15 December 2009
I’ve spent the last few days on night duty in an occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood called Sheikh Jarrah, accompanying two Palestinian families who have erected protest tents outside of their homes after they were forcibly evicted from them by the Israeli government and right-wing Jewish settlers.
The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem was built by the UN and Jordanian government in 1956 to house 28 Palestinian refugee families from the 1948 war. But after the start of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, some Israeli settlers began claiming ownership of the land the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was built on as their own.
“On December 1, 60 soldiers came to my house and smashed all of my furniture,” said Nabeel Al-Kurd, one of 28 families in the neighborhood who have either been evicted or are threatened with it.
“They pushed my mother and beat her. My mother is 85 years old. She was taken to the hospital. From then until now, everyday, everyday there is trouble – fighting and shouting.”
Nabeel Al-Kurd has set up a protest tent on the paved entrance that divides the front section of the house from the back section. Every night, he uses the furniture that was smashed by the Israeli police during his eviction to fuel a fire to keep his family and international accompaniers warm during the cold winter nights.
“We sit in this stand, right inside the gate, because we are afraid if we leave they will take more ground and we will lose the rest of our house,” he said.
The International Solidarity Movement maintains a 24 hour a day, seven day a week presence in the neighborhood because the families living there face daily harrassment and threats by the Israeli settlers. Israeli police and military forces also maintain a permanent vigil on the street.
The Al-Kurd family is only one of several families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that have been forcibly evicted from their homes to allow Israeli settlers to gain a foothold in the pre-dominantly Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.
On August 2, the Israeli Occupation Forces evicted two other Palestinian families, the Al-Gawi and Hannoun families, from their houses after they demolished the gates of the houses and forced the families to get out at gunpoint. Several of the family members were seriously wounded during the encounter.
Nasser Al-Gawi has also constructed a protest tent outside of his old house and maintains a permanent vigil across the street. Clashes between the Israeli Jewish settlers and Palestinian Muslims in the neighborhood are frequent and on-going. In the three days I have been in the neighborhood, I have witnessed almost constant harassment at all times of the day and night. The settlers hang Israeli flags from the Palestinian houses, swarm the neighborhood with dozens of young men, many of whom are armed, walk the streets with large, unmuzzled dogs, shout obscenities at the residents of the protest tents, and other deliberately provocative actions. Sometimes, the clashes turn violent. This morning, Israeli occupation forces tore down Nasser Al-Gawi’s protest tent (he later put up a new one and is still there as I write this).
Nasser, who has testified in front of the U.S. Congress about the situation in Sheikh Jarrah, calls Israeli policy in occupied East Jerusalem “the Judeazation of Al-Quds” (Arabic for Jerusalem).
“The name of the game is ethnic cleansing,” he told me while we sat in front of his campfire and shared tea around 1am yesterday morning.
“Israel wants the Palestinians out of East Jerusalem so they can claim the capital as their own.”
According to several International Solidarity Movement activists who have spent months providing protective accompaniment to the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, the aim of both the Israeli government and the settlers is to turn the whole area into a new Jewish settlement to create a Jewish continuum that will effectively cut off the Old City from the northern Palestinian neighborhoods. Constructing new settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank is illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Late last night a young Palestinian man wearing a red and white kaffiyah, baggy pants, and a sideways New York Yankees hat stopped by to supplement the vigil during the late night evening hours.
“My name is Abraham,” he said smiling. “You know the prophet Abraham? Well I am not him.” He laughed.
Over the next few hours, Abraham told me that he had lived in Sheikh Jarrah for seven years, and was now a cook at a nearby restaurant. He dreams of becoming a successful rap superstar.
“I want to have a good life, a good job, and a beautiful wife,” he said. “But all around me are walls. Everytime I climb on top of one and jump over, there is another wall in front of me.”