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Tensions escalate in Sheikh Jarrah as settlers attempt to provoke violence

23 October 2009

On Friday 23 October 2009, tensions ran high when 30 settlers conducted a provocative prayer on the street outside the confiscated Gawi family house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem. Several heavily armed Israeli police units arrived quickly thereafter but they did not stop the prayer until after one hour. In response to the settler action, the Gawi family and Palestinian neighbours put up a display of resistance by making noise with pans and horns which drowned out the prayer noise. Many internationals arrived on the scene to document the event and discourage any physical attack by the settlers or police. After the visiting settlers had left the neighbourhood, the police withdrew, leaving one unit on the street outside the house all night long.

Sheikh Jarrah - Gawi family house

The incident started at 4pm when a large number of settlers arrived at the house. This immediately sparked worries about a potential violent attack. The tension escalated at 5pm when 30 settlers exited the house and gathered on the sidewalk outside, in close proximity to the small tent just across the road, where the Gawi family have been living since they were forcefully evicted from their now occupied house on 2 August 2009. Facing the staircase running along the front of the house, the settlers collectively conducted a passionate and loud prayer. After about 30 minutes, they changed the prayer mode to singing and dancing in a ring. The one hour long prayer seemingly blessed and celebrated the Jewish family’s confiscation of the house, showing no sign of concern for the hardship inflicted upon the Gawi family.

A couple of days earlier, on Tuesday 20 October 2009 at around 8pm, the Gawi family were violently attacked by a group of eight settlers. In that attack, lasting 30 minutes, seven members of the Gawi family had to be treated in hospital for relatively minor injuries, for example a knife-cut hand, and their tent was vandalised. Six police units arrived on the scene but did not stop the attack, instead opting to first observe the attack and later arrest five local residents including members of the Ghawi family; three of them were quickly released but two remain in custody for allegedly attacking settlers.

The day after that attack, about 20 settlers arrived for a meeting in the occupied house, causing tension and anxiety about another potential attack. Relatives and neighbours of the Gawi family gathered around the tent, and organised a night-watch presence for the next couple of days, putting the family under an even bigger pressure as they were getting barely any sleep. Settlers are armed with guns and knives, while Palestinians are not even allowed to be in possession of kitchen knives.

On Sunday 18 October 2009, the police and municipality workers came to the tent and verbally gave an eviction notice to the Gawi family, ordering them to remove the tent before Sunday 25 October 2009. In response to this planned eviction, international activists gathered in the area, in order to discourage or document potential violence, as well as to discourage the eviction. As of Sunday night, the tent is still standing, however, according to the family and local residents, the threat is not over.


The Gawi and Hannoun families, consisting of 53 members including 20 children, have been left homeless after they were forcibly evicted from their houses on 2 August 2009. The Israeli forces surrounded the homes of the two families at 5.30am and, breaking in through the windows, forcefully dragged all residents into the street. The police also demolished the neighbourhood’s protest tent, set up by Um Kamel, following the forced eviction of her family in November 2008.

At present, all three houses are occupied by settlers and the whole area is patrolled by armed private settler security 24 hours a day. Both Hannoun and Gawi families, who have been left without suitable alternative accommodation since August, continue to protest against the unlawful eviction from the sidewalk across the street from their homes, facing regular attacks from the settlers and harassment from the police.

The Karm Al-Ja’ouni neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah is home to 28 Palestinian families, all refugees from 1948, who received their houses from the UNRWA and Jordanian government in 1956. All face losing their homes in the manner of the Hannoun, Gawi and al-Kurd families.

The aim of the settlers is to turn the whole area into a new Jewish settlement and to create a Jewish continuum that will effectively cut off the Old City form the northern Palestinian neighborhoods. Implanting new Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is illegal under many international laws, including Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.