Rachel Shabi | The Guardian
20 July 2009
Campaigners protesting at the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for a Jewish development today appealed to President Barack Obama to stop the settlement going ahead.
The families, who have lived in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood north of the Old City, were given until last Sunday by an Israeli court to leave their homes, and now face fines, arrests and eviction. The decision affects 55 people, including 14 children.
The families say that, as refugees from the 1948 war, they were given the houses in 1956 by the UN’s refugee agency and the Jordanian government, which controlled the area until 1967.
But the Israeli court upheld a prior claim to the land by the Sephardi Community Committee, which subsequently sold the rights to an Israeli construction company with reported US investment ties.
“They have the power and we could be evicted or arrested at any time,” says Maher Hannoun, head of one of the families at Sheikh Jarrah. “But I will never run away from my house. It is my job to protest my house and my children.”
Nahalot Shimon International, the company that the court decreed current owner of the site, has plans to build a new 200-unit settlement in the area – which would affect a further 20 or so Palestinian families.
“My children keep asking me, ‘Daddy are we going to live in a tent?’ What do I tell them? I tell them I have hope that it won’t happen,” says Hannoun, a 51-year-old salesman whose family is from Haifa, now in Israel, and Nablus, in the occupied West Bank.
The neighbourhood is close to the site of the Shepherd Hotel, where the US recently demanded that Israeli halt a construction project. Building has not yet commenced at the site of the old, disused hotel – a vast stone building and sprawling terrace, once owned by the grand mufti of Jerusalem and bought by the American millionaire Irving Moskowitz in 1985.
Yesterday, the Guardian revealed that 80-year-old Moskowitz is funding many illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel after the 1967 war – a move not recognised by the international community. Israel maintains the Jewish right to reside in any part of Jerusalem.
“It is not about the Jewish right to live in East Jerusalem,” says Meir Margalit, a Meretz party member of Jerusalem city council. “But about settlers who have come with a dangerous political agenda to ‘Israelise’ the area, change the demographic and in that way undermine any kind of political solution in the future.”