At about 6:30 in the morning yesterday I received a text message from my roommate. It read, “Maher house in Shikh Jerah evicted. call rima for details.” It’s funny how nothing seems very important before 7:00 am. But ten minutes later I rolled out of bed and headed down the hill to the Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
If you’ve been following the news about Obama and his diplomacy effort in Israeland the Middle East, you know that the settlement issue is a major concern for all parties involved–Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans. Sheikh Jarrah is one of the most contraversial sites in Israel. While many moderates in Israel agree that the settlements in the West Bank are bad policy–and Netanyahu has agreed to a temporary freeze of settlements in the West Bank–most Israelis refuse to consider E. Jerusalem occupied territory. As Netanyahu has repeatedly stated a “united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel…[and] we cannot accept the idea that Jews will not have the right to live and purchase in all parts of Jerusalem” (qtd. in nytimes). This policy complicates the peace process for Palestinians who cannot imagine having an independent State without East Jerusalem as its capital (E. Jerusalem at the least).
Sheikh Jarrah has spiraled to the epicenter of these debates. The legal question is about ownership. Who really owns each house in the neighborhood? Jewish settlement organizations claim that many of the homes and apartments (which now reside in Palestinian hands) should be reinstated to the orginal families. 20 plus houses have open court cases about this issue in the Sheikh Jarrah area. But the bigger question is political. How can the transformation of a Palestinian neighborhood into a Jewish neighborhood hurt or help the opportunity for peace?
The Maher house (referenced above in the text message) is one of two houses that were evicted on August 2nd; it had been battling in the Israeli court system for about 40 years. When an eviction notice was finally issued recently, the residents refused to leave. International supporters began spending the night to (a) delay the eviction and (b) ensure media attention when any activity takes place.
I rushed to the scene and found the entire street blocked off by police officers. I joined Ryan, Christina, and Heidi (Denver students) where they congregated outside the baricade with internationals, neighbors, human rights workers, family members, and members of the media. From what I heard UN representatives were denied access to the site and certainly no NGO workers were allowed in. But I witnessed a Hungarian consulate gain the authority to enter (what he was doing is unclear)–from what I can guess diplomats were interested. After a fruitless attempt to get closer, we watched the police escort the new Jewish family into the evacuated home. Here are some of the photos I snapped:
Some good news coverage from aljazeera: