By Gideon LevyDisclaimer
The Israeli national flag flies high, defiant and arrogant over the Palestinian home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. This flag has never looked as repulsive as it does in the heart of this Palestinian neighborhood, above the home of a Palestinian family that suddenly lost everything. The head of the house, Mohammed al-Kurd, died 11 days after the eviction. Now his widow lives in a tent. The house is reached via a narrow alley: Here Moshe and Avital Shoham and Emanuel and Yiska Dagan live happily. They are the settlers who managed to expel the Palestinian tenants and take over another outpost, in the heart of East Jerusalem. House after house, the transfer here is especially quiet: The media barely report on these houses of contention.
Israeli greed knows no bounds: It sends its tentacles into the homes of refugees who already experienced, in 1948, the taste of expulsion and evacuation and being left with nothing. Now they are refugees for a second time. Another 27 families here can expect a similar fate, and all under the aegis of the Israeli court system, the lighthouse of justice and the beacon of law, which approves, whitewashes and purifies deceptive and distorted ways of evicting these children of refugees from their homes for the second time. The family keeps, as an eternal souvenir, the keys to the house in Talbieh that was stolen from them and the banana warehouse in Musrara that was taken from them. Now they have another key that opens nothing: the key to the home in Sheikh Jarrah, which they received decades ago from the Jordanian government and the United Nations as compensation for their lost home.
The right of return: The original owners of those houses, the Sephardic Community Committee, has this right forever. There is no judge in Jerusalem who can explain this double standard, this racist right of return for Jews only. Why is the Sephardic Community Committee allowed, and the committee of Palestinians not? What are the tycoons and the politicians who stand behind this hostile takeover thinking to themselves? What is going through the minds of the judges who permitted it? And what about the policemen who violently evicted a sickly man in a wheelchair in the middle of the night, without even letting him remove the contents of his house? And what are the Jews now living in these stolen houses feeling?
White smoke rises from several corners of the empty lot a few steps from the American Colony Hotel. The lot was cleaned this week before Christmas. These are the twig bonfires on which they are baking pita with za'atar, heating coffee and preparing tea for the many guests who have come to visit the new refugee encampment. On Sunday several delegations of Israeli Arabs from the Galilee came to express identification with Fawziya and the 27 families who will probably soon join her in this tent. Israel does not like this encampment, the municipality has already tried to evacuate it. Photographs of refugee tents in the heart of the unified capital are not good for Israeli public relations. Such pictures, which have already been splashed across several international newspapers in recent weeks - of course not in the Israeli press, which turns a blind eye - remind their readers of similar tent camps, those of 1948.
The Arabic poster at the edge of the lot leaves no room for compromise: "Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is Arab, Muslim and Christian." The refreshment tables are full of the best Palestinian cuisine from the Galilee: labaneh, majadera of rice, lentils and onions, baked goods and more, including olive oil from the recent harvest. Guests mill around. Prof. Jamal Amro, former head of the architecture department at Birzeit University, attracts a crowd. The last time we met was in 1999, inside the American Colony. Amro told me then about his torture by Shin Bet security service interrogators, when "Captain Dvir" came to his home in the middle of the night and told him: "Say goodbye to your wife and children."
Amro underwent a terrifying, 25-day interrogation, including 15 consecutive days without sleep and a sack reeking of urine over his head. The Shin Bet tried to recruit him as a collaborator, and as usual all means were fair: "Suck, dog, suck," one of the interrogators told him, "many men are now doing the same thing to your wife." Captain "Martin" placed his foot on Amro's neck and told this professor and architect: "You're like a dog on the floor."
Amro, an impressive, refined man whose son died of cancer just a few days ago, compares Shin Bet scars on his arms with another visitor, a refugee from Lifta who was also tortured.
Print worker Nasser Ghawi, a native of Sheikh Jarrah, relates the story in literary Hebrew: He is 46 and was born in the house now scheduled for eviction. I was born in the house, he emphasizes, not in the hospital.
"The claim of the other side is that they came here 120 years ago, although our houses were built 52 years ago." Ghawi's family fled to Jerusalem from Sarafand (Tzrifin). In 1956 the Jordanian government and the UN Relief and Works Agency built these 28 homes of refuge in Sheikh Jarrah for the families of the new refugees, in exchange for waiving their refugee cards. Nobody can compare with Ghawi when it comes to telling their story in English, especially the events since 1972, five years after the capture of East Jerusalem, when the Israeli court declared them "protected tenants" in the houses that according to the court belong to the Sephardic Community Committee.
Because these families refused to pay rent to the Sephardic Community Committee and to the Committee of the Knesset of Israel - both religious bodies - which transferred the property to the Nahalat Shimon settler association, they were doomed to eviction. Just as with the more famous "House of Contention" in Hebron, there are suspicions of forged documents and biased judgments, Jewish tycoons and MKs who encourage disagreement, a nearby religious site (the grave of the Jewish saint Shimon Hatzadik, which Palestinians say is in fact the grave of a member of the Hijazi family) and nationalist motives - to "create a barrier" between Sheikh Jarrah and the northern Palestinian neighborhoods. But above all, the inequality in the discussion of the right of return conducted in the Israeli justice system cries out from afar.
Whatever the case, Ghawi's family was forced to leave its home in 2002 by court order. In 2006 they won the right to return to it, after drawn-out and expensive legal deliberations. Now they are once again facing eviction. Ghawi's father, Abd al-Fatah, 87, could be sent to prison, like the father of the neighboring Hanun family, who has already spent three months in jail for contempt of court.
The weather is deceptive, one moment sunny, the next moment the skies darken above the row of tents and a cold wind whips against your face. On November 9, the Kurds were evacuated from their home of 52 years, since it was built. Fawziya will never forget that night. "I wish nobody had seen it and nobody had ever experienced it, what I went through that night."
She is 56, a mother of five and grandmother of 16. She was born in the Old City, to which her family fled in 1948 from Talbieh, in West Jerusalem. In 1970 she married Mohammed, a refugee from Jaffa, and moved to his home in Sheikh Jarrah.
Their troubles also began in 1972. Since then she has seen everything. She says MK Benny Elon came to her house a few years ago, offering an enormous sum for the house. A pistol was placed in the yard in an effort to frame her. Dirty diapers were thrown at her doorway. The sewage pipe was blocked by her uninvited neighbors. She was forced to pay their electricity bills when they tapped into her meter. The settlers frequently held noisy parties in what had been her childrens' home. Fawziya says that since their eviction in 2001 there were new settlers every few months - Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia, Yemen, America, in her backyard.
The eviction: "Everything I had experienced until then was nothing compared to that night," Fawziya related. "They knew I had a sick and paralyzed husband." At 3:30 A.M. they heard knocking. She was holding a bedpan for her husband. Several dozen local police and Border Police officers burst in. "What are you doing?" she shouted, and then two police officers grabbed her arms from behind and dragged her outside. She says her husband slipped and fell off the bed. They took her by force into the street, far from the house, and dragged her husband to the neighbor's house.
Everything was left behind, all their belongings. Her husband in pajamas, she in a nightgown, that's all they had. "I asked a policewoman for water and she shouted: 'Shut up!' They were so violent, that's why I'll never forgive them. My husband was crying and they were laughing."
The next night they were already in the white tent. "Had you been in my husband's place, all his life in this house and suddenly in the street, what would you have said? What would you have felt? If you lost a cell phone - how angry you would be, and he lost his home. All his money and his entire life and suddenly he is thrown out into the street."
Mohammed stayed in the tent, but on the 11th day his strength ran out. He was rushed to the French Hospital in East Jerusalem, after refusing to be taken to an Israeli hospital.
"If they don't show any mercy to me in my home, they won't show any mercy in the hospital," he told his wife. A few hours before he died, Mohammed asked Fawziya: "If I'm discharged from the hospital, where will I go?" Fawziya says God took mercy on her husband and took him away. She says she would like to meet Tzipi Livni and Ehud Olmert, to look them in the eye and ask: "Why did you do this to us? Only because we're Palestinians."
"Close your eyes," she tells me quietly. "What do you see? Darkness. That's what I see." Since the eviction she has not dared to approach her house.
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