Monday, July 13, 2009

Demolishing homes, demolishing hopes for peace


POLICE moved against protesters who had set up a tent and photographic exhibition outside the Houses of Parliament at Westminster today as part of an international day of solidarity with Palestinian families facing eviction and house demolitions in Jerusalem. Later a group of young people attempted to pitch tents by the Israeli embassy, well aware that their action couldn't last long, as armed police guard the embassy, and demonstrations are never allowed in the gated road known as "embassy row" outside.

Today's day of action was called because 28 families in Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood are resisting Israeli plans to evict Palestinians and clear their homes to make way for more Jewish settlement. Two families , the al Ghawe and the Hannouns, were ordered in court on May 17 to sign a guarantee for 50,000 shekels ($12,600) and present a further bank guarantee for $50,000, the money to be taken if they do not hand over the keys to their homes, and vacate them, by noon on 19 July.

A settler organisation, Nahalat Shimon International, has been given permission to enter the houses, and to set about replacing them with a 200-unit development called Shimon HaTzadik. If the fathers of the Palestinian families do not comply with the order they will be sent to prison for contempt.

A Tzadik, by the way, (saddiq in Arabic) is somebody who strives to do righteousness, hence tzedekah, meaning both justice and charity. Not commodities in much supply in Jerusalem. Having unilaterally annexed the East Jerusalem area and environs, Israel is claiming the whole city as exclusively its capital, as well as surrounding them with settlements in such a way as to separate it from the West Bank and divide the latter in two.

Palestinian families remaining in occupied East Jerusalem, some of them refugees from Israel's creation in 1948, or the 1967 war, are resisting what they see as a policy that not only makes them homeless, but amounts to ethnic cleansing, dispossessing their people of what should be the capital of a Palestinian state. The neighbourhoods most severely affected are Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras Khamiis, Al Tur and Sur Beher however house evictions and demolitions are not uncommon in the Old City itself. In Silwan, 88 homes in the al Bustan quarter are facing immediate destruction in order to create space for a planned national park. In addition, two apartment buildings housing 34 families in the adjacent al Abbasiyya quarter have also received demolition orders. When completed, up to 2,000 Palestinians will be uprooted from their homes.

The families in Sheikh Jarrah have spent 37 years fighting legal battles for the right to stay in their own homes, in their own land. Israeli courts, including the High Court, have accepted the claims of Zionist settlers organisations, and ignored the documents produced by the Sheikh Jarrah community which clearly prove their legal status and the ownership of the land.

People who have lost their homes have set up tents to hold their ground. Hence the idea of asking friends in other countries to set up tents as a symbol of protest and resistance. Maher Hannoun, whose family is facing eviction, said:
"As refugees and people living under occupation, we are asking people to help us with our struggle for our rights. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Israel's authorities can get away with demolishing the homes of Palestinians in order to build settlements or national parks. The price we and our neighbours have to pay is too high, we are faced with two impossible choices - either we throw our kids out on the street or we go to prison. If we lose our homes, there is nowhere else for us to go, the only option we have is to live in tents.
International solidarity gives us more power and strength to continue in our struggle and stay in our homes. We need support from people around the world to let everybody know about our story and pressure their governments to help stop this racist policy of house evictions and demolitions".

Sheikh Jarrah is not some remote village, nor is it in some inaccessible war zone. World media organisations have their correspondents and their cameras in Jerusalem, and governments like Britain have their consulates. They cannot say they do not know what is happening under their noses. But will we see evictions and home demolitions on our television news, and will our government comment upon them?

Rather than wait for the media to report the news, people are turning to their own resources. Rather than wait for governments to act, we can give them a shove, by people-to-people solidarity initiatives. At a meeting yesterday in Portcullis House, Westminster, spokespersons for the UK branch of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Jews for Justice for Palestinians said they had tried various places for permission to set up their tent, but like the Sheikh Jarrah people's documents their letters were ignored. They were told the Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament would not accept anything of a political or religious nature, but hearing that someone had permission to erect a house there to draw attention to the issue of climate change, they decided to try their luck with a tent. Good for them. And for the young people who were determined to take their protest on to the embassy, good luck, whoever you were..

Hannoun family facing eviction:video:


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