2 January 2010
For immediate release:
Israeli authorities continue to detain Ryan Olander, US citizen and solidarity activist, who was illegally arrested on 18 December 2009 for his support of Palestinian families evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.
Minnesota resident Ryan Olander is facing deportation after being held in Israeli prisons for over two weeks. He spent his Christmas and New Year at a deportation facility in Ramle, where his request for release has been rejected by the prison judge. His lawyer submitted an appeal to the District Court in Tel Aviv on 27 December 2009 challenging the request of the Israeli Ministry of Interior for Mr. Olander’s deportation. The lawyer is anticipating the decision of the judge within the next 48 hours.
Ryan Olander was arrested from a tent the Palestinian al-Kurd family built in their own backyard following a recent setter take-over of a section of their house. He was drinking tea and talking to the family members when six Israeli police walked into the tent and took him for questioning at the Russian Compound police station in west Jerusalem. Despite being released without charges the following day, Ryan was illegally re-arrested by immigration police only a few moments later, right outside of the same police station that told him he was free to go.
Following his arrest, Mr. Olander made the following statement:
“I have become a target of the police for standing in solidarity with the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah who struggle against the unjust and illegal evictions from the places they have called their homes for nearly 60 years. Now I face deportation from Israel.”
During the time Ryan Olander spent in Israeli prisons, the residents of Sheikh Jarrah in Occupied East Jerusalem have been subjected to further harassment and violence from the Israeli settlers and their supporters who recently took over the houses of several Palestinian families:
- 21 December 2009: An attack of about 40 settlers throwing stones at the Ftyaney family house left the Palestinians with two broken windows and fear of future attacks.
- 23 December 2009: Several hours of settler harassment following a Christmas celebration in Sheikh Jarrah included spray-painting ‘Death to Arabs’ in Hebrew, throwing fruit at Palestinians sitting in front of occupied al-Kurd house, violently pushing Palestinian residents and international activists, spray-painting one in her face.
- 25 December 2009: Around 30 settlers attacked the Palestinian Sabbagh family, breaking into their house and injuring seven family members. Two of the injured were cut with a knife and a pregnant woman, who was kicked in her stomach, had to be taken to hospital. Another family member was hit in the face and had a gun pointed at her.
- 26 December 2009: A group of settlers attacked Palestinians from the neighbourhood with stones. Three children and one adult were injured as result, and a French man who took pictures of the episode was violently attacked by a settler.
- 2 January 2010: A Palestinian woman, Nadia al-Kurd (65), had to be hospitalised with respiratory problems after being attacked by a settler in her own garden.
Background on Sheikh Jarrah
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.
So far, settlers took over houses of four Palestinian families, displacing around 60 residents, including 20 children. At present, settlers occupy all these houses and the whole area is patrolled by armed private security 24 hours a day. The evicted Palestinian families, some of whom 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 violent attacks from the settlers and harassment from the police.
The Gawi family, for example, had their only shelter, a small tent built near their house, destroyed by the police and all their belongings stolen five times. In addition, the al-Kurd family has been forced to live in an extremely difficult situation, sharing the entrance gate and the backyard of their house with extremist settlers, who occupied a part of the al-Kurd home in December 2009. The settlers subject the Palestinian family to regular violent attacks and harassment, making their life a living hell.
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.
The eviction orders, issued by Israeli courts, are a result of claims made in 1967 by the Sephardic Community Committee and the Knesseth Yisrael Association (who since sold their claim to the area to Nahalat Shimon) – settler organizations whose aim is to take over the whole area using falsified deeds for the land dating back to 1875. In 1972, these two settler organizations applied to have the land registered in their names with the Israel Lands Administration (ILA). Their claim to ownership was noted in the Land Registry; however, it was never made into an official registry of title. The first Palestinian property in the area was taken over at this time.
The case continued in the courts for another 37 years. Amongst other developments, the first lawyer of the Palestinian residents reached an agreement with the settler organizations in 1982 (without the knowledge or consent of the Palestinian families) in which he recognized the settlers’ ownership in return for granting the families the legal status of protected tenants. This affected 23 families and served as a basis for future court and eviction orders (including the al-Kurd family house take-over in December 2009), despite the immediate appeal filed by the families’ new lawyer. Furthermore, a Palestinian landowner, Suleiman Darwish Hijazi, has legally challenged the settlers’ claims. In 1994 he presented documents certifying his ownership of the land to the courts, including tax receipts from 1927. In addition, the new lawyer of the Palestinian residents located a document, proving the land in Sheikh Jarrah had never been under Jewish ownership. The Israeli courts rejected these documents.
The first eviction orders were issued in 1999 based on the (still disputed) agreement from 1982 and, as a result, two Palestinian families (Hannoun and Gawi) were evicted in February 2002. After the 2006 Israeli Supreme Court finding that the settler committees’ ownership of the lands was uncertain, and the Lands Settlement officer of the court requesting that the ILA remove their names from the Lands Registrar, the Palestinian families returned back to their homes. The courts, however, failed to recognize new evidence presented to them and continued to issue eviction orders based on decisions from 1982 and 1999 respectively. Further evictions followed in November 2008 (Kamel al-Kurd family) and August 2009 (Hannoun and Gawi families for the second time). An uninhabited section of a house belonging to the al-Kurd family was taken over by settlers on 1 December 2009.