Jen Marlowe is a filmmaker, writer and human rights activist currently traveling throughout Israel and Palestine. She visited the families who were evicted on Monday.
I heard the jangle of ankle and wrist cuffs before I saw them. The detainees (five Israeli, four Palestinian and four international) were being led into a small court room. One woman had a black eye. They had been arrested the night before at a demonstration against the eviction of the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem. At 5:00 Sunday morning, the families were removed from their homes by Israeli police, leaving 53 people homeless — 20 of them children.
After leaving the court, I walked to Sheikh Jarrah. It was easy to locate the houses. They were blocked off and guarded by police forces. I found the father of the Hannoun family, Maher, sitting on the pavement across from his home with his family, friends and supporters. A pile of thin foam mats were stacked up behind them.
I asked Maher the details of what had taken place the previous morning.
“It was 5:00 in the morning. A lot of policemen came with weapons,” Maher told me. “My son was standing guard outside. When he saw them, he came inside and locked the door. The soldiers broke the door to the gate, the main door and the windows. They got in by force and they kicked all the family out of the house. Seventeen people.”
Was violence used against the family members? Maher nodded emphatically.
“They hurt my son Rami’s arm and they broke the bottom of my 17-year-old daughter’s teeth.”
Twenty-one-year-old Rami’s arm was in a sling. The arm was injured, he told me, when the police threw him down the front steps of the house. “They told my niece that if she didn’t open the door, they would shoot her,” Maher said.
According to Maher, after the families were forcibly removed, their furniture was hauled away and unloaded behind the police station. The family was later able to reclaim it, but they have nowhere to put it. Their furniture now sits in an empty field nearby their home.
And where did the family sleep last night?
“Here, on the street.” Maher indicated the pile of thin foam mats behind us. “We have nowhere else to go. We will stay here, God willing, until we are able to return to our homes.”
Maher’s home already has new residents. Just a few hours after the family was expelled, religious Jewish settlers moved in. The U.S. strongly condemned the evictions, as has the UN and other foreign governments. But the condemnations didn’t hamper the settlers’ ability to enter and exit the house at will, under police guard, while the Hannoun family sat across the street on the pavement and watched.
In 1956, the UN and the Jordanian government (who controlled east Jerusalem at that time) resettled 28 Palestinian refugee families, including Maher’s parents, in Sheikh Jarrah. Maher himself was born in the home in 1958.
During the 1967 war, Israel conquered and annexed east Jerusalem. The eviction of the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families seems to be part of a larger political plan to Judaize the area. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz verified the plan when they quoted from a 2004 letter from Jerusalem mayor Lupolianski to the Housing Ministry in which he supported this policy, stating: “zoning the (east Jerusalem) neighborhood for a Jewish population is likely to contribute significantly to the unification of the city.”
The plan has been ongoing. Back in 1972, two Israeli settler associations registered the land in Sheikh Jarrah with the Israeli Land registrar. The settler associations provided documents from the Ottoman era to back their claim of ownership. A complex and protracted legal battle ensued, with the Israeli court system supporting the settler associations’ claim, though the Hannoun family and their current lawyer strongly dispute the authenticity of the documents.
“The Ottoman documents are false, but even if they were real,” Maher said, “there are so many Palestinians who have proof of ownership of their homes and villages from before 1948!” I understood the point he was trying to make; Jewish claims to pre-1948 land ownership were being upheld. But Palestinian land claims were not given any legitimacy.
What do Maher and his family want?
“We are asking to stop the transfer of refugees again and again. We had big hope, especially after U.S. President Obama’s speech in Cairo. Diplomats from the U.S. and the EU visited us and promised to help us stay in our houses. All the world was watching us but nobody did anything on the ground. Our big hope turned into big disappointment. And now we are sleeping on the street.”
Just then a cheer broke out from the crowd on the sidewalk. The electricity (which the Hannoun family was still paying for) had been cut. A moment of bittersweet victory.
The settlers’ electricity will be reconnected. The imprisoned activists may have already been released. The U.S. will most likely protest in sharply-worded statements, but not use any real leverage to shift Israel’s policy of changing the demographics of east Jerusalem.
And the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families will sleep outside again tonight on the pavement across from their homes.
– Jen Marlowe
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