Maher Hanoun in East Jerusalem: "We do not want any tent – we want our home"

In the early morning hours on Sunday, Israeli Border Police broke into the homes of the Hanoun and Ghawi families in Sheikh Jarrah, north of the Old City but still part of downtown East Jerusalem, and forcibly expelled at gunpoint three families from one building (only one of them was under court expulsion order) and four from another (there, only one was under court expulsion order).

Over 50 Palestinian refugees (from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war) immediately became homeless, with nowhere to go. No provisions were made to care for their household possessions or to shelter them by the Israeli authorities who have administered the area since their conquest in the June 1967 war, and who had ordered the expulsions to be carried out.

Sunday night, the Hanoun and Ghawi families were out on the streets. “The Red Cross came and offered us tents”, said Maher Hanoun, “But we do not want any tent. We do not want rations of rice and sugar. We want to return to our home”.

Just after the eviction operation, settlers moved in, protected by the Israeli Border Police.

Israeli settlers move into Hanoun home in Sheikh Jarrah - 2 August 2009

They were religious-nationalist Jewish settlers who are probably but not necessarily Israeli (they could, for example, be American citizens, or of some other nationality, and not necessarily even immigrants) immediately moved into both homes. The settlers were busy setting up house behind Israeli police barricades inside the confiscated Palestinian homes.

From inside the Hanoun house, where only a few weeks ago a banner with the image of U.S. President Barack Obama and an adaptation of his winning presidential campaign slogan, “Yes, you can”, had been strung up on the front of the building next to the banner printed by the neighborhood committee, reading “Stop Ethnic Cleansing in East Jerusalem” the sound of electric drilling and hammering could clearly be heard for a couple of hundred meters on Sunday night.

After rejecting a series of appeals in a complicated legal case, in which Jewish settler organizations claimed properties that they said had been purchased by Jews since around 1985, under the Ottoman Empire which ruled the whole region for over 400 years, but which then fell under Jordanian administration as a result of the division of Jerusalem in the war that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The Jordanian administration had allocated the land to UNRWA, the UN Agency set up to help Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, so that homes could be built for Palestinian refugees from that war. In recent years, a Palestinian individual, Suleiman Darwish Hijazi had claimed that the land was really his. The Israeli Supreme Court had not supported his claim, and earlier this year had also rejected documents from Turkish Authorities in charge of the Ottoman archives stating that there was no Jewish claim to those specific properties on record in the Ottoman archives — and the Court set a deadline of 19 July for the two families to leave their homes.

Since then, as we reported earlier here , Palestinian residents who happen to be registered Palestinian refugees, and who had been living for five decades in several places in the Sheikh Jarrah quarter of East Jerusalem, north of the Old City, had been in a state of dread and anxiety, hoping that diplomatic pressure from the United States and European countries would save them, but fearing that they were each about to become yet one more symbol, carrying the burden of the entire Palestinian national cause in an international, diplomatic, and moral vacuum.

Hatem Abdel Qader, an East Jerusalem resident and long time activist who is a member of the Palestinian Fatah faction, arrived on Sunday morning with a group of Palestinian schoolchildren to lead an impromptu protest demonstration. He vowed to journalists that the issue of East Jerusalem would be put on the agenda as a top priority during the long-delayed Fatah General Conference that will convene in occupied Bethlehem on Tuesday. Abdel Qader had been an adviser on Jerusalem to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for most of the past year, but he was recently sworn by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister for Jerusalem Affairs. However, he resigned within weeks, charging that he found a lack of financial support from the Ramallah-based PA for defense of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

Adnan Husseini was on the scene on Sunday evening, coolly surveying the action and denouncing the Israeli actions. He said that the international community should consider sanctions against Israel to roll back these evictions, because “nothing else worked”.

Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat issued a statement Sunday evening saying that “the evictions are part of a dangerous plan to encircle the Old City with Israeli settlements, isolating it from other Palestinian neighborhoods and creating facts on the ground to preempt the outcome of final status negotiations. The international community must act decisively, in line with international law, against these Israeli measures that threaten the viability of a two-state solution. The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood is where most foreign consulates and international organizations in Jerusalem are located. Nobody can say that they didn’t see these outrageous actions coming; now is time to act.”

There was no statement from the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, nor from the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad.

The Hanoun and Ghawi families were forcibly dragged from their homes at gunpoint and quite literally thrown out on the streets, with their furniture, at 5 am on Sunday morning. They said they had nowhere to go, and had refused Red Cross offers of tents.

Maher Hanoun said that he wanted to put his furniture on a neighbors’ land, but that the Israeli police would not allow this without seeing documents proving the ownership of that land and the assent of the owner to the move. So, he said, he moved the furniture to a plot of empty land that was near to, and that may also belong to his aunt, next to the British consulate, up the hill along the winding Nablus Road. “But I don’t care about the furniture, I want to return home”, he stated, drinking tea from a small glass offered by a neighbor, but in what appeared to be a complete state of shock.

“Can you imagine what I feel, not being able to protect my wife and my children?”, he asked in a flat tone of voice.

A young teenage son of Maher Hanoun had a fractured arm, which was in a cast and a sling, as a result of the force used in the eviction by the Israeli Border Police. He landed roughly on the front steps of his home. A daughter of Maher Hanoun had a similar injury from the eviction, which Hanoun said came as Israeli Border Police threatened to shoot if she didn’t open the door immediately, then pushed forcefully; but he said his daughter was refusing to see a doctor on Sunday.

Nasser Ghawi said on the sidewalk Sunday night that Israeli border police had used small explosives to break down his door before dawn. According to the Israeli court decision, only his 85-year-old father’s home was ordered evicted, Ghawi added.

In the same pre-dawn operation on Sunday morning, the Israeli troops tore down the tent that Um-Kamel al-Kurd has been living in since she was handcuffed and forcibly evicted from her home, in the middle of the night, in Sheikh Jarrah, last November. Her disabled and ailing husband died of a heart attack within ten days of the couple’s expulsion.

“This is another nakba”, he said, using the Arabic word for the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians, and the displacement of tens of thousands more, during the 1948 war. The Israeli Knesset has been debating this year various proposed laws to punish the use of this term inside Israel,and/or any annual commemoration of the event on a day that would be fall simultaneously with the date on which Israel celebrates its independence, according to the Jewish calendar.

Hanoun said that somebody named Kyler from the American Consulate, who had been following the case, had arrived by 6 am, within an hour of the forcible evictions on Sunday morning.

On Sunday night, a reinforced contingent of a dozen or so more Israeli and international demonstrators arrived around 6 pm, and were noisily but non-violently protesting the evictions.

American, UN, and European diplomats (from Czech Republic and Sweden, the current and next European Union Presidents) had come during the day to see what had happened. By 8 p.m., there was real tension. A settler youth wearing a big black motorcycle helmet as a bizzare accessory to his white shirt and trousers had waded into a group of international and Israeli protestors who said they were from “leftist” groups.

As a half dozen of his male friends or supporters huddled in a group across the street, behind the police, across the street from the barricades in front of the Hanoun home, the settler wearing the oversized black motorcycle helmet he took pictures of the demonstrators, and news photographers and demonstrators took his picture back..

After some milling around, during which the protesters, the Border Police, and a number of neighborhood children were all mingling in the middle of the road which, exceptionally for this type of operation, had not been blocked off with police barricades to prevent pedestrian and vehicular traffic, the Israeli demonstrators were pushed across the street from the Hanoun house, where they lined up nicely along the sidewalk, in front of neighboring homes.

They began chanting in English and in Hebrew, denouncing the settlers as thieves, and saying that Israel was a racist state “Ethnic cleansing is a crime – Freedom for Palestine!”, they shouted in English. “1, 2, 3, 4, occupation no more” and “5, 6, 7, 8, Israel is a racist state”, they chanted. In Hebrew, according to one woman demonstrator standing silently across the street holding a cardboard poster with Hebrew writing, the demonstrators were shouting to the settlers inside the house: “You’re a thief!”

She had, at first, indicated that she didn’t speak enough English to answer my questions. Then, the woman explained that the Israeli demonstrators were from several Israeli leftist groups, maybe including the Tel-Aviv-based “Anarchists against the Wall”, but, she added: “I’m not an anarchist, but I don’t agree with stealing Palestinian property”.

The Border Police gave the demonstrators a five-minute warning to disperse (it was the second warning, news photographers on the scene said). Then the police moved, picking out demonstrators and dragging them to waiting police vans. They had specific targets. They had not even bothered to block traffic, as they usually do when they are operating in Palestinian neighborhoods. Batons flashed up and down, and men and women were screaming. At least one of the neighborhood Palestinian children appeared to have also been forced into a police van with the demonstrators.

By about 9pm, an order had been given for their arrest. The protestors were clobbered on the street, and most of them dragged on the road, before being taken into custody and thrown into vans by Israeli Border police. They remain in jail overnight.

The first to be arrested was a young Israeli man with curly black hair in a red t-shirt and knee length shorts, who had taken the protest banner out of the hands of the Israeli woman who had answered my questions just minutes earlier. His shock and surprise was palpable, as two olive-uniformed Border Police grabbed him by either elbow and escorted him towards the waiting vans. The, other police moved in to seize other targets who had apparently been individually selected by a commander.

During the arrest operation – but not before, which was another surprising breach of the normal security procedures — the Border Police ordered the neighborhood Palestinians into their homes (and the Palestinians obediently and prudently ducked right back inside their painted metal gate entrances that bordered right on the sidewalk).

Then the police also began pushing around the few journalists present on the scene, including this one.

After the protestors were wrestled and beaten and pushed and thrown into the vans, they were all driven away, and there was no more immediate resistance.

But more Border Police had shown up to form a solid line in front of the police barricades. These troop reinforcements carried big black weapons.

Earlier on Sunday, at about 6 am, within an hour of the evictions, the British consulate in East Jerusalem had issued a statement saying that it was “appalled” by the evictions. The statement noted that “Britain does not accept Israel’s claim that its courts are preventing radical settlers from entering Arab neighborhoods”, and it added that “the evacuation and such moves come in contrast with Israel’s declarations regarding its desire to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The British statement also called on Israel not to allow extremists to control the government’s agenda”.

UNRWA spokesperson Christopher Gunness told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper that “Police arrived before dawn and cordoned off part of the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah before forcibly removing more than 50 people”. He added that UN staff later saw vehicles bringing Jewish residents to occupy the homes. The Haaretz report can be read in full here.

The Israeli organization Ir-Amim, which works for an equitable sharing of Jerusalem among its two peoples and three religions, said that the two evictions were “a dangerous move” that “will have grave consequences on the stability of the city and on its political future”. The move is “designed to permit the expansion of the existing Jewish settlement in the area”, Ir-Amim said. “In contrast to what has been claimed, the families of al-Hannoun and Ghawi, like the other Palestinian families that live in this compound, did not squat in these houses, but rather have been living in them since the 1950s, as a result of an official decision of the Jordanian government .. The State of Israel needs to reconsider the future consequences of this process, which allows Jews to claim ownership of property that belonged to them before 1948, but prevents the same claims from being realized by Palestinian residents. A general opening of ownership cases – Jews and Palestinians – from before 1948 could place the State of Israel in an impossible predicament in Jerusalem”.

The International Solidarity Movement sent out an email press release quoting Maher Hanoun as saying that “Despite condemnation from the international community about the evictions of my neighborhood, Sheikh Jarrah, the Israeli government continues to pursue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem. My family were refugees from 1948 and now we have become refugees again. We were forced out of homes to make way for settlers, contrary to international law. The legal case that residents presented in court
included an Ottoman-era document which discounts the settler associations claim of ownership over Sheikh Jarrah land and homes”.

Jody McIntyre, a British solidarity activist who had apparently been staying in the Hanoun house in anticipation of the evictions, added, according to the ISM email: “I woke up to the sound of a brick through the front window. By the time I could get up, I was being pushed out the door by Israeli forces. They wouldn’t allow me to take my wheelchair and were physically violent towards me and the others in the Hanoun house”.

A demonstrator in a wheelchair was among those out on the street Sunday evening, and disappeared in the police melee – probably arrested with more than a dozen other international and Israeli protesters.

According to information put together by the International Solidarity Movement, “The Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem was built by the UN and Jordanian government in 1956 to house Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. However, with the the start of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, following the 1967 war, settlers began claiming ownership of the land the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was built on. Stating that they had purchased the land from a previous Ottoman owner in the 1800s, settlers claimed ownership of the land. In 1972, settlers successfully registered this claim with the Israeli Land Registrar”.

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert H. Serry, issued a statement following today’s evictions in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem that was also circulated by email. In it, Serry said: “I deplore today’s totally unacceptable actions by Israel, in which Israeli security forces evicted Palestinian refugee families registered with UNRWA from their homes in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to allow settlers to take possession of these properties. These actions are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory. They also contravene the united calls of the international community, including the Quartet’s, which in its recent statement urged the Government of Israel to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including house demolitions and evictions. These actions heighten tensions and undermine international efforts to create conditions for fruitful negotiations to achieve peace. The United Nations rejects Israel’s claims that this is a matter for municipal authorities and domestic courts. I call on Israel to adhere to international law and its Roadmap obligations and to cease and reverse such provocative and unacceptable actions in East Jerusalem”.

Israeli police reportedly wounded five Palestinians, including three women, in protests that resumed on Monday morning.

The U.S. issued a sharp statement of protest in Israel on Monday morning, according to a report by the Ma’an News Agency: “United States Embassy staff sent a sharply worded letter to Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Monday, condemning the country’s decision to evict over 50 Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem on Sunday. The diplomats also said a ‘high-level protest’ would be communicated to Israel later in the day [n.b., when Washington wakes up, as there is a seven-hour difference in time] in response to decision to evict the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood families to make room for settlers”.

The Ma’an News Agency story added that”State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement on Sunday that U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has previously said that home evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem are not in keeping with Israel’s obligations under the Road Map.

According to Ma’an, Wood added that “Unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiationsas and will not be recognized by the international community”

During the eviction, attempts by American and United Nations personnel to investigate were rebuffed by police on the scene, while CNN filmed Israeli forces dismissing a US Consulate official who had just arrived. Ma’an’s correspondent, who was also on the scene early Sunday, reported that Israeli forces prevented journalists from entering the area, and that some 20 international solidarity activists were arrested there. They were later released, according to Israeli news reports. Police were filmed harassing and shoving Al-Jazeera reporters, who later said they overheard the newly arrived settlers pestering members of one of the two newly homeless families, saying, ‘This is Israel; you’re not in Palestine any more’.” The Ma’an report can be read in full here.

3 thoughts on “Maher Hanoun in East Jerusalem: "We do not want any tent – we want our home"”

  1. They are practicing what the Nazis did to their ancestors – yep “we will not forget” because they are inflicting what they are not forgetting on another “people” of the book.

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