Thursday, June 04, 2009
An East Jerusalem Story posted by Richard SeymourGuest post by Matt Kennard:
As part of their illegal "Judaization" of East Jerusalem (which is meant to be the future capital of Palestine), the Israelis have told the Hannoun's, and other families in the area, they will be evicted and their homes destroyed to make way for new Jewish settlers. A brave collection of international activists stay up to the small hours in preparation to document and resist the imminent confiscation of the homes, which is scheduled to take place in the period from now to July 19th.
Sheikh Jarrah is situated in a valley down from the American Colony hotel where Tony Blair stays in a luxury suite when he deigns Jerusalem with his presence as the Quartet's "Peace Envoy". When you look out of the Hannoun's window, Blair's hotel is 30m away; Blair can probably see the Hannoun's house during his morning swim. Before I contacted his spokesman he had nothing to say about the evictions. That's one side of the valley. On the other, the British consulate peers down from its high security peak. In the full glare of our consulate and our former Prime Minister a community is being illegally destroyed.
The Hannoun family have been the victims of terror for decades as they have fought off Israel's attempts to take their homes. Maher Hannoun, who is leading the resistance and speaks with eloquence and calm, chain smokes his way through the evenings as he recounts to anyone who will listen what has befallen his family.
Maher's father was a refugee from The Nakba (or 'The Catastophe' as Palestinians call the founding of Israel in 1948) when he was forced out of Nablus; his grandfather was forced out of Haifa at the same time. The Jordanian government gave them the houses in 1956 as compensation and transferred the ownership to them in 1962. Maher was born in 1958 so has spent his whole life, and bought up all his children, in his home. The Israeli settler company, Nahalat Shimon, backed by the Israeli courts, is trying to use a forged century-old Ottoman-era contract to claim ownership. Like all over East Jerusalem, the Israelis have also tried to bribe Maher with an open cheque if he goes quietly. He refused. "This is my home," he said. "I would never respect myself if I sold my home for money. They want to build a settlement on our hearts, on our dreams."
The Israelis tactics are what Maher calls "slow torture", and have included arrests, bribery and violence. In 1998, after Maher refused to start paying rent to settlers, soldiers came to his house, while his mother was very ill with leukemia and took all their furniture, including the bed Maher had pleaded with them to leave so his mother could die peacefully on it. In 2002, the Israelis succeeded and eventually kicked the Hannoun's out for four years, before they returned in 2006; in 2002 his two girls were 9 and 13.
Two weeks ago, on May 17th, an Israeli court told Maher that unless he hands over the keys by July 19th he would have to pay $50,000 and face an unspecified amount of time in prison until he pays the fine and agrees to evacuate his home. In 2008 he spent three months in prison in similar circumstances. Despite the pressure, he is staying resolute.
Across the way, and in the eyeline of Mr. Blair and our consulate, there is a makeshift tent where a 62-year-old woman is now living after settlers took over her house. Initially they only took two parts of her house so she was literally living next to them. Then she was kicked out. Her husband had a heart attack when the Israelis violently repossessed their house with the help of over 50 soldiers. After spending some time in hospital, her husband had another attack two weeks later and died. The family again refused a bribe of an open cheque -- in the millions of dollars -- from the Israelis to leave their homes. "I don't have a life now," she said from her tent. "With my husband and house gone, there is no life. I just hope with the help of God that this occupation will stop and we can return to our homes."
I walked from Sheikh Jarrah to the British consulate (it took about five minutes) and asked Karen Mcluskie, the spokeswoman, what the British line was on the ethnic cleansing of what is meant to be the future capital of Palestine. "The British position is that Jerusalem has to be the shared capital of two states," she said. "I think what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah is not unique sadly. There are a number of sites around Jerusalem where these kinds of actions are taking place – demolitions, evictions and settlement encouragement." She specifically asked not to drawn on what the British government is actually doing to stop this illegal and inhuman destruction of Sheikh Jarrah and, along with it, any hopes of a viable future state in Palestine. Mcluskie did concede: "The annexation of Jerusalem simply makes it harder to any reach a peace deal, it simply cuts off the options." After I contacted Blair's spokesman even the infamous Israel apologist said that "Blair has raised with the Israeli government," and that "it remains an issue of concern". I asked if Mr. Blair would make the three minute walk down to the Hannoun's to talk to them about their predicament, to which the spokesman assured me: "[S]taff from his office have previously visited families who have been evicted." Notice the past-tense.
Another place where the indigenous population is being uprooted is the Bustan area of Silwan which sits in the valley down from the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall. When I first arrived in Israel I went on the City of David tour, which functions as a three hour Israeli propaganda extravaganza (dressed up as an archeological experience). King David in Biblical lore is said to have been the first Jewish leader to settle the land in Jerusalem and his son King Solomon is said to have built the First Temple in the 960 BC (I learnt this with 3D glasses on in the initial video).
In 2005, some archeological finds purported to provide evidence that the lore was true. Now, the Israeli government want to turn the homes of the people of Silwan into an archeological theme park. 88 homes are due for demolition, home to about 1,500 Palestinians. At the end of the tour we went through the waterway that was built to connect the Old City to the spring outside the city walls. When I came out at the end of the tour, I didn't realize that the spring was located in Silwan. A few days later I went to the tent where the residents of Bustan are mobilizing against the destruction of their homes and realized, while watching all the tourists being bussed back up the hill to the "City of David", where I had actually been. Again, like in Sheikh Jarrah, the people are defiant. "If they demolish my home, they will have to demolish my body too, I will die for my land," says Zaid Ziulany, 54, who lives with his family in house "38" which is due for demolition. "Where are we meant to go?" he asked. "Should we all just sleep on the street?"
The most disturbing fact about the Israelis program is that when you look around East Jerusalem and the surrounding area there are considerable plots of land without homes. If they wanted to illegally build new settlements without kicking out Palestinians in the area they could. The targeting of Sheikh Jarrah and other areas is actually a process of racial purification, the transformation of East Jerusalem into a unified Jewish Jerusalem. As Maher asks, "Why can't they build a settlement on any other bit of land?"
The one good thing about the Netanyahu-Lieberman administration is that they are much more honest about their colonization program than their "centrist" predecessors. In the Israeli press last week it was reported that Netanyahu administration is willing to get rid of some "outposts", in return for continued expansion in East Jerusalem and "natural grow" in existing settlements throughout the West Bank. That was the same policy negotiated by Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush before the Annapolis conference in 2007. Netanyahu is just more honest in saying that it obviates the possibility of a Palestinian state. "I can't see how we can have a capital if there is no land, no houses, no people," agrees Maher.