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Residents of Sheikh Jarrah celebrate Christmas despite ongoing settler expansion

23 December 2009


“Merry Christmas to all the Christians and Happy New Year,” Nasser Gawi after his first Christmas tree decoration.

On Wednesday, 23 December, residents of Sheikh Jarrah organised a Christmas celebration outside the occupied homes of the Gawi and al-Kurd families. At 11am two trees, donated by the Coalition for Jerusalem, were brought by the Palestinian community, and were continually decorated thoughout the day. The decorations started from handmade paper baskets filled with candy for the children, a panda bear and monkey toys, who had been living outside with the Ghawe family, and ended with streamers, tensile, and a bright lit up star. The best decorations were the Palestinian flags flowing across the trees.


The celebration started around 4pm and more than 100 people came to join in the fun. There were lots of media outlets that showed up and seemed to enjoy themselves; even with the constant presence of the settlers. Father Christmas made a surprise visit and brought gifts to the children. Peter McClowish, head of a local church in Jerusalem, gave a very moving speech due to the neighborhood being both Muslim and Christian.

Nearing the end of the party, sweets were passed around and everyone sang Christmas carols and the Palestinian National Anthem. The children spray-painted Palestinian flags on the gate of the half occupied al-Kurd family house. By doing this they covered up stars of David painted by settlers days earlier. This was not received well by the settlers, who illegally occupy the Gawi family home, so they added 3 more flags to the 8 already plastered on the house.

If only for one day, the community had a bit of normalcy and genuine fun.


Approximately 475 Palestinian residents living in the Karm Al-Ja’ouni neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, located directly north of the Old City, face imminent eviction from their homes in the manner of the Hannoun and Gawi families, and the al-Kurd family before them. All 28 families are refugees from 1948, mostly from West Jerusalem and Haifa, whose houses in Sheikh Jarrah were built and given to them through a joint project between the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government in 1956.

The ultimate goal of the settler organizations is to evict all Palestinians from the area and turn it into a new Jewish settlement and to create a Jewish continuum that will effectively cut off the Old City form the northern Palestinian neighborhoods. On 28 August 2008, Nahalat Shimon International filed a plan to build a series of five and six-story apartment blocks – Town Plan Scheme (TPS) 12705 – in the Jerusalem Local Planning Commission. If TPS 12705 comes to pass, the existing Palestinian houses in this key area would be demolished, about 500 Palestinians would be evicted, and 200 new settler units would be built for a new settlement: Shimon HaTzadik.

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. The plight of the Gawi, al-Kurd and the Hannoun families is just a small part of Israel’s ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from East Jerusalem.