Fatah's 45th Anniversary

Ramallah – and large parts of the West Bank, it is safe to say — have been having an orgy of Fatah-anniversary events this weekend.

Palestinian television this evening had a wonderful Fatah-45th-anniversary musical event starting at 7pm that was broadcast live from the Qasr Thaqafi (Cultural Palace) in Ramallah. The singers and musicians were first rate — why don’t we hear more from these people? Why aren’t their songs playing on every radio station? In every hotel and restaurant?

[UPDATE: Some of the performers were: Omar Hassan, Ra’ed Kabbaha, Dalal Abu Ammeh, Ahmad al-Jamaawi, and Basim or Basil Said…]

One singer [I did not catch his name well, — I think it was Abbas Abu Nisri (sp?), and I think the announcers said he was from Kuwait] had a rousing, throbbing song, starting off about (East) Jerusalem (al-Quds), which included the refrain: “Al-insaniyya ahla hurriyeh” (roughly, “The humanitarian is the best (most beautiful) freedom”) which brought the audience to its feet.

There was a comedic monologue by one of the actors on Palestinian televisions hit comedy show, “Watan 3ala Watar” (“Homeland on a Shoestring”) which premiered in Ramadan. In the performance at tonight’s Fatah festival, the actor’s most appreciated remarks were directed at independent Palestinian politician Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, and his Mubadara political party. The actor’s jabs at Hamas appeared to fall a bit flat…

[Meanwhile, what was happening in East Jerusalem itself? See this account, on Mondoweiss here, of the very miserable and deteriorating situation, accompanied by photographs… And, Mondoweiss also reports on the weekly Friday demonstration yesterday in Bil’in, here, illustrated by a news photographer, wearing a gas mask, carrying out his journalistic and reporting functions in a cloud of Israeli-fired tear gas.]

Later, after the news, Palestinian television rebroadcast another Fatah-45th-Anniversary political rally (Palestinian television said it was in “occupied [East] Jerusalem” possibly in Abu Dis) addressed by Ahmad Qurei’a (Abu Alaa’), by Tawfik Tirawi, and earlier by another staccato political orator. These speeches were followed by a beautiful quiet musical performance by a lovely and serious young women in a black pants suit with long dark hair and wire-rim glasses (without the ususal heavy makeup) who played the ‘oud accompanied by a couple of other musicians. She sang in the most beautiful voice that dominated the performance. The audience at the rally wasn’t paying too much attention — after all the speech-making, they were relieved to have a break to mix and mingle and greet each other. When Adnan Husseini, Governor of Jerusalem, stood up to leave (greeted intermittently by well-wishers), Palestinian television faded away in the middle of the young woman’s song. But she was very, very good — great — and more should be heard from her.

Fatah has the best singers — that’s for sure.

During the news, Palestinian television showed the Fatah-45h-anniversary event in Libya — that there there were some pretty good girl dancers (folkloric).

Palestinian television — which is supposed to be the “national” television — which has focused on the doings of the leadership, seems to have become Fatah television (the official Fatah satellite TV channel that was launched last May, and which was headed by the more-or-less ousted Nabil Amr, has now gone off the air at the end of December — and the new Fatah media chief, Mohammad Dahlan, is preparing to launch a new satellite TV channel…)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) was not there – travelling again on important diplomatic missions. His representative at the Ramallah event, according to Palestinian television, was Tayib Abdur Rahman. But Salam Fayyad (and Madame) shared the center front row spot with the Palestinian Authority’s Mr. Culture, Yasser Abed Rabbo (he was Minister of Culture at the time he persuaded the Japanese Government to pay for constructing the Cultural Palace) and his wife, the novelist and filmmaker Liana Badr. Azzam al-Ahmad and Saeb Erekat were near the center of the front row, as was Jibril Rajoub. Not far away was Mohammad Dahlan. As the audience clapped in time with some of the musical tunes, it became clear that these politicians were not at all good clappers — they had no rhythm, no sense of timing. They certainly did not clap all together. They were, quite simply, clapping-impaired. Of the front-row group, Sa’eb Erekat was the best and most enthusiastic clapper, and Dahlan was by far the worst.

The Fatah festival was kicked off on Thursday evening at 6pm with a televised address given by the leader, President Abbas, at the Palestinian Presidential Headquarters, or Muqata’a, in Ramallah. In that speech, Abbas again defended his actions during the crisis that began in early October when he initially agreed to postpone discussion, in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, of the Goldstone report concerning last winter’s war in Gaza. And, in Thursday’s speech, Abbas again made his incomprehensible “Muhammad Goldstone” joke… He also criticized Hamas.

For those who missed the speech, Abbas’ new crowd of media advisers have booked him for one interview after another in recent weeks, which are ususally replayed at full length at least twice, if not more. Last night, Abbas was interviewed on Palestinian television, for almost two hours, and in that interview Abbas repeated the main points from his speech.

Abbas was elected Fatah party leader by acclamation last August in Bethlehem, live on television during what were until that sudden and unannounced (except to the TV cameramen) moment during strictly-closed proceedings, at the Fatah General Conference (the first in two decades).

Meanwhile, in Gaza, as Ma’an News Agency reported, “The facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh congratulated the Fatah movement on the occasion of its 45th anniversary, asking those he called ‘rational’ within the movement to complete the process of national reconciliation…Haniyeh, however, speaking in front of the destroyed buildings of the Palestinian Legislative Council, noted his willingness to sign the Egyptian reconciliation deal after some amendments to the draft plan that Fatah signed on in October. This agreement, he said, should be based on true political will, rather than a written document, to achieve reconciliation between the two bitter rivals without external influence”. This report can be read in full here.

There is precious little humanity in this conflict these days

Terrible scenes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem on Tuesday and Wednesday — ugly clashes between the Israeli settlers who have been given the keys to a small house, and the Palestinian family who built the small house as an addition to their family home and who live on the property.

Israeli police cars are now a constant presence in front of the site.  And settler vigilantes ride around in battered unmarked cars,  responding to phone alerts and bringing beefy back-up quickly to suppress any Palestinian protest.  On Wednesday, one settler visiting the group that had taken over the latest house pushed a middle-aged Palestinian woman down as he passed her on the entry sidewalk.   As he left, Palestinian men tried to get the waiting Israeli police to take action against the settler who had pushed the woman.   The settler was joined by a younger man and woman, and laughed as he walked with his companions around the corner, towards a shrine which has been taken over by Israeli religious group, and which Orthodox Jewish visitors believe  is the burial place of Shimon Hatzadik (Simon the Just), a priest in the Second Temple (Palestinians have a different idea about whose bones are in that tomb.)

The police did nothing.

A Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance was called and checked the pushed woman’s her vital signs, before leaving.  The settler, incredibly, returned.  A Palestinian man, and several young Palestinian boys, shouted to him that he was forbidden to enter, and they pushed him out to the sidewalk.

The Israeli police presence has deliberately been kept low, this time, which does reduce general tensions in the area, despite the specific tensions at this now-occupied house.

And, the Israeli police that night seemed to be level-headed and mature, by comparison with others who have lost their cool at checkpoints and in similar situations.  They arrested the settler who had pushed the Palestinian woman + who then laughed in a gloating way.  But, it took them 15 minutes to get the handcuffs on him.  There was no brutality used against the settler — unlike the beatings that were administered by Israeli police and border police to Israelis and international solidarity demonstrators on 2 August when they were protesting the eviction of the Hanoun family from their home up the hill.

The Israeli police then arrested the Palestinian man who pushed the settler out when he tried — inexplicably, but apparently triumphantly — to re-enter the newly-occupied house.

Two young Jewish women, who were living in one or more of the other nearby occupied houses, and who were wearing in the stereotypical multi-layered settler clothing (trousers with skirts, aprons over sweaters over t-shirts, and rasta-type scarfs tied around their heads and behind their ears), chose just that movment to put their babies into strollers and parade up and down the middle of the street, chatting occasionally with the Israeli border police and other security forces there.

Tensions swirled, ebbing and flowing, in that street throughout that afternoon.  It was not the moment to take babies outside — unless you were trying to make a dangerous point.

See the EAPPI (Geneva-based World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel) video of the take-over on Tuesday morning, with organized settler “security forces” assisting the move-in, while an elderly Palestinian woman keeps confronting them and shouting “Itlaa barra!” – “Get Out!”:

In Sheikh Jarrah, a religous-nationalist Jewish group wants to take over some 28 houses (three have already been occupied by settlers) then demolish to make a new large apartment complex for some 200 Jewish families, meaning possibly 1,000 Jewish residents in this small area of East Jerusalem.

This is not (as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barakat are fond of saying) about “the right of Jews to live anywhere” in the former British Mandate of Palestine — it is about armed evictions, backed by Israeli courts and Israeli police and Border Police.

It is about the lack of leadership, and the lack of any social safety net or any alternative for the Palestinian refugees being evicted from homes built by the UN for them, that they thought were theirs, and that they lived in all their lives. It is about their possessions being thrown outside. It is about their staying on the sidewalks afterwards, carrying the whole weight of the Palestinian national struggle on their own shoulders, without any real backing or support either from the Palestinian leadership or from their compatriots.

It is about families — men, women, and children sitting and eating and sleeping in the baking sun last summer, in the winter rains and cold, in the public view of any passersby, being available to tell their stories over and over again for tour groups of European solidarity types who think that if these Palestinian families only sign one more letter, the world will sit up and take notice — though this hasn’t really happened.

It is also about hatred and ugly contempt.

Palestinian resident of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem Nabil al-Kurd is restrained by his wife while watching Israeli settlers and their security throwing  furniture from a house he built out onto the lawn during the settler take-over of the small building he built for his daughter immediately adjacent to his home…

NY Times photo of Nabil al-Kurd being restrained by his wife as settlers throw furniture from his house onto the lawn

The New York Times reported last week that “The small, one-story structure was built about 10 years ago as an extension of the Kurds’ original home, but it was unoccupied, having been sealed by the authorities after it was determined to have been constructed without the proper permits. ‘The authorities took our keys to the property because we built it without permits’, said Nabil al-Kurd, 66, who lives in the original house. ‘But it seems the settlers can live here without permits’…” This NYTimes story can be read in full here.

These Sheikh Jarrah houses were built by UNRWA in the mid-1950s on land granted by Jordan, whose troops moved into the area in May 1948, during the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel.   Years after Israel conquered East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank in the June 1967  “Six Day War”, Jewish national-religious groups asserted pre-World War One claims to land and homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area — claims that have been supported by the Israeli courts, but for which, Turkish authorities said earlier this year, no supporting documentation could be found after a search through Ottoman Archives.

Later that night, I arrived home in time to see the end of Al-Jazeera (original Arabic channel) showing many reports about The Video (of a settler in a Mercedes running over a downed Palestinian who had been shot six times after allegedly stabbing or trying to stab the settler’s wife).  The Palestinian was taken to an Israeli hospital (possibly Hadassah in Jerusalem) — which only happens when there is some direct or indirect responsibility for the injury.   Almost incredibly, the Palestinian is still alive — but his family, in Hebron, have not been allowed into Jerusalem to visit, and they say they do not have a clear idea about his condition.

All over the West Bank, Israeli settlers are resisting efforts of Israeli “Civil Administration” (military) inspectors to enforce the recent decision of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his Defense Minister Ehud Barak (a former Israeli Prime Minister who, as Minister of Defense, is now the effective ruler of the West Bank).

And what does the Israeli Prime Minister do about all this? Instead of saying, as a leader should in a situation of such inter-communal tensions (and one of these communities, it should be recalled, is under the occupation of the other) that NO ONE SHOULD TAKE THE LAW [and it is a law whose application generally favors only one of the communities] … NO ONE SHOULD TAKE THE LAW INTO HIS (or HER) OWN HANDS, Netanyahu tries to persuade the settlers that he and they are all “brothers”.

The Jerusalem Post reported that “The atmosphere at the Netanyahu meeting was ‘hard and tense’, said Gush Etzion Regional Council head Shaul Goldstein, who said that it was the settlers, rather than Netanyahu, who spoke during the bulk of the meeting. At one point Netanyahu told them, ‘We are not your enemy; we are your brethren’, relayed council head Dani Dayan … ‘We took this difficult decision [a limited 10-month freeze on settlements outside East Jerusalem] in order to move Israel’s widest interests forward’, Netanyahu said during the two-hour meeting … ‘We need to pass through this period together in cooperation … I want you as leaders to hold the steering wheel with us, but there is one thing that is not legitimate. You can protest, demonstrate and express your opinion, but it can’t be that you don’t abide by a decision that was lawfully taken. The real solution is through dialogue and finding solutions during this limited time period‘.” This JPost article can be read in full here.

Yossi Sarid has just written, in an article in Haaretz entitled “I have no brother”, this:  ” ‘The settlers are our brothers’, Prime Minister Netanyahu said this week, trying to convey their holy wrath. But let me make it clear: They are not my brothers. I don’t have any brothers like that, or sisters … When I see a Jew running over a wounded Arab terrorist again and again, I am absolutely certain that any connection between us is coincidental, happenstance, and that I’m obligated to sever it completely. I have to save my human image before I, too, am run over by that silver Mercedes. And when I see Jews expelling Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah – evicting and taking over, getting into warm beds that haven’t even had a chance to cool, leaving entire families in the cold – I am filled with disgust”.  This piece by Yossi Sarid can be read in full here.

UPDATE: Uri Avnery has just written in his article today, which he entitled “kkkitsch”, that: “Israel is a far from monolithic society. It is a vibrant, fermenting mix, with many tendencies, from the extreme Right to the extreme Left. At present we have a government of the extreme right, but there is also a peace camp. There are soldiers who refuse to remove settlements, but there are also soldiers who refuse to guard settlements. Quite a number of people devote their time and energy to the struggle against the occupation, sometimes exposing themselves to physical danger in the process … The Netanyahu government has paid lip-service to the Two-State principle and is violating it every day. It has rejected a full freeze of settlement activity in the territories, the very territories which all governments – including the German one – agree should become the State of Palestine. It is building at a crazy pace in East Jerusalem which – even according to the German government – must become the capital of Palestine. It is carrying out in Jerusalem something which comes very close to ethnic cleansing. Should Ms. Merkel hug this government and smother its face with kisses?” – Avnery asks, on the eve of an important European Union meeting about their position on Jerusalem.

Rivers of water flow as yet one more East Jerusalem family evicted by Israeli settlers

For the fourth consecutive day on Tuesday, torrents of winter rain fell from the skies, and rivers of water flowed through the streets of Jerusalem and nearby areas. The ground is waterlogged, and can’t easily absorb any more – this has been the best rainfall in a parched region in nearly five years.

In these wet + miserable conditions, two Palestinian families evicted on 2 August (the Hanoun and Ghrawi families) were still camped out on the streets across from their former homes in the Sheikh Jarrah region of East Jerusalem, bitterly watching Israeli settlers move around in the relative warmth and dryness inside.

Last Wednesday, Israeli Border Police forcibly dismantled a small square white plastic tent — the kind that can be rented for use at “events” — that had been sheltering the members of the extended Ghrawi family. That evening, after a class, I passed by. It was dark, and a seasonal chill had already set in. Adults in very bad moods, depressive and shocked, were sitting around in plastic chairs beside five or six children sound asleep on bedding placed directly on the sidewalk. Some black mesh fabric was draped around a tree they were under, and one woman pulled aside a flap to show me the sleeping children.

Hatem Abdel Qader (Eid), a Fatah official from East Jerusalem, was on his mobile phone a few feet away. Abdel Qader was for a year the adviser on Jerusalem affairs to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad before being sworn is as Minister earlier this year, and then abruptly and almost inexplicably resigning a few weeks later. The reported reason was his disagreement over the lack of Palestinian support for Palestinians facing problems in East Jerusalem.

Abdel Qader told me that he had, just two days earlier, been sentenced to 20 days banishment from the Old City of East Jerusalem, after being detained during recent confrontations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He also said that the Hanoun and Ghrawi families had gone to Ramallah to seek help from the Palestinian Authority, but were treated badly.

An earlier home eviction in the same Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood took place a year ago, on 9 November 2008. Um Kamel al-Kurd and her disabled husband were roused from their sleep and put out on the street — she, handcuffed — in their nightclothes. Ten days later, Mr. Al-Kurd died of a heart attack in a nearby hospital, as Um Kamel sat in a tent that supporters had erected for her in the valley just tens of meters down the hill from her former home — and opposite the shrine of the tomb of Shimon HatZakik, believed by Jews to have been a priest in the second Jewish temple (while some Palestinians believe it is, instead, the resting place of a Muslim wise man …)

This minor religious site has become the justification for what some national-religious Jews are planning across this small valley — the eviction of Palestinian families living in 28 neighboring homes, in order to construct some 200 apartments in a large new complex housing Jewish families, in a very sensitive East Jerusalem spot.

The three homes evicted up until today were built by the United Nations in the early-to-mid-1950’s for these families who had been displaced from their original homes during the fighting that surrounded the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The Jordanian government authorized the donation of the land on which the homes were built.

Some of this land, according to claims by the settler organizations, belonged to Jews before 1948, but had to be evacuated during pre-State fighting. Israel did not control East Jerusalem until its conquest in the June 1967 war, when Jordanian forces were routed from both East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Turkish government earlier this year assisted lawyers for the Sheikh Jarrah families to do a search of the Ottoman archives in Ankara (and Istanbul) for proof concerning the land ownership claims, and provided certification that no Jewish ownership claims could be found. Perhaps the former Jewish tenants had been renters? In any case, the Israeli Supreme Court dismissed the Turkish documentation, and the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghrawi families proceeded, despite international protests. Jewish settlers moved in within hours, under Israeli Border Police protection.

What happened today, in the fourth home (of the 28 targeted in Sheikh Jarrah) was described this way in Haaretz:

“Rioting settlers forced a Palestinian family from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah out of their home on Tuesday, after the district court denied the residents’ appeal to remain on the premises. Shortly after the verdict was passed dozens of settlers stormed into the house with hired security guards, and demanded that the family vacate immediately. A violent riot erupted between the settlers and the neighborhood’s Palestinian residents, and police were called to disband the protesters”.

According to this Haaretz report, this home was not built by UNRWA for the refugee families in 1953-1956 — instead, one of those refugees, Rifqa al-Kurd, “had the house built 10 years ago for her married daughter”.

Haaretz added: “The particular house, built 10 years ago by the al-Kurd family, was unoccupied and locked for eight years by court order pending settlement of a land-ownership dispute. Police kept members of the family back as a dozen Israeli men removed furniture. ‘They can go to Syria, Iraq, Jordan. We are six million and they are billions’, said Yehya Gureish, an Arabic-speaking Yemen-born Jew who said his family owned the land and had Ottoman Empire documentation to prove it. ‘This land is Israel. We are in Israel. God gave this land to the Jews. The Torah tells us so. You want war? Declare war on God, not on us’, he said …

During the 1970s, a committee of Sephardic Jews claimed ownership of the land, according to papers which proved that they had purchased it from the Turks before the war … The court decided after long deliberation, that the Sephardic committee’s claim to ownership is legal, but the Palestinian residents had also received a protected residency status which forced the Jews to keep them on as tenants. Since then the committee filed several claims stating that the Palestinians had breached the lease with their new landlords, and demanded that they be evacuated from the premises. Due to these recurring claims, several Palestinian families were evacuated from their homes and replaced by settler families”. This Haaretz report can be read in full here.

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who were present with the family pending evacuation, has written, in an email message, that it’s not the whole house, but only a section of it, that was in question — and suggests that the issue was not only ownership, but also the matter of a building permit for the newer addition:

“40 settlers, accompanied by private armed security and Israeli police forces, entered a section of the home, threw out the family’s belongings and locked themselves in. The take-over came after an appeal submitted by the family’s lawyer was rejected by the District Court. In their appeal, the Palestinian family was challenging an earlier court decision that deemed a section of the house illegal and ordered that the keys be given to settlers. The settlers proceeded to enter the house, while the court did not grant them the right to enter the property. The al-Kurd home was built in 1956. An addition to the house was built 10 years ago, but the family was not allowed to inhabit the section because the municipality refused to grant them a building permit. Visibly unequal laws are used to make it possible for settlers to move into a home where it was declared illegal for Palestinian residents to inhabit. The Israeli authorities exercise their abilities to demolish and evict Palestinian residents, while ignoring building violations from the Israeli population in East Jerusalem. The al-Kurds have become the fourth Sheikh Jarrah family whose house has been occupied by settlers in the last year. So far, 60 people have been left homeless”.

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UPDATE: According to a press release received on Friday 6 November from Human Rights Watch:

“In the week beginning October 27, 2009, Jerusalem municipal authorities used bulldozers to demolish five residences, while thousands more Palestinians are threatened with demolition of their homes. In the demolitions of the five buildings from October 27 to November 2, Israeli authorities displaced 57 Palestinian residents, including many children. Three other buildings were partly demolished. Israeli authorities justified destroying the homes primarily on the grounds that the owners lacked building permits, which are extremely difficult for Palestinians to obtain.

Jerusalem municipal authorities demolished three Palestinian-owned buildings on November 2, displacing 31 people. Residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor told Human Rights Watch that at 8 a.m., two bulldozers demolished the homes of the al-Shwaike and al-Qawasmi families, displacing 14 people.  The buildings, joined by a common wall, were built in 1982.

“We didn’t even know the building was going to be destroyed before it happened,” said Haroun al-Qawasmi, who lived in one of the buildings with his wife and four adult children. “There were scores of soldiers there, and they told us that we had built the house without a permit.”

Tareq al-Shwaike said that he was not informed of any demolition order before his family’s adjoining building was destroyed, displacing him, his wife and three children, his mother, his sister and her husband. “The municipality told me I have to clean up the ruins of what they destroyed or else I’ll have to pay when they do it,” al-Shwaike said.

The third home, in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem, was destroyed at around 2 p.m. Human Rights Watch was unable to contact residents of the building, but according to initial reports by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and by Al Maqdese, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization based in East Jerusalem, the demolition displaced approximately 17 members of the Rajaby family.

On October 27, Israeli authorities demolished two homes in East Jerusalem, and partly destroyed three others. Residents of a two-story building in the Sur Baher neighborhood of East Jerusalem told Human Rights Watch that scores of Israeli soldiers and police officers surrounded the building at 5:15 a.m. and ordered the residents to leave immediately. The authorities did not allow the residents time to remove their furniture or other belongings before three bulldozers demolished the building, which housed 17 members of an extended family, including five children.

“Soldiers entered our house without asking and detained my daughters and sons,” said one resident who did not want his name used. “We only had time to get our clothes.”

He said the building’s first floor was built 11 years ago, and a second floor was added later to accommodate the owner’s married children.  A second resident said that his family had owned the land on which the house was built for at least three generations. The residents said the family had spent 150,000 shekels (US$37,500) over the years in failed attempts to obtain a permit for their home.

At 9 a.m. on the same day, Israeli authorities demolished the East Jerusalem home of a 73-year-old Palestinian woman and her 32-year-old son, who did not want to be named. The son said he had constructed the building from pieces of wood and metal sheeting after Israeli authorities demolished their initial home on the site in 2006.

“We have been living on this site for 40 years,” he said. “They destroyed our first house because we didn’t have a permit. So I put up the zinco (sheet metal) building. It wasn’t a permanent building, just a hut.”

He received a first demolition order in May and a second one in September. “I can’t afford a lawyer so I went to the court myself, but they told me, ‘You don’t have a file here.’” He was afraid the authorities would punish him further by fining him for the demolition.

Human Rights Watch interviewed other East Jerusalem residents whose homes were partly or completely demolished in three separate incidents on October 27. Israeli authorities may impose heavy fines for illegal construction on Palestinians whose homes they bulldoze, so some East Jerusalem residents have “self-demolished” their homes to avoid financial penalties. One resident had begun but not completed “self-demolishing” his building when it was bulldozed, and was afraid of being fined by Israeli authorities. Another family whose home was demolished was still paying a fine of 60,000 shekels (US$15,000) for illegal construction.

Israeli authorities state that house demolitions are carried out against homes that have been built illegally without official building permits. However, a UN report published in April found that it is extremely difficult for Palestinian residents to obtain such permits under Israeli law, which Israel applies to annexed parts of the West Bank in violation of international law.

The UN estimated that roughly 60,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem currently live in buildings that the Israeli government has designated illegal. A December 2008 report by the European Union (EU) found that Israel was “actively pursuing the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem” by means including the construction of Jewish-only settlements and demolitions of Palestinian houses.

The European Union report concluded that Israel’s housing policies in East Jerusalem unlawfully discriminate against Palestinian residents. Like Israeli citizens, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem may obtain building permits only for buildings in areas zoned for construction. The Palestinian population makes up over 60 percent of East Jerusalem’s population, but the Israeli government has zoned only 12 percent for Palestinian construction, according to the EU report. Even in this small zoned area, many Palestinians could not afford to complete the application process for building permits, which is complicated and expensive.

In contrast, Israel unlawfully expropriated 35 percent of East Jerusalem for the construction of Jewish settlements, for which building permits are much easier to obtain. Since November 2007, Israel approved building permits for 3,000 housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem, as opposed to fewer than 400 building permits for Palestinian residents, according to the EU report”

Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians

Rabbi Arik Ascherman, an American-Israeli who is one of the founders of the Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) Organization, was arrested last week during a candlelight solidarity vigil in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, protesting the recent evictions of some 53 UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees whose homes are now occupied by Jewish settlers.

Rabbi Ascherman wrote that “I was arrested there, the 36th person to be arrested since the evictions of the Hanoun and Ghawi families (Including 2 women from the RHR staff.) The situation leaves me angry and worried, because we are talking about a serious threat to Israeli democracy. Some of the arrests were ‘justified’, even though we don’t think that the police should have been there evicting families to begin with. However, the only crime of many of those arrested was their inability to accept the injustice done to the El-Kurd, Ghawi and Hanoun families. When I decide to engage in civil disobedience I know that I am likely to get arrested. In certain tense situations, I know that things are likely to get out of control, even if nobody on either side was necessarily planning arrests. However, here the police, instead of fulfilling their duty to protect the rights at the heart of democracy, have in a very calculated way been attempting to cut short and stifle peaceful protest. Under the cover of preserving public order, their goal has been to prevent expressions of solidarity or advocacy for these Palestinian families. The courts are also complicit in this when they reward the police with restraining orders as a condition for release, making it all the more difficult to organize. What happened? The vigil was quiet and there was a heavy police presence. I was helping the police and consulting with them, in order that participants would honor the police request not to block streets. We didn’t want to give the police an excuse for stopping the vigil. After an hour at the Hanoun family’ s house , we wanted to go to the Ghawi home. A police officer told us that we could not walk down the alley taking us to the Ghawi home, and directed us to take another longer route. Neither he nor anybody else said in any fashion that we could not walk along the longer route. At that moment a few officers called me from the other side of the road. I figured that they wanted to talk to me about some detail or other, and began to cross the street. A number of officers quickly surrounded me, some pulling me by the arms and others pushing me from behind. There were regular police, border guards and at least one plains clothes officer. When I asked what was going on and what my status was, I was told that I was detained and that I would be arrested if I didn’t come with them to the police car. When I asked, ‘Why?’, it was clear from their words and their tone that they had been waiting for the opportunity to arrest me. They said that the moment that we had begun to move we were holding an unauthorized march and that I was inciting people to participate in an illegal activity. I laid down on the sidewalk, and told them that I would not resist arrest but would not cooperate. Many tactics were used to draw out my arrest and incarceration for 22.5 hours, and I was given a 7 day restraining order keeping me out of Sheikh Jarakh (The police wanted 30 days, and we would have appealed even the 7 days if we could have received a court date in time.) I won’t go into details regarding the curses and kicks I received from officers (I have lodged a complaint with the Unit for the Investigation of Police), the fact that somehow the rumor was spread among right wing prisoners that I had attacked police officers, etc., because the real story is not about me personally. It should be superfluous to say that the connection between the police account of events and what actually happened was tenuous at best”…
Continue reading Rabbi Arik Ascherman arrested at Sheikh Jarrah vigil in support of evicted Palestinians

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

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

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.

Continue reading East Jerusalem, o East Jerusalem