Ethnic cleansing, one home at a time

21 April 2009

090421-newman.jpg

The Jaber family in front of the apartment occupied by Israeli settlers. (Marcy Newman)


In the Sadiyya neighborhood inside the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City is the Jaber family home. There, three members of the Jaber family, as well as the Karaki family, have lived with their parents, and later spouses and children, since the 1930s. Like most homes inside the Old City, the residential space has an open center that is shared by those living inside.

Six years ago Israeli police came to the house and told Nasser Jaber that his house no longer belonged to his family, but rather to Israeli colonists from the right-wing Messianic settler organization Ateret Cohanim whose racist ideology is closely aligned with Kach, a political party that advocates the expulsion of Palestinians. But when the Israeli colonial court sent its police to investigate, the court decided that the home indeed belonged to the Jaber family. The scenario was repeated the following year, in 2004, when the judge came to investigate who the house belonged to. Once again after visiting the home and looking at the papers it was decided that the home belonged to the Jaber family. But the story did not end there.

On 2 April, while Nasser was visiting his mother in the nearby Wadi Joz neighborhood, 42 Israeli colonists from Ataret Cohanim, armed with M-16s, broke down the door of the house and confiscated the apartment inside belonging to Hazem Jaber. It was 2:30am and they were aided by Israeli special forces. The mosque in the neighborhood alerted families in the area and a fight ensued in the street. Twenty Palestinians, including women and children, were beaten up by special forces police and seven were arrested, including Nasser, his brothers, and his son. Sami al-Jundi, one of Nasser’s neighbors who was beaten up, observed, “They did not use live ammunition or tear gas bombs. Instead they beat us with batons and sprayed us with pepper spray. They know that if Palestinian blood spills in the streets of the Old City a third intifada will follow.”

Umm Alaa Jaber, who married into the family 55 years ago, whose wedding and the birth of her nine children took place in this very house, believes the struggle over her house and her neighborhood is about forcing them into submission. She remarked, “This is exactly like Gaza. Like Gaza happened here. Everyone who moves is beaten up. And the reason they beat the children is to make them afraid to fight against the occupation. Now they declare their hatred inside our house.” It has been especially difficult for the women of the Jaber and Karaki families, having to endure foreign men occupying their home and invading their privacy. Umm Alaa said their ordeal, “My eyes have become so tired from the tears. My heart, too.”

With two Israeli colonists already illegally occupying Palestinian homes a few doors down from the Jaber family, one house since the 1980s, Palestinians in the Sadiyya have been working together to ensure this will not be the fate of the Jaber family home. They were initially successful in kicking out the settlers from the house, but last week the court ruled that each family — the Jabers and the colonists — would be able to have guards in the house. Thus, Ateret Cohanim sent members of its private security company to guard Hazem Jaber’s apartment inside the house, armed with M-16s. Palestinians however are not legally allowed to own weapons nor are there any private Palestinian security companies that could protect the Jaber family. Although, according to the Jabers, the Israeli group Peace Now promised to send guards, the family says they have yet to follow through.

Nasser Jaber expected that his hearing in court last week would have reaffirmed that this house belongs to his family. Instead, the court date to render such a decision has been postponed to this week. This will be the third such court date that has postponed a decision since 2 April. For Nasser and his family, as well as people in the neighborhood, it is not just about his house. Nasser said, “When we talk about the situation in our house we are also talking about the situation in the whole country, in the village, in every house.”

Indeed, the Jaber family house is symbolic of the struggle to resist the ethnic cleansing practices of the Israeli colonial regime. Unlike the nearby Silwan or Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods where hundreds of Palestinian families have received eviction notices — because their homes are slated for demolition so Israeli colonists may occupy their land — inside the Old City the pace of such creeping annexation is slower, but no less serious. In the Old City, as elsewhere, the court, the police and the colonists work as a team to further dispossess Palestinians. However, without a police force or a legal system to protect Palestinians in Jerusalem, and without the ability for most Palestinians to travel to their capital city, it is far more difficult for Palestinians to resist the takeover of their homes in the same coordinated fashion. Nevertheless, Palestinians in each of these neighborhoods under threat are determined to fight for their right to exist on their land.

What is significant about the Jaber family’s battle for their home is the way this fight is emblematic of the twin processes Israel has been using to Judaize the land: creeping annexation and delaying negotiations. Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip (as well as other Arab territories), the ethnic cleansing has been steady but slow, unlike the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in both 1948 and 1967. One house or neighborhood at a time, Palestinians are removed from their land. And just as the Jaber family finds the court continually delaying its decision about their home, for the last 16 years Palestinians have experienced the realities of the Oslo process as a delay process. Although to much of the world Oslo signifies a “peace process,” for Palestinians Oslo has meant an escalation of land confiscation among other things. Under Oslo Israel has continually delayed negotiating the core issues that would lead to a just solution, particularly regarding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem. Palestinians in the Sadiyya neighborhood know all too well that delay means that Israeli colonists use that process to establish further “facts on the ground.” But the residents of Sadiyya vow to continue their resistance to support their neighbors because they know this is not only a battle for the Jabers, but also for their city, and their country.

Dr. Marcy Newman is Associate Professor of English at An Najah National University in Nablus, Palestine. Her writing may be found at bodyontheline.wordpress.com.