Palestinians face biggest expulsion in years by settlers in Jerusalem

A private settler organization is planning “the most extensive expulsion scheme in recent years,” in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem is warning.

The settler group, Ateret Cohanim, claims to own about an acre of land in the densely populated neighborhood near the al-Aqsa mosque.

The group has filed eviction claims against the 81 Palestinian families who live there.

B’Tselem says this concentration of evictions represents 45 percent of all Palestinians facing “dispossession on the basis of ethnicity” in East Jerusalem.

“Where will we go?”

The families are fighting the eviction claims in court, but resident Zuheir al-Rajabi tells B’Tselem that Ateret Cohanim is on a “vigorous offensive.”

Six buildings have already been taken over by the organization, emptying them of the Palestinian families who lived there. The Israeli settlers who have moved in are reinforced by private and municipal security guards, who regularly harass Palestinians, especially youngsters.

Najah al-Rajabi, 62, has lived in fear for the last 12 years, ever since settlers took over the building next to her.

“Now I’m afraid to go outside at night to pray,” she says in the video produced by B’Tselem at the top of this article.

B’Tselem has created an interactive website and a series of new videos to highlight the living conditions of Palestinians in Batan al-Hawa.

Najah’s home is tiny, with only one bedroom. She stores most of her belongings on a porch with a view of Silwan’s Kidron Valley. It also looks over her heavily guarded settler neighbors.

She is now waiting with anxiety, along with the dozens of other Palestinian families in Batan al-Hawa under threat of forced displacement, for the day she is forced to leave.

“Where will we go? They’re expelling us. It’s expulsion. Plain and simple.”

“Like we’re under house arrest”

Not all residents face their evictions with such fear. Zuheir al-Rajabi, who lives with his wife and four children in Batan al-Hawa, and serves on the neighborhood’s council, speaks with confidence that Ateret Cohanim will not succeed.

“I was born in this house. And I’ll go on living in this house. And I’ll die in this house. And I’ll leave it to my children, who will also stay in it as long as they live,” al-Rajabi tells B’Tselem in a video.

He says he possesses the records that show his family bought the house in 1966. But regardless, those who remain live in terror of the settlers and their guards.

Al-Rajabi says parents are wary to let their kids outside.

“We are forced to stay home, like we’re under house arrest,” he says.

Violence against children

On B’Tselem’s interactive website, one 10-year-old boy whose is only identified by initials recalls when he was playing marbles with his friends and 10 police officers approached them. Terrified, he hid the marbles.

“One of the officers came to see what I was hiding and shoved me in the chest. I nearly fell, but my cousin caught me,” the child recalls. “Another officer came and grabbed my leg to scare me.”

“They took my marbles with them.”

Another child, 13, tells B’Tselem that a police officer forced him and his friends to face the wall and then “kicked our legs hard until we spread them apart.”

“Then he beat us and spoke to us very rudely. He said: ‘Do you want me to fuck you?’ When I said no, he asked: ‘Have you ever been fucked?’ I said no, and he kept asking: ‘Do you want me to fuck you some other time?’ I turned around and said: ‘If you want to for yourself.’ He said: ‘I’m going to punch you now so hard it’ll flatten your face.’”

Backed by Israel

B’Tselem emphasizes that Ateret Cohanim is acting with the full backing of the Israeli-ruled Jerusalem municipality and the courts, which have consistently ruled in its favor.

The organization has been targeting Batan al-Hawa since 2001, using a variety of laws passed by Israel that give exclusive land rights to Jews.

The 81 families in Batan al-Hawa now facing eviction live on parcels of land that Israeli occupation authorities transferred to Ateret Cohanim in 2002, a move that was upheld by Israel’s courts.

In December, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning as violations of international law “all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.”

These include “construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”

But with Israel facing no accountability, its disregard of international law continues in Batan al-Hawa as it does across the occupied West Bank.


Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.