Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fighting Ethnic Cleansing

So far we have spent two nights house sitting with little event. Our first night was spent chatting, drinking date juice and hearing a full account of the family's 37 year struggle to stay in their home. The house was built and given to the Hunnoun family in 1956 by the Jordanian government and United Nations Relief and Works Agency as part of an effort to house Palestinian refugees. East Jerusalem was annexed by Israel 11 years later in the 1967 war. Since then, Israel has been attempting to ethnically cleanse East Jerusalem, using falsified documents and obstinent courts to force families one by one from their homes.

In 1998, after refusing to pay rent to the settlers, the Israeli government raided the house and confiscated their furniture. In 2002 the family was succesfully evicted, and Maher (the father) was arrested. He spent 3 months in jail, and his family spent 4 years exiled from their own property. During that time settlers broke in to the vacant property and spent three days in the house. They would have stayed longer, but the community backlash was so fierce that the police ordered them to leave the property. In 2006, after successfully obtainign Ottoman documents proving that they owned the house, the family was temporarilly moved back in. Since then they have been fighting an impossible legal battle, and in March of 2008 were issued a second eviction notice.

Though the deadline for their eviction notice is July 19, their rent is due this Monday. We don't know what will happen when they don't pay it. We are trying to keep a strong international presence in the house at all times, and to keep their mind off the pending eviction. But its hard when every night could be the last one they spend in their own beds. When the eviction comes the father will be sent to jail again. The fate of the rest of the family is less clear.

The Israeli government is trying to frame the case as a legal issue rather than a political one. They have offered to pay off the family, hoping that they will leave quietly. But in the words of Maher, "money can't by our memories, our hopes and our dreams." This isn't just about a house - it's about the silent destruction of an entire people.

Today hundreds of Israeli troops marched down the street and stopped near the house. We dont know whether this has anything to do with the coming eviction, but it probably does. The largest deployment occurred 5 minutes after a delegate arrived from the Czech Republic's embassy. The presence of Czech government officials made us feel a lot safer in that instance.
Nearby the house is a tent that was setup by a Palestinian family after their house was taken over by Police and then settlers. The husband died shortly after from a heart attack and the old Palestinian widow spends all her time in the tent as a way of fighting to regain her home(the tent is pictured to the left). Community members also facing eviction (in Sheikh Jarra there are 500) often convene at the spot to interact with internationals who occasionally visit the area. A few weeks ago some settlers threw a tear gas grenade into the tent where the old lady was sleeping. They often come to throw rocks at the tent too.

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