On Sunday, November 21 at 7:15AM, bulldozers and armed security guards hired by Hebrew University Properties, Ltd. arrived at the home of Al-Helou family in Jerusalem to announce that their land will be confiscated for the expansion of the university dormitories. The buildings in the back are existing dorm buildings.
The Al-Helou family is among seven families whose houses are trapped among the university dormitory buildings. They have lived in this area, called Ard Al-Samar, since 1948 when they were forced out of the Jerusalem village of Lifta with the establishment of the Jewish state. The villagers sought safety and new residence in Ard Al-Samar, a part of the Lifta land. After the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem began in 1967, their land has been confiscated time and again by the university to build student dorms. The dormitory buildings have been closing in on the families, who are now confined in small pockets of land surrounded by the fences.
The Al-Helou family, together with their neighbors Abu Leil and Taha families, tried frantically to prevent the confiscation by sitting in the path of the bulldozers. They also called the police for help. However, when the police arrived they joined the armed guards and began attacking the families. Everyone, including old people, women and children, were brutally beaten and suffocated by tear gas. Two people were hospitalized: Hasan Al-Helou (86 years old) beaten to unconsciousness, and Rami Taha (16 years old) with a fractured arm. Three people were arrested: Salah Al-Helou (48 years old), his son Raouf (24 years old), and Ali Al-Helou (40 years old). The family believes that the soldiers broke Ali’s immobile arm, a disability since his birth, by forcing it to bend at the back when they put on handcuffs. The photo shows the soldiers and armed security guards after the deed.
After the men were taken to prison and hospital, the rest of the families were forced behind the police barricade.
Most of the land in Ard Al-Samar has already been confiscated to make room for 12 new dormitory buildings. As the Al-Helou family clings on to their last dunum, bulldozers are clearing the land that used to be theirs. All the trees belonging to the family are now gone.
The lawyer for the family managed to obtain a temporary order to suspend the construction from the High Court at the last minute. Yet, the fate of the family land remains unknown at this point. This is the latest chapter of the decades-long struggle of these Palestinian families against the silent war of displacement by Hebrew University.
Shirabe Yamada is a human rights worker who has been working in Dheishe refugee camp.