Friday, March 5, 2010

Sheikh Jarrah

A neighborhood in East Jerusalem called Sheikh Jarrah has recently become the focus of an intense struggle between Palestinian residents and Israeli authorities and ideologically religious Jewish settlers for the future of this Arab community. A web site which mobilizes support for Palestinians describes the source of the conflict and the injustice of laws which favors Israeli Jewish citizens over Israeli Palestinian citizens.

"The asymmetric legal situation in Israel, through the Absentee Property Law, makes it possible for Jews to return to property that was owned by Jews before 1948 — while Palestinian property return is completely impossible. This is both unjust and unwise. In Sheikh Jarrah, this has resulted in Palestinian refugees, originally housed in the neighborhood by the Jordanian government after 1948, becoming refugees a second time. Of course, unlike the settlers forcing the Palestinians out of their homes, the Palestinians cannot return to the homes they owned before 1948 — not in Jaffa, nor in West Jerusalem or anywhere else..."

Yesterday I visited members of two families who have been evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that is only a few blocks from the Anglican Cathedral where I am staying. Where I stood with an international observer from Denmark, Miriam and Aiman and Nabil Said Alkurd was immediately across the street from the home Miriam and Aiman used to occupy. It is now the home of Israeli settlers who have draped the house with Israeli flags and who, while I was there, walked between us to the empty house Nabil built but is not allowed to live in. The home now occupied by settlers has been claimed as Jewish Israeli property. Both groups have deeds to the property and both claim the other's deed is forged. It is, obviously, a very provocative situation.

Nabil explained to me his history in the property where we stood and where they now camp. As a Palestinian refugee he came to this location in 1956 when the Jordanian government and the UN built a simple house for him and his young family. When he came, he said, there were only olive trees here. After 1967 and the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem he repeatedly applied for a building permit to expand his home to make room for a growing family. Like many Palestinians, however, these permits were never approved. Finally, he proceeded to build the addition without a permit. He has never been allowed to live in this addition and it is now claimed as settler property, although no one lives there.

Demonstrations by Israeli Palestinians, Jews and internationals have been held here each Friday for many months. A much larger demonstration is planned for this evening. Tension has clearly risen in Jerusalem in part because of Prime Minister Netanyahu's recent appropriation of the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem as Israeli national heritage sites. Clashes occurred yesterday between soldiers and Palestinian students near the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount and soldiers were inspecting all cars on the road outside my room at St. George's guest house, something I have never seen before.

I will observe the demonstration tonight. The Israeli court has so far upheld the right of citizens for peaceful demonstrations. 50 people will be allowed in the space in front of the house. The rest - however many - will remain at the top of the street leading to the evicted families and the home now occupied by settlers. If the police keep their cool and the demonstrators retain their disciplined non-violent approach, it may well be an important witness to the claim of many for justice for all the citizens of this land.

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