6 August 2009
The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, housing about 500 Palestinians in East Jerusalem is under siege. Armed forces have been stationed here since early Sunday morning when the Hannoun and Gawi families were forcibly evicted from their homes by as many as 500 police officers. Now it’s a waiting game. The families are sleeping on the sidewalk in front of their homes until they’re taken away by force. This isn’t the first time they’ve been made to leave their homes. They are Haifa refugees from the 1948 Nakba, what Israel calls the War of Independence. The UNRWA made an agreement with the Jordanian government (who controlled East Jerusalem at the time) to provide them with houses in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in 1956, where the families have been living ever since.
Since the two evictions on Sunday, 2 August, 23 people have been arrested, including members of the Gawi family. Two children from the Hannoun family were walking around with their arms in slings from being roughed up by the cops when they were dragged out of their homes. About 250 supporters, including members of Rabbis for Human Rights, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Hadash, Anarchists Against the Wall, and the International Solidarity Movement demonstrated outside the Hannoun family home on Sunday evening before more than 20 police officers violently arrested 13 protesters, most locals (both Israelis and Palestinians). All were released within 24 hours on condition they do not return to Sheikh Jarrah, for at least three weeks including those who live there.
Excessive Use of Force
A young man, not older than 20 suffered a leg injury during the eviction on Sunday. According to locals, he was imprisoned for six hours before he was allowed to seek medical treatment. The combination of tear gas and the pain from his injured leg has weakened him so much, that he was not even able to talk to us.
Charihen, 20, from the Hannoun family was hit by police with a rifle, leaving her arm in a sling. She is studying Psychology at Abu Dis University. On the day of the eviction, she was supposed to write an exam, which she missed. The only thing she was able to take with her when she was forced out of her home was a textbook she needs to study for her summer course.
Charihen says she yelled at the armed forces, asking why the Israeli settlers are allowed to live in their house. A policeman replied, “They are Jews, you are Arabs… So they can stay!”
Her mother wasn’t even allowed to put on decent clothes and was thrown out on the street in her pajamas.
Monday morning residents woke up to tear gas outside their windows. The police blocked the entrance to the dead end street where the Gawis’ old home remains. Locals couldn’t leave for work or school for at least two hours Monday morning. When some people tried to protest against the road closure, the police responded with tear gas and arrested three Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah. At least one was badly injured. Some more locals went to the hospital from the affects of the chemicals in the air, including six women. Hasib Nashashibi, a member of the Coalition for Jerusalem, mentioned that “red gas” had been used, which is, according to him, known to be especially aggressive. After asking another member of the Coalition for Jerusalem how they could use tear gas against civilians, she countered: “We are not civilians, we are Palestinians… They think of us as terrorists… Therefore the way they threaten us is barbarian!”
Court Hearings after Eviction
Saleem Hannoun left the makeshift camp outside his former house on Monday to attend a court hearing. The eviction order was addressed to his brother Maher Hannoun. He never got an eviction order, nor did his second brother whose home is on the other side of Maher’s. Yet the police broke the windows and dragged out the members of all three households on Sunday. Nine families in total between the Hannouns and Gawis were forcibly removed from their homes in this manner without ever receiving eviction orders in their names. The court judge ordered Saleem to bring his bills to another hearing on Wednesday. However, settlers are already inside his home. All his belongings have been thrown out of the house. Earlier in the day, Saleem was sifting through a dumpster for his shoes. He says the police dragged him straight from his bed without allowing him time to put on shoes.
“The Israeli government doesn’t think about us, all they think about are the settlers!” the member of the Coalition for Jerusalem claims. She mentions further that immediately after the evictions, settlers moved into the houses. The Gawi family watched as a female settler went back and forth from their house to the Hannoun house for one hour, trying to decide which she wanted.
Incident with Settlers
Around 9 pm on Monday, ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers attacked a handful of Palestinians sitting on the street. They threw stones and spat at them. About 100 settlers were shouting and swearing at the emerging crowd of local Arabs. One of the aggressors spat into the face of a boy who was no older than five years of age. Police arrived quickly and silenced the situation peacefully. Although the settlers had started the quarrel, only two police officers confronted them. The other 25 armed security forces and several cars separated the upset Palestinian community.
Jerusalem, the Island
The recent evictions are part of a plan to surround the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah with Jewish settlements, in order to separate the approximately 500 Arabs from the rest of the city and take control of the major roads in the area, says Nashashibi. This is an act of “separation, holding the land for false reasons.” In the end, there will be a long settlement straight through Jerusalem from road No.1 to Ma‘ale Adumim, the biggest settlement in the West Bank. This will separate Jerusalem from the West Bank. He believes they’re creating another island. “Hebron is an island, Nablus is an island, Gaza is an island, they are all surrounded by settlements.”
Although the United Nations special coordinator for Mideast peace, Robert Serry visited Sheikh Jarrah on Monday afternoon, Jerusalemites are still frustrated with the international community. They aren’t doing anything against the ongoing crimes against international law Israel is committing. So says a member of the Coalition in referring to the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory
“They should put political pressure on Israel about exactly these two cases!” and further “The international community must start seeing Israel as a state over law! Because what they are doing here is against international law, and they are breaking all the international conventions.”
In an official statement, Serry says, “I deplore today’s totally unacceptable actions by Israel” and further “These actions heighten tensions and undermine international efforts to create conditions for fruitful negotiations to achieve peace,” calling on Israel to adhere to international law and its Road Map obligations. Finally Israel must “cease and reverse such provocative and unacceptable actions in East Jerusalem.”
Similar statements came from the EU. “”The Presidency of the European Union reiterates its serious concern about the continued and unacceptable evictions in East Jerusalem, notably the evictions by Israeli authorities of two families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” in addition, the Presidency “recalls that house demolitions, evictions and settlement activities in East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.” The statement also noted that they “contravene repeated calls by the international community, including the Quartet, to refrain from any provocative actions in East Jerusalem.”
After 24 hours of silence about the recent incidents, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared: “I have said before that the eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations, and I urge the Government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions.” Adding, “Both sides have responsibilities to refrain from provocative actions that can block the path toward a comprehensive peace agreement. Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot be used to prejudge the outcome of negotiations, and they will not be recognized as changing the status quo,”
Passing by the entrance on Tuesday, 4 August, at 8 PM, the road to the Gawi’s home was again blocked by police. We were stopped from going through, although a man with long payis (sidelocks), wearing a long black robe and a black top hat was allowed through at the same time. Wednesday, 5 August, the road remained closed and al-Jazeera news network reporters were told they cannot enter without permits.
According to Hatem Abo Ahmad, the lawyer representing the Hannoun and Gawi families, when the Jordanian government built the houses for Palestinian refugees in Sheikh Jarrah the administration was supposed to transfer the property rights to the families within three years. This never happened. Instead, the Oriental Jews Association and the Knesseth Yisrael Association used Ottoman period documents to claim ownership of the land in Sheikh Jarrah in 1982.
Ahmad says he holds a letter from the Turkish government proving that there was no original document to the one presented by the settler organizations, which supposedly dates back to sometime around 1870. This evidence was presented to the court in March of this year, about a month after the court ordered the Hannoun and Gawi families must leave their houses by March 15, or they would be evicted. The court ruled the documents presented had come two years too late. The appeal had to be made within 25 years of the original claim to land put forward by the settlers. The Hannouns and Gawis were served papers on 30 July, saying they had 10 days to voluntarily leave their homes or they would be taken out by force. They have been living there since 1956.