye.
As a result of this, ISM maintains a twenty-four hour presence, and so for my first night with them, I volunteered to be part of the night-shift there.
Arriving at the top of the road with Austin, another ISM volunteer, the street-lamps at the bottom of the small hill were extinguished; I had the impression of walking right into the darkness of these events. Opposite the al-Ghawi home sat several Palestinians, including Nasser, the patriarch of the al-Ghawi family. On the opposite side of the road behind a metal fence stood his house, draped in Israeli flags. I can’t imagine what it is like for him to sit here day after day, seeing the people who forcefully removed him from it now using his front door.
As one of three ISM volunteers present that night, I took the midnight to 3am shift, sitting around a small fire that provided some respite from the bitter, cold, winter’s night. I received quite a lesson from a couple of local Palestinians about their attitudes toward the struggle. In remarkably good English they debated about the path that the resistance should follow; one advocating armed struggle, the other stating that “there is no point when facing a huge tank with a Kalashnikov”. “See, there you’re already talking like you’ve lost” came the reply. What they have in common is that they show no fear in dying. “We have already lost everything, what is our life worth?” This generation of Palestinian youth is growing-up with little hope for their lives, a threat far greater than the loss of land.
The debate continued until after midnight, and I was then left the remainder of my shift to contemplate what I had heard. On the one hand, non-violent resistance seems to be making little headway in the path to peace. The strongest Israeli actions towards a resolution have included no halt to illegal settlements in East Jerusalem, and in the West Bank as a whole, “settlement freezes” are largely nominal, as numerous building sites testify. Yet any violent struggle legitimises the use of the already-present Israeli military force, and would destroy any notions of Western sympathy to the cause. The Occident already does nothing to reprimand Israel for its disregard of international laws and UN resolutions. Let’s face it, if this action was taken by any other country in the region, sanctions, embargoes and possibly military intervention would be swiftly forthcoming.
A gazebo is erected next to the al-Kurd house, in order to provide some shelter for those spending the night on the street, and this is where I woke. After little sleep, the relief came so that Austin & I could travel to a demonstration south of Bethlehem.
As we left, Israeli demonstrators began to arrive; every Friday they come from West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel to show their solidarity with the Palestinians. There is hope, I thought. If Israeli public opinion can be changed, perhaps some advancement can be made along the road to peace.
» A small collections of photos from Sheikh Jarrah.
A (very short) background to Sheikh Jarrah
The twenty-eight families living in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah are refugees from 1948, mostly from West Jerusalem and Haifa. Their houses were built in 1956 through a joint project between the United Nations Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government, who were then in control of the West Bank. The families gave-up their food ration cards, therefore forsaking their status as refugees, in return for the houses.
Claims made in 1967 by Jewish Settler organisations have since resulted in eviction orders being issued by Israeli courts. Their claims to the land are based upon falsified Ottoman-era documents, and any Jewish ownership of the land has been disproved by a document located by a Palestinian lawyer. Furthermore, a Palestinian landowner has legally challenged the setters’ claims, presenting documents from 1927 which testify his ownership of the land.
The UNRWA denounces these evictions, “[s]uch acts are in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law”. A United States State Department spokeswoman has also said they constitute violations of Israel’s obligations under US-backed “road map” peace plan.