East Jerusalem, o East Jerusalem

Sunday morning, the first messages came by SMS: Israeli settlers, supported by Israeli Police, had taken over and were demolishing a Palestinian home in Sheikh Jarrah.

Then, subsequent messages reported that several members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and the Palestinian Authority recently-resigned Minister for Jerusalem Affairs (who seems to be still functioning in the position), Hatem Abdel-Qader, had been detained with them. Then, an SMS saying that Hatem Abdel Qader had been arrested.

In the late afternoon, a call came saying that there were fears of an imminent attack on the house of Maher Hanoun and his family, and two other families (a total of 17 persons), Maher Hanoun and another Palestinian were given a court deadline of 19 July to evacuate.

These are two of the 27 or 29 structures that an Israeli settler organization aims to occupy, and then demolish to construct an apartment complex for 200 religious-nationalist families around the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik, apparently a High Priest in the Second Temple. The area is at the very base of Wadi Joz in the Sheikh Jarrah area, just a bit north of the American Colony Hotel (member of the group of Leading Hotels in the World), and just south of the British, French, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish and other Consulates in East Jerusalem.

There is a link on the front page of the Ir-Amim website, here, to a report explaining the situation.  Ir-Amim is an Israeli organization that works for equitable sharing of Jerusalem as “one city for two peoples and three religions”.

In this Ir-Amim report, which contains a useful but presently-uncopiable graphic map, a group called Nahalat Shimon International plans to build not only the proposed Shimon HaTzadik settlement, but also has “a series of plans that seek to penetrate and surround Sheikh Jarrah with Israeli settlements, yeshivas and other Jewish institutions, as well as national park land, and complement government efforts to ring the Old City with Jewish development and effectively cut it off from Palestinian areas. The struggle for the area highlights an additional issue: the ongoing attempt of Israeli settlers, backed by the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), to ‘reclaim’ plots of land in East Jerusalem that were owned by Jews under British or Ottoman rule. These efforts continue throughout East Jerusalem, despite Israeli courts’ ongoing refusal to recognize similar claims by Palestinian owners in West Jerusalem”.

Like the house of Um Kamel al-Kurd and her husband on the other side of the area, from which the couple was forcibly evicted after more than 50 years of family residence, the Hanoun home was built by UNRWA to house Palestinian refugees in the 1950s, when the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and its Old City, were under Jordanian occupation. And, under the agreement between UNRWA and Jordan, the ownership of the houses reverted to the Palestinian refugee families living in them, after three years of their foregoing their rights to UNRWA food rations.

As Ir-Amim notes in its report, “a small Jewish community established in the late 19th century around the site of the tomb, was gradually abandoned starting from the period of the Arab disturbances of the 1920s and ’30s through the 1948 War of Independence. In the period of Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967, the Jordanian government took control of these plots under the Enemy Property Law. In 1956, 28 Palestinian families who had been receiving refugee aid and assistance from UNRWA were selected to benefit from a relief project in conjunction with the Jordanian Ministry of Development. According to the agreement, the families would forfeit their baskets of refugee assistance and would pay token rent for three years until the ownership of the houses would transfer to their names. The houses, according to the agreement, would be built on “formerly Jewish property leased by the Custodian of Enemy Property to the Ministry of Development, for the purpose of this project.” Three years passed and ownership was not formally transferred to the families … Since 1972, Israeli settlers have been working to establish Jewish land claims and a Jewish presence in the area, and Palestinian residents have faced legal challenges regarding land ownership and residency rights”. It gets even more complicated after that …

Since the mid-May final court decision ordering them to evacuate their home by 19 July, enforcement action has been awaited, in dread and anxiety, at the Hanoun house.

When word came that Israeli settlers and their armed guards, accompanied by the police, were at the other Palestinian house, in an area across Nablus Road, sandwiched in by the six-lane Road One that is built on what used to be the Green Line, or 1949 armistice line between Israeli and Jordanian forces, until Israel’s conquest in the 1967 war. The other house that was occupied on Sunday is very near the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in East Jerusalem. and very near a strip of restaurants patronized by staff of international organizations working in Palestine, as well as Greek Orthodox priests, and an occasional venturesome Israeli.

And, as it turns out, this house that was occupied on Sunday is in an area of extremely modest homes, some of which could only be called slums. It has not been occupied for at least five years, or perhaps longer (the Palestinian accounts yesterday differed) since an elderly Palestinian woman living there died.

Palestinian residents in the area explained that the house has been falling apart since then — apparently no one was allowed to live there. Sitting on a cement or stone floor, inside a large open stone arched opening that must once have been a window, were six trim and fit security guards, wearing grey t-shirts with Hebrew lettering, navy blue trousers, with black pistols (probably automatic), in their belts. The guards all spoke Arabic.

(In another structure about 50 meters away, Palestinian residents of the area insisted on showing us the shocking situation of another elderly Palestinian woman is living in utter destitution. She would not come to the door when a group of journalists and a documentary film-maker suddenly visited the area on Sunday evening. But her neighbors said that she was utterly alone in the world, without any family whatsoever — and did not even have a bathroom. She got her drinking water from a plastic hose outdoors that was running from a neighbor’s house, and an electricity extension line gave frail power to the single long-life fluorescent light bulb lit in her abode. The structure was in a decrepit state, with rotting wooden doors that did not fit into the door frames, and crumbling cement.]

The group of journalists and the filmmaker, accompanied by a growing number of escorts of neighborhood residents (mostly young adult males and boys) then returned to the group of Arabic-speaking security guards employed by an Israeli settler organization in the now-occupied structure.

By then, two big and strong-looking Jewish settlers had appeared on the scene, accompanied by two more hired armed guards. One of the Palestinian residents shouted in Arabic at the group, “Khanzir, Kalb”, (“Pig”, “Dog”). One of the larger Arabic-speaking guards walked casually out and spoke gently to the man who shouted, telling him to stop, and saying, in Arabic, “I am with you”. The man who shouted smiled and went into a wierd wheedling mode, saying “I could not help it, my feelings got the better of me”. As this bilateral conversation spun off to the side with onlookers forming around it, the two large Jewish settlers, in shirts and trousers with kippot on their heads, left with their two hired armed guards. Their fear was palpable, but they walked away calmly and without incident. The other hired Arabic-speaking armed guards remained on the spot, but walked to the perimeter and stood with their feet apart and their arms folded to block the way. The largest one returned inside, behind the others, and refused to answer any questions about who they were working for.

What had happened earlier that day, we learned, was that small bulldozers had arrived, with the settlers, their security guards, and their police escort, to begin clearing away the rubble. Seven internationals and one Israeli had been arrested, rather roughly, though they were said to have been doing nothing but standing there and watching, and taken to a police station, where according to another group member who arrived at the Hanoun house Sunday evening, they had been offered the chance of release if they agreed to sign a document promising to stay away from East Jerusalem for 15 days, then for some reason this offer was withdrawn. The one
Israeli was taken to another police station. The others were apparently due in court on Monday morning, and may be facing deportation.

According to a later report on Maan News agency, Hatem Abdel Qader was released after an eight-hour interrogation, during which he reportedly refused to answer questions, and after being given an order from the Israeli Ministry of Interior to stay away from “property allegedly owned by Arieh King, the leader of a local settler group in the occupied city, who accused the official of attacking him and destroying property in the As-Salam neighborhood”. This report can be read in full here.

The Ir-Amin report says that “The complex legal issues described above should be seen as merely one facet of the Sheikh Jarrah story. Official Israeli statements on Sheikh Jarrah have framed events as being solely within the domain of the court. However, a broad look at recent events in Sheikh Jarrah reveals the differential use of the legal system to (a) carry out eviction orders again Palestinian residents but not against settlers, and (b) to support pre-1948 Jewish land claims in East Jerusalem while opposing pre-1948 Palestinian land claims in West Jerusalem. This systemic distortion results in the cynical use of the legal system in the service of advancing an inequitable and inflammatory political agenda. Employment of the legal system to establish facts on the ground prejudges the results of a land claims reconciliation process which will inevitably take place in the context of a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, such actions preclude use of the Clinton parameters for a negotiated process in Jerusalem; and threaten to inflame a sensitive area in a key area of Palestinian cultural, residential, and commercial continuity “.

An issue brief received by email this morning from the Jewish Center for Policy Affairs (JCPA), run by former Israeli Ambassador to the UN and to the U.S. Dore Gold, a genial man with a Brooks-Brothers style who is said to be Benyamin Netanyahu’s man, informs us that all this is just a dispute between Israel and the Obama Administration, and that the population in East Jerusalem (now 200,000 Jews and 270,000 Palestinians, according to this issue brief) can no longer be separated. What is going on, it states, is a race between “private Jewish groups” and “foreign investors from Arab States, particularly in the Persian Gulf” to grab up property and stake claims in the area.

Hatem Abdel Qader, who had recently resigned not very long after having been appointed as the Palestinian Authority’s Minister for Jerusalem Affairs — a position that must have been provocative to the Israeli government — let it be known that he was frustrated by the lack of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority’s support for his efforts in Jerusalem, and for the needs of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Hatem Abdel Qader’s brother even wrote, in an Israeli newspaper, that he had to lend Hatem Abdel Qader 10,000 NIS or New Israeli Shekels (worth around $2,500 dollars) to set up his office.

A short time later, there was a surprise announcement that Hatem Abdel Qader had obtained a sudden infusion of funding from the Arab country of Qatar, in the Persian Gulf. On 14 July, a Palestinian independent news agency, Ma’an, reported that “Qatar will finance the legal affairs office in East Jerusalem under Hatem Abdul Qader following a long period with sporadic funding from the Palestinian Authority … Abdul Qader returned on Monday night from Amman, Jordan, where he finalized the agreement with Qatar. The funding will pay for the medical bills of Palestinians whose health insurance was revoked by Israel, tuition for students at Al-Quds and Al-Quds Open universities. He also said he plans to sign agreements with pharmacies to provide low-cost medications to Palestinian Jerusalemites. The funding will also allow the office to continue its legal work advocating for families facing home demolitions. The official said that Qatar’s prince has backed the emergency funding deal”.

On 20 July, the head of the Israel Security Agency Yuval Diskin told the Israeli cabinet that “Sheikh Yousuf Qaradawi who lives in Qatar has granted $21 million to Hamas in order to buy buildings to be used by activists providing welfare services as a base for the organization” in East Jerusalem.

The JCPA issue brief does not go so far as the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who stated to subsequent derision that both Jews and Palestinians can buy homes and live anywhere in Jerusalem — a remark that was later called a patently false assertion. While there may be “Arab” families who have moved into French Hill, Pisgat Zeev, or even West Jerusalem, they are reportedly Israel’s own Palestinian-Arab citizens.

A graphic on the JCPA website gives an idea of their conception of this part of Sheikh Jarrah and the near Wadi Joz:


The JCPA summary issue of its issue brief explains the following:
* “The Sheikh Jarrah-Mt. Scopus area – the focus of a dispute between the Obama administration and Israel over building housing units in the Shepherd Hotel compound – has been a mixed Jewish-Arab area for many years. The Jewish population is currently centered in three places: around the tomb of Shimon HaTzadik (a fourth century BCE [before the common era] high priest), the Israeli government compound in Sheikh Jarrah, and Hadassah Hospital-Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus” .
* “During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, 78 doctors, nurses and other Jews were murdered on their way to Hadassah Hospital when their convoy was attacked by Arabs as it passed through Sheikh Jarrah. Mt. Scopus was cut off from western Jerusalem and remained a demilitarized Israeli enclave under UN aegis until it was returned to Israel in 1967. The area discussed here has for decades been a vital corridor to Mt. Scopus”.
* “To ensure the continued unity of Jerusalem and to prevent Mt. Scopus from being cut off again, a chain of Israeli neighborhoods were built to link western Jerusalem with Mt. Scopus, and Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital were repaired and enlarged. Today both institutions serve hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Arab residents of the city”.
* “Many observers incorrectly assume that Jerusalem is comprised of two ethnically homogenous halves: Jewish western Jerusalem and Arab eastern Jerusalem . Yet in some areas such as Sheikh Jarrah-Shimon HaTzadik, Jerusalem is a mosaic of peoples who are mixed and cannot be separated or divided according to the old 1949 armistice line”.
* “In the eastern part of Jerusalem , i.e., north, south and east of the city’s 1967 borders, there are today some 200,000 Jews and 270,000 Arabs living in intertwined neighborhoods. In short, as certain parts of eastern Jerusalem have become ethnically diverse, it has become impossible to characterize it as a wholly Palestinian area that can easily be split off from the rest of Jerusalem”.
* “Private Jewish groups are operating in Sheikh Jarrah seeking to regain possession of property once held by Jews, and to purchase new property. Their objective is to facilitate private Jewish residence in the area in addition to the presence of Israeli governmental institutions. The main points of such activity include the Shepherd Hotel compound, the Mufti’s Vineyard, the building of the el-Ma’amuniya school, the Shimon HaTzadik compound, and the Nahlat Shimon neighborhood. In the meantime, foreign investors from Arab states, particularly in the Persian Gulf, are actively seeking to purchase”.  The full JCPA report can be read in full here.

And all this is happening despite the visits of a series of high-level American envoys …

In a briefing to the UN Security Council on 27 July 2009, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, told the Council members that “Quartet Envoys will meet in Jerusalem at the end of this month to actively follow-up with the parties to promote implementation of Quartet positions and formulate recommendations for Quartet action”.  He also said that “Israel’s unilateral actions in highly sensitive areas of East Jerusalem increase tensions and undermine confidence in the basis for the two-state solution.  The position of the Secretary-General is clear: the future of Jerusalem remains a matter for final status negotiations between the parties”.

The UN official explained that “The situation in East Jerusalem is of particular concern due to developments on the ground, especially indications of new settlement construction and house demolitions.  The international community expressed its concern following the Jerusalem Municipality planning committee’s approval for construction of 20 new housing units on the site of the Shepherd’s Hotel in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. On 19 July, in
the Wadi Joz area of East Jerusalem, Special Coordinator Serry met with representatives of the EU Troika and other members of the international community at the homes of two families who have received eviction orders, in order to express their concern at the plight of the families and at the prospect of new settlement construction in East Jerusalem. The homes are part of a neighbourhood of 26 Palestinian refugee families who all face the threat of eviction. In a significant development yesterday, settlers accompanied by Israeli security forces took physical possession of a house in another area of Sheikh Jarrah”.

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