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Police dismantle Sheikh Jarrah protest tent in east Jerusalem

Abe Selig | The Jerusalem Post

29 October 2009

Police and Border Police officers dismantled a tent in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Wednesday morning, set up to protest the August eviction of one of two families in the neighborhood’s Shimon Hatzadik section.

The tent, located across the street from the former home of the Gawi family, was erected after both they and the Hanoun family were evicted from their homes on August 2.

Police ordered the evictions after lengthy court battles had resulted in rulings favoring Jewish claimants who maintained that the properties belonged to them.

While numerous vigils and protests have occurred in the neighborhood since, the tent opposite the former Gawi home had also been a meeting point for left-wing activists and “solidarity visits” from European Union and UN officials.

Tensions in the area have risen as well, after a brawl broke out in front of the Gawi tent last Tuesday, and both sides in the fight – Jews living in the home and members of the Gawi family – blamed each other for starting the violence. Five people required medical attention after the clash, and police arrested five others.

Additionally, police arrested a Greek diplomat, Tina Strikou, in front of the tent on Monday afternoon after declaring that activists in the area were taking part in an “illegal demonstration.” Three other people, including Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann of Rabbis for Human Rights, were also arrested.

After last Tuesday’s brawl, MK Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) sent a letter to Police Commander Aharon Franco, along with Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, in which he called on police to dismantle the Gawi’s tent immediately.

“The tent is illegal,” Ben-Ari said at the time. “It’s where the incitement begins for these people to attack the Jews living there. It’s simply unsafe.” Police would not verify on Wednesday if the dismantling of the tent was in direct response to Ben-Ari’s requests, or if it came in the wake of the increasing arrests at the site.

A large police force deployed in the neighborhood to dismantle the tent. According to witnesses, police forcibly knocked the structure down around 10:15 a.m., and then left the area some 30 minutes later. When a few of the women who had been inside the tent attempted to set up another structure – this time a sheet and some poles – police returned and took that down as well.

Maher Hanoun, the father of the second family that was evicted in August, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he was tired and saddened by the entire situation.

“We need protection,” he said. “First for the residents of Sheikh Jarrah who are facing future eviction, and also for those of us who have been evicted.”

Hanoun, who has also been keeping a vigil outside of his home, just a block up the hill from the Gawi’s, said that the Palestinian Authority had been paying for a hotel room for the women and children from his family, but had stopped over a week ago, and his kids were again sleeping outside.

“We need the support of the [United Nations Relief and Works Agency] and the Jordanian government,” Hanoun added. “They are the ones who put us here when we were refugees, and now look – we’ve become refugees again.”

A number of homes in the neighborhood, which had belonged to Jews before 1948, were later seized by the Jordanian government under its “Enemy Property Law” during Jordanian rule in the area from 1948 to 1967.

In 1956, 28 Palestinian families who had been receiving refugee assistance from UNRWA were selected to benefit from a relief project, in which they forfeited their refugee aid and moved into homes built on “formerly Jewish property leased by the Custodian of Enemy Property to the Ministry of Development.”

The agreement stipulated that the ownership of the homes was to be put in the families’ names – a step that never took place – and court battles between Jewish groups who represent some of the former Jewish homeowners in the area and the current Palestinian residents have been ongoing, in some cases, since the 1980s.

“There are six additional families right now who are facing possible eviction,” Hanoun said. “And there are others after them. We are here legally, through the agreement we made with UNRWA and the Jordanians. They need to step in and help us, because we’re sick and tired of living like this.”