4 August 2010
Dozens marched to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) headquarters in Jerusalem on Monday, August 2nd, to mark the first anniversary of the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Holding UNRWA to account
Representatives of the al-Ghawi and Hanoun families, whose homes have been occupied by Israeli settlers since August 2nd 2009, were joined by Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters, who gathered at ten in the morning outside the houses in question, held a short prayer, and then marched to the UNRWA compound.
The group of around sixty people, including members of the media, asked to be admitted for an audience with UN representatives. Family members demanded of officials why, after one year, nothing had been done, and Palestinians from the same neighbourhood who are facing eviction asked why they had been show so little support.
Some ISM activists accompanied representatives from the Hanoun and Al-Ghawi family, as well as from the Al-Kurd family – who currently remain in Sheikh Jarrah but must endure daily harassment and humiliation from settlers who have occupied the front room of their property – inside the UNRWA building to speak with officials.
Demanding long overdue support
The families made three principal demands of the UN: firstly that they provide the full financial assistance to which the families are entitled, and which they need to pay the rent for the apartments they have lived in since being dispossessed; secondly, that the UN help them establish and maintain a presence in Sheikh Jarrah as a symbol of resistance to the injustice of the situation; and finally that they provide UN flags to families in Sheikh Jarrah still under threat of eviction – as a sign of support and in recognition that international law views such evictions as illegal.
Eventually Filippo Grandi, Commissioner General of UNRWA, spoke, saying that the UN is working in Sheikh Jarrah and similar places such as Silwan, and is maintaining a strong presence as well as pressuring Israel to hear an appeal on behalf of the families and monitoring the cases of other families threatened with eviction. However, some ISM activists and family members felt that the UN’s response was unsatisfactory.
One member of the Al-Ghawi family – who have documents proving that they own the house from which they were evicted – commented: “It’s always the same, excuses, words but almost no action. Why can’t the UN at least show they are supporting us with something as small as a flag?”
The eviction on August 2nd 2009 was justified on the basis of the ruling by an Israeli court which recognized the settlers claim to own the properties, based on a document dating from the Ottoman era, riddled with inconsistencies. However, the American and British consulates as well as the United Nations, condemned the eviction. The court had refused to recognize the documents the Palestinian families had provided proving their ownership, granted to them by the Jordanian government and UN. Regardless of ownership their status as refugees also grants the families protection.
Under international law Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem violate UN Security Council resolutions 465, 242, 446, 452. All measures taken by Israeli to change the character and demographic character of Jerusalem lack legal validity and its policies and practices towards this end constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the protection of civilians in conflict situation
Despite this clear position, just last week another Palestinian family were evicted from their home under similar circumstances, showing that Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing is continuing. The attempted Judaisation of Jerusalem – spoken of explicitly by several settler groups – and its corollary, the expulsion of Palestinians, is a slow and insidious but ongoing phenomenon, which has been condemned by Israeli human rights groups ICAHD and B’Tselem as well as the United Nations Commission for Human Rights.
Later that evening the families hosted their usual Monday night community dinner and a drumming lesson taught by an Israeli samba band and attended by around 80 people followed.
Settlers could be observed filming people from the occupied houses. They also called Israeli police and complained to them that the road was being blocked. Police loitered on the scene for a long time but did nothing.
A talk was given by a Jewish Israeli professor from Tel Aviv University, in Hebrew and Arabic, analyzing the similarities – and difference – between the Holocaust and Palestinian situation. There was also a screening of the acclaimed film Bili’in Habibti.
Just before the projection of the film a settler threw a stone into the garden but no-one was hurt.
One ISM activist said: “It’s sad that on an anniversary like this, it’s clearer than ever that Israeli policy is not changing – a new eviction in the Old City happened just last week. These evictions are illegal, and create a massive obstacle to justice and peace, as well as on an individual level making families including young children homeless in a very traumatic way.”