|Date posted: February 24, 2010 |
By Hajr Al-Ali for MIFTAH
Imagine one day that your home is invaded and you and your family are forced onto the street. Imagine now, that others are allowed to occupy your house, one which has belonged to your family for generations. Imagine that every day since then, your family is subjected to harassment by both the police and the new occupants of your home; that the paltry tent you set up for shelter is repeatedly torn down.
For Nasser Ghawi, his wife, and their five children, this is not hard to do. First evicted in 2002, and after nearly a decade of battling in Israeli courts for the right to keep their home, they were once again forcefully evicted on August 9, 2009. Since then, they have been living in a tent across the street from their home in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Recently, this tent was destroyed by Israeli police for the twelfth time. Having personally met Nasser’s family, a group of friends of mine coordinated a small fundraising initiative to buy Nasser and his family another two tents, but to no avail. We learned soon after that Israeli police had confiscated both, one in the morning and the other in the evening of the same day. When asked what he needed, Nasser finally said, “Chairs. We need chairs to sit on.” For most of the day, Nasser sits in front of his house, newly decorated with Israeli flags, watching as Jewish settlers unabashedly go in and out, often stopping to verbally assault him and his family. Still, despite this, despite the verbal taunts, stints of imprisonment and violence from police and settlers – one of whom threatened him with an M-16 - Nasser refuses to leave, remaining on his property as a form of protest against the injustice of Israel’s “second Nakba.”
Refugees from the 1948 war, Nasser’s family is among those Palestinians who were evicted from their homes, mainly in west Jerusalem and Haifa, and relocated to east Jerusalem through a joint project between the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government in 1956. Now, after 53 years of building a life in Sheikh Jarrah, they are once again experiencing the trauma of Israel’s policy of forced homelessness through the state’s plan to embed a new Jewish settlement in the neighborhood. In all, Israel has unlawfully expropriated 35 percent of east Jerusalem for this colonial project.
Unfortunately, the Ghawis are not alone. They are among the 28 families in Sheikh Jarrah alone, including the Al-Kurds and the Hanouns, who – after battling settler claims to the land in state courts for 37 years - are currently living in makeshift tents. In December, nearly 20 settlers, accompanied by private armed security and Israeli police forces, entered the Al-Kurd’s house and began emptying it of the family’s possessions. In July, Israeli courts ruled that Maher Hanoun would be imprisoned indefinitely and his family forcefully removed unless they gave up their keys and left “voluntarily.”
It’s almost comical how Israeli forces throw around the word “voluntarily” and “choice” regarding Palestinians. When Nasser Ghawi asked the police where he should live after being evicted, they replied, “We don’t care. It’s your choice. You can move to Jordan, to Saudi Arabia. It’s up to you.” There’s nothing voluntary about being forced out of your home with a gun stuck in your face, as others are moved into your home by their simple claim that they have “rightful ownership of the land as Jewish people.”
The twisted reality of these families is written all over the faces of their children. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to go to school and return to a tent, next to the home you are barred from entering simply because another family and another child is considered superior because they are Jewish. Daily, these children witness the gross injustice of displacement - including the strain of financial loss and physical and social upheaval – leaving them the most vulnerable to family and community tensions. Caught in the battleground of their homes and suffocated by their tumultuous living conditions, according to Save the Children, these children have a higher likelihood of experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, somatic pain, anxiety, depression, delinquency and violent behavior.
Ultimately, the situation of such families is unimaginable for privileged outsiders such as myself, who are able to return safely to their homes. Each time I’ve visited Sheikh Jarrah, I leave with a rock the size of a fist lodged in my chest and my throat dry. The injustice is so blatant. As I listen to friends brainstorm ways in which we can provide assistance to the families affected in Sheikh Jarrah, I am infuriated by the knowledge that the neighborhood is amongst a long list of areas that Israel has targeted for expanding its illegal settlements through forced evictions. According to the United Nations, Israel has forcibly evicted or demolished the homes of more than 600 Palestinians, half of them children, in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in the past year. However, despite Israel's continued aggression, families such as the Ghawis, Al-Kurds, and Hanouns continue to resist, even if it comes in the form of flimsy, plastic chairs.
Hajr Al-Ali is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy
An independent, democratic and sovereign Palestinian state, which grants Palestinians their basic rights, preserves their dignity, and enjoys international recognition and respect.
Established in Jerusalem in December 1998, with Hanan Ashrawi as its Secretary-General, MIFTAH seeks to promote the principles of democracy and good governance within various components of Palestinian society; it further seeks to engage local and international public opinion and official circles on the Palestinian cause. To that end, MIFTAH adopts the mechanisms of an active and in-depth dialogue, the free flow of information and ideas, as well as local and international networking.
- To disseminate the Palestinian narrative and discourse globally to both official and popular bodies and decision-makers
- To empower effective leadership within all components of Palestinian society in order to enhance democracy and good governance and raise public awareness concerning the rights and responsibilities of good citizenship
- To influence policy and legislation to ensure their safeguarding of civil and social rights for all sectors and their adherence to principles of good governance
- To bolster MIFTAH's capacity and its capability to achieve its objectives and mission efficiently and effectively
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