Sheikh Jarrah: The Holy City's telling battle on two fronts (Part two)

DAN-CHYI CHUA
Jul 21, 2010
*Special to asia!

For the Palestinian residents in this Jerusalem neighbourhood, the only things keeping out the extremist Jewish settlers bent on seizing their homes are their front doors. And often the doors are barely enough.

“My soul is still in the house,” he says.

In two weeks, Palestinian Nasser Gawi would have been sitting on the street outside his house for a year. He used to spend the night with his family on the sidewalk, but not anymore. Now they come in the morning and sit till night falls. Nasser, his wife and their four children, who are on summer vacation.

He remembers the date, August 3, 2009. That day, he and his family were from his house. The Israeli courts served him an eviction notice, saying he was squatting illegally in his home. Then the soldiers came, threw the family out, and Jewish settlers moved in.

 

Nasser Gawi's home was seized by extremist Jewish settlers last August. The settlers have been living in the house since then, adding the Israeli flag and Hebraic signage.

Nasser Gawi's home was seized by extremist Jewish settlers last August. The settlers have been living in the house since then, adding the Israeli flag and Hebraic signage.

 

The same thing happened to two other families in this area of Sheikh Jarrah in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Another 25 families here are facing imminent evictions as well.

These Sheikh Jarrah residents are Palestinians who have lived here in houses given to them by the Jordanian government, while it was still controlling this part of Jerusalem. After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel conquered East Jerusalem from Jordan, uniting it with the western part of the city it had already controlled. Many Palestinians retained their Jordanian passports, but were issued permits to reside in Jerusalem by Israel.

Through that war, as well as the first and second intifadas or uprisings that came after in 1987 and in 2000, Palestinians remained here in Sheikh Jarrah. But that may now change, as their biggest conflict with Israel arrives on their doorstep.

Literally.

 

If good fences make good neighbours, what do the lack of fences make?

The al-Kurd family have a house in Sheikh Jarrah. In 2000, Nabi al-Kurd applied to the Jerusalem municipality for permission to add new rooms to the front of the house. The Palestinian practice is often for the extended family to live together in the family home, which means they often have to build additions to accommodate new members.

The municipality denied Nabi's application three times, before accepting it, but Nabi would have to pay a fee of US$100,000. Unable to pay, he  went ahead and extended the front of his home. Seizing on this illegality, the Israeli courts took possession of his home last November.

It may still be argued up to this point that there was some legal justification, if it were not for this: The courts turned the part of the al-Kurd house they took over to religious Jewish settlers.

The Jewish claim to the house is murky at best, based on centuries-old Ottoman era deeds to the land retrieved from Turkey, of dubious authenticity. However, on a local level, this area is significant for them because an ancient Jewish holy man is buried here. And on a national level, Sheikh Jarrah is a crucial battle to regain Jerusalem for the Land of Israel.

 

Extremist Jewish settlers visit the part of the al-Kuds family home they seized and occupied, as their weekly sabbath approached.

Extremist Jewish settlers visit the part of the al-Kuds family home they seized and occupied, as their weekly sabbath approached.

 

Jerusalem for the Jews

It is the contention of right-wing Israelis like current prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Jerusalem should be Israel's undivided capital. That would include the predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem as well. The problem with this is that international law considers East Jerusalem as territory occupied by Israel from the 1967 war. It is not a part of sovereign Israel, and the Palestinians are seeking East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

While it is still maintaining control, what the Jerusalem municipality under Israel is doing is this: increasing the Jewish presence in Palestinian East Jerusalem. Then when the time does come for the Jerusalem pie to be split between Israel and the Palestinians in peace negotiations, Israel will get a bigger slice.

So part of the al-Kurd house fell into Israeli hands, when the Jewish settlers were allowed to move in. The al-Kurds are waiting for a court hearing to settle the ownership claim over that part of the house, but the courts have deemed it alright for the Jewish settlers to live there for now.

Moving the settlers in is the easy part, but trying to make them leave will be hard. It hasn't yet happened in the last seven months. Besides Israel has not forgotten the ugly scenes that ensued, when Jewish settlers were forced to evacuate from Gaza in 2005.

As a result, there is now this bizarre scenario where male Jewish settlers are occupying the front of the al-Kurd house, while the family that used to live there are now staying in the back part. All that separate them are two doors. The one inside has a wardrobe backed up against it, the one outside metal shelving with all sorts of things piled on it.

That is all that is keeping the Jewish settlers from breaking into the back part of the house where the Palestinian family lives, and taking the entire house, if they were so inclined.

The two feuding sides are now sharing a front gate, and opportunities for confrontation are aplenty.

 

A Palestinian House divided

The al-Kuds family pushed a loaded shelf against the door to the half of their house seized and occupied by extremist Jewish settlers.

 

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

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