A resident writes about what Sheikh Jarrah means to him and Palestinians in the neighbourhood who have been under assault for years.
I was born in Jerusalem and lived most of my life along with my family in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, for the past 27 years. It was initially home to my paternal grandparents, my grandfather, who I did not know because he was martyred in the 1967 war, and my grandmother, who resided there her whole life.
I live in the upper part of Sheikh Jarrah near the playground; on the edge of Ammunition Hill — named by the Israel occupation — where the Six Day War took place. My maternal family also resides in Sheikh Jarrah and live right next to the mosque. They are currently responsible for it, as my grandfather was the Imam of the mosque before he passed away. For years now it’s at the care of my mother's uncles and cousins.
Generally, one does not need to express why they love their homes, nor do they have to defend their attachment to their histories. However, we must currently express this in human terms for any solidarity and action to take place.
Jerusalem in general, and Sheikh Jarrah especially, hold a special place in my heart. It's the place where I have quite literally learnt everything I know, where I grew up with both sides of my family, and where I've experienced everything for most of my life.
Efforts to diminish Palestinians in Jerusalem was clear from an early age, and I knew that staying in the city was a statement for, and by, my family. Other than Israel's loud opinion about their intent to occupy Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and repopulate it as a completely Jewish city, the reason this was more amplified for me as a child was the Israeli government's intention to buy my family houses and the surrounding families for a hefty sum. This is something that none of my family ever accepted. However, it clarified to me their deep interest in the area, its strategic location, and great symbolic importance.
The Israeli government has made significant changes to our area over the years; the sum of the land surrounding our neighborhood is owned by the Israeli Municipality. The area in front of our house used to be a land full of trees, which were all removed when they built a parking lot instead, at the launch of the tram.
As of 2020 it was converted into a bus garage; which causes a great deal of noise and is just not a pleasant scene to have in front of your house. This is a great example that demonstrates how if the Israelis don’t get what they want, they try and make your life miserable to get you to leave on your own.
I have always been aware from a young age about the homes Israeli settlers took from the Palestinian Hannoun and Al Ghawi families, as well as the Kurd family having to give half of their house to the Israeli settlers.
Of course, that's all I knew at the time. All the details surrounding it was something I learned when I grew to understand more about the situation in Jerusalem, and the dispossession of Palestinians and te demolition of their homes in many parts of Jerusalem such as Silwan, under the pretence of not having a license to build; of course in addition to making it near impossible for a Palestinian to aqcuire the license for it being unbelievalbly expensive and uncertain. On the other hand, Israeli settlers are dealt with extreme ease and leniency when deciding to live in Jerusalem.
A collective awakening
In recent days, since the Israeli court order to displace 28 families in Sheikh Jarrah, the picture has become much clearer, and Israeli intentions are more obvious than ever to the rest of the world. This forced displacement and ethnic cleansing of the neighbourhood is a direct hit aimed at breaking the people of Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, and Palestine as a whole. It's a continuation of the Zionist plan to re-create Jerusalem as the Jewish capital of Israel, at the complete expense of Palestinians and their presence in the city.
What’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah is a complete crime against humanity, in every aspect. The families are left facing a combination of forced displacement, colonial settlers, Israeli military forces, police forces, their weapons and owing settlers a fee of $20,000 - all backed by illegitimate claims and an unjust system.
When the order was issued by the Israeli court, all appeals felt blank. The families started a campaign online with the #savesheikhjarrah in hopes of pushing the cause on the internet and to the globe. At the beginning the Sheikh Jarrah incident was not covered fairly by the media, that is until the hashtag went viral, pushing all major media to start a new discussion. The families and residents were also hoping for European and American intervention to pressure Israel into cancelling the court order.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that people really haven’t had an accurate idea of what’s been happening in Palestine, and has been going on since its colonisation. Finally, now they’re seeing it happen in 2021 before their eyes, and people are mobilising and educating themselves on the Israeli occupation; it has been a collective awakening of some sort.
Along with the online campaign, the families and wider community have been gathering in the street in front of their threatened homes, people of Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, and Palestine every day to peacefully protest against this attempted erasure. The same street houses Al Ghawi’s family home which colonial settlers took in 2009 by force - and the protection of Israeli police - even before a court decision was reached. The Israeli police and military have been surrounding all of the entrances leading to the houses. This results in two groups gathering, one is on the inside in front of the houses, and the other is on the main street in Sheikh Jarrah.
Since the start of protests, Israeli forces in the neighbourhood have been increasing their retaliation and use of force gradually. The situation in Jerusalem as a whole, was starting to deteriorate with the start of Ramadan, particularly concerning issues such as Israeli police closing the Damascus Gate for Palestinians. This culminated in police and military in Sheikh Jarrah using extreme force to disperse protesters and scare the people of the neighbourhood, as at the al-Aqsa compound.
Their methods of crowd dispersal include using: rubber bullets, gas grenades, skunk water on protestors and people’s homes, brutal group beatings, and arrests. The police stay in the neighborhood to protect the colonial settlers that live in the homes of displaced Palestinians. These settlers are also a cause of harm to the people living there by physically attacking them, using gas, racial slurs, making noise, provoking Israeli police to arrest or beat protestors, throwing garbage, and they are also allowed to carry weapons as civilians.
The only non-violent resolution attempt was a counter offer to families by the Israeli court which stated that they can keep the homes on the condition that they recognise the house is for the settlers. They would pay rent and they have to choose one part of the family and when that family member passes away the settler family can move in. This of course was rejected by the families.
The violence in Jerusalem is completely disproportionate and has escalated over the past few days all over Palestine.
The solidarity with all mentioned issues in Jerusalem sparked an already existing but unspoken unity across all Palestinians in every city in Palestine, as well as the diaspora, backed with the support of the rest of the world. It translated into being present on the ground, and online, protesting, speaking, informing, recording, defending, and resisting. This time feels different because it feels like we’re more together than ever, we’re all tired and share the same pain, we’re more connected, our anger has built up and we feel stronger. We’re saying no to ethnic cleansing, forced displacement, settler-colonial racism, attacks on our holy places, on our religion, culture, and blatant discrimination. We’re fighting to live a righteous life on our land.
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