Thursday, May 31, 2012

Home Evictions in Sheikh Jarah

Below is an excerpt from the third trip report of the Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) delegation to Palestine/Israel. It was written by Marianne Torres.

"They came for us at 5:00 in the morning when everybody was asleep. It was August 2, 2009 when the soldiers came after 10 families with 38 family members. They came, more than 100 soldiers and Special Forces, police on horses and water cannons filled with sewage water.”


This is the beginning of a story we heard today from Mariam Alrawi in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  She continued:



“I heard the heavy steps of soldiers outside. I awoke and moved to the door. Before I got there the door was blasted open. Children had come out of their beds to see what the noise was and the soldiers grabbed them and threw them into the street in their pajamas. The women were still in bedclothes, and they were forced or thrown out into the street, too. A police was sitting on top of one of my children.”

“I ran out to [the neighbor] Nabil’s house and cried ‘the army is in our house and I want to put the kids in your house.’ Soldiers were in front of all the other houses on the street and didn't allow anybody out.”


“By half an hour, all of us were in the street. In one hour, settlers were at our home and moving into it. We had 12 kids altogether, outside, crying, screaming, asking ‘what is going on? Why are they doing that? Why are we in the street?"’


“They put all of our furniture on a truck and we don't know where it went. Soldiers were playing in the street with some of my children's toys. Our youngest family member was born on the day we were evicted. We put up a tent outside on the sidewalk and stayed in that tent for 6 months. We got mattresses and chairs, and we ate there, lived there. It rained, it was cold, the children had nowhere to study and the settlers harassed us. But we refused to leave. This is OUR home. But the army came and destroyed our tent and all that we had 17 times.”


“I have two young children who are always scared to go to sleep now, want to sleep in her bed and be with her all the time. They wake in the night crying. It has been 2 years and 7 months, but we will remain steadfast. We will not give up."


Mariam is a refugee from the Nakba in 1948. The Israeli government has been evicting Palestinian families who settled in Sheikh Jarah for years, as they are in the process of building a Jewish-only corridor from West Jerusalem to Hebrew University, right through the middle of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that are not in the state of Israel.


We also heard from members of the Hanoun family, and several others whose names went by too fast for me to capture, and I apologize for any names I did not get correctly. Mr Hanoun told us how they had acquired the home in 1956 when they bought the land from the government of Jordan and UNRWA helped them build the house. After living there for decades, the Israeli soldiers came for his family at 4:00 a.m. and he also explained that they slept under the trees for 6 months "to show what happened". He said "they have transferred our family again and again, and it is not fair." 


He said "we need support from all the volunteers who come to us, to help us stop more evictions." He said we must pressure the Israeli government and the American government. He said we had to "stop giving money to Israel for building settlements on top of our houses."


We heard from others that these families celebrated Ramadan (a serious challenge) and Eid while living under the trees through the winter. All the time they were there, Israeli settlers attacked the children. When they called the police about it, the police arrested the Palestinians and did nothing at all to the settlers. (We hear this constantly, everywhere we go). They arrested women as easily as men, and every arrest resulted in a heavy fine.


One time the harassment and bullying was so bad that Mr. Nabil called the police, who told him to go to the Police Station to make a complaint. He did that, and was arrested and held for 3 days. Nothing was done about the settlers' behavior.


Another young woman, a college student, spoke passionately about the experience. She told the same story Miriam had told, but with her own pain, her own passion. One of our group filmed it and I am eager to share it.


Part of Myrta's response was "who on earth sat to think about all the ways these people are tormented? How did they come up with the plans that make every Palestinian's life miserable?" As we spoke about it later, we both realized that we cannot find ways to describe this Master Plan for Ethnic Cleansing - the closest we got was Myrta's description of "evil genius", but that really doesn't touch it.


I'm so very sorry that we did not have that whole visit with the family on film. The power of hearing from the people themselves what they experienced, to hear their anguish and their anger was nearly overwhelming. Several of us (including me) spoke later of the deep sense of shame we felt, listening to them. I really have no vocabulary, or perhaps not the emotional bottle right now to speak more of this day.


Read more on IFPB's website.