Sleeping on the Sidewalk in Jerusalem

Aug 08, 2009
*Special to asia!

Under the shade of an olive tree, an evicted Palestinian family is caught in a strange stand-off with the Jewish settlers who have taken over their home.

It is the fifth night the Hannouns and their small band of stubborn, steadfast supporters are sleeping out on the pavement, opposite what used to be their house. It is getting more difficult. Yesterday evening, the wind was relentless. In summer, the sun shines mercilessly on Jerusalem; but after sundown, the cold takes over and for the last two nights, everyone was wrapped in blankets by eight.

The tension is palpable. Neither the Hannoun camp nor the new Jewish occupants of their former home are at ease. There is constant police presence. Sometimes police vans drive up and do a turnabout in front of the Hannoun camp. Or they simply slow down as they pass within arm's length.


israeli police outside hannoun's home

The Israeli police keep watch 24 hours outside the Hannoun's former home.


The Jewish settlers took all of one hour to move into the Hannoun house on Sunday. Before dawn that morning, more than 500 armed policemen descended on the three houses in the

residential neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, the part of the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem that borders the ultra-Orthodox Jewish district of Mea Shearim, where residents still don Polish traditional dress from the 19th century and discourage outsiders from visiting or passing through.

Within minutes, the Hannoun family was out on the sidewalk. The police systematically entered the two adjoining houses belonging to an extended part of the Hannoun family, expelling everyone, including a 68-year-old grandaunt who was recovering from eye surgery and due to have her stitches taken out later that day. The Israeli police ordered her an ambulance, but she was too distressed to allow herself to be separated from her family. So there she remained on the sidewalk, behind a cordon, as the police emptied the three houses of furniture, and drove them away to the local police station for the family to claim.

The Hannouns have been living on the pavement ever since. This is their living room, where they sit and serve tea to visiting diplomats, international officials, journalists, locals, and tourists, throughout the day. Maher, the head of one of the three nuclear families that make up the Hannouns, is tireless in telling his story over and over again to anyone and everyone who comes.


maher hannoun

Maher Hannoun (front row, in the middle) explains the situation to visiting foreigners. In the background is the house from which he was evicted.


Ever since he knew he was going to be evicted months ago, he has been pleading his case to the foreign missions here, and in the local and foreign media. According to his wife Nadia, he even repeats it in his sleep – not in his native Arabic, but in English, the language he uses to explain his plight to the foreigners who come by.

This is also their dining room. Neighbours and relatives bring bread, hummous and other local dishes at meal times, and whoever is there breaks brea

d together, the Middle Eastern way. At night, this same spot becomes their bedroom. It barely fits the eight mattresses that, by day, function as couches and, by night, makeshift beds. Pillows are a bit of a luxury – there are two of them.


hannoun supporters spend the night with the family

This is the patch of sidewalk where the Hannouns have now set up home, with internationals and locals spending the night to express solidarity with the family, watched by the police.

Across the road, the Jewish settlers keep a low profile, declining requests by the media to interview them. They enter and exit their new home by the entrance furthest from the Hannoun camp, aware that less than a minute's walk away are infuriated and resentful people. Those who come and go are mostly teenage boys, no older than 16, with their yarmulkes on their heads and ringlets of hair swinging by their ears. It never takes long for someone inside to open the door for them, and to close it promptly after. Occasionally, one peeks through the gates, looking at the other side.


jewish settlers visit hannoun's former house

Throughout the day, young Jewish settlers visit the Hannouns' former house.


Thus is the situation that the two groups find themselves in, with an uneasy peace held only by the police’s presence and a determined effort by the Hannouns to keep it civil. Frustration is evident. A few times, someone from the Hannoun side crossed the boundary to push over the police-erected metal barriers. Soon after though, someone else from the same side would go over to put the barriers back in place.



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, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi