Monica Wusteman reports: ICAHD UK responded to the call that came from Palestinians in East Jerusalem to campaign against the threatened house demolitions and evictions there by taking their case to the EU in Brussels.
On Monday, 6th and Tuesday 7th July, a delegation from ICAHD UK led by UK Director, Linda Ramsden, met several members of the Commission and senior diplomats from Spain and Irelandis Permanent Representations in Brussels. The delegation reported on the new developments in Sheikh Jarrah, The Old City, Silwan and other key areas known as ethe Holy Basini, which are targeted for settlement growth. They also took the news of the fifth demolition order that is on Beit Arabiya, ICAHDis Peace Centre.
The delegation stressed the growing unease throughout Europeis civil society over the EUis failure to uphold its founding principles of democracy and human rights in its relations with Israel, and the damaging effect that this failure is having on the EUis reputation internationally. They argued for decisive action on Israelisi accelerated programme of house demolitions and settlement growth which is rapidly rendering EU policy in the region – two viable independent democratic states existing side by side in peace and prosperity – impossible to implement.
The delegation also described the devastating effect that the demolition of Beit Arabiya would have on ICAHDis vital work on peaceful resistance to the Occupation and for the reconciliation between the two peoples of Israel and Palestine.
Their reception was unfailingly warm and friendly and the discussions were wide-ranging and informative. Admiration was repeatedly expressed for the work of ICAHD, and the value of expert NGO briefings, such as ICAHD provides, on the development of EU policy on Israel.
The delegation came away with a clear understanding that civil society pressure is an invaluable diplomatic tool for those in the EU campaigning for a change on policy towards Israel and a much better insight into how to promote ICAHD objectives within the EU. Armed with this information, ICAHD UK plans to follow-up on this successful preliminary visit with another delegation to Brussels later in the year that will be led by Jeff Halper.
The situation on the ground: house demolitions
The Palestinian community composed of 28 families from Sheikh Jarrah have called for an International day for action on 13 July because of the number of eviction orders which are part of a plan to demolish the existing Palestinian neighborhood and implant a new Jewish settlement in that area. At the court hearing, on 17 May, the two families were ordered to sign a guarantee for 50,000 New Israeli Shekels ($12,600) and present a further guarantee for $50,000 from the bank. The court ruled for this money to be taken if the families refuse to hand in their keys and leave their houses voluntarily by noon on 19 July. After this date, the settler organisation, Nahalat Shimon International, has permission to enter the houses and build a 200-unit settlement of Shimon HaTzadik in its place. The fathers of the Palestinian families will be sent to prison, charged with contempt of court if they do not comply.
This settlement of Shimon HaTzadik constitutes one of a series of plans that seek to penetrate and surround Sheikh Jarrah with Israeli settlements, yeshivas and other Jewish institutions, as well as national park land, and complement government efforts to ring the Old City with Jewish development and effectively cut it off from Palestinian areas.
In addition the neighbourhoods of Silwan, Ras Khamis, Al Tur and Sur Beher, as well as neighbourhoods in the Old City are also severely affected with the threat of imminent house demolitions. Eighty-eight homes in the neighbourhood, eAl Bustani, in Silwan, south of the Old City, had their demolitions orders enforced earlier in the year which threatens to make around 1400 residents homeless. In addition, two large apartment buildings in Silwanis Al Abbasiyya neighborhood were issued demolition orders on March 5th, 2009, because of eillegal constructioni. The thirty-four families living in the two buildings, totalling over 250 people, including elderly and disabled persons. The Municipality has stated that only the first three floors of each (one is 6 the other 4 stories high) hold a valid license. Neither the landowner nor the Municipality informed any of the inhabitants about the license limitations when the individual housing units were purchased. None of the inhabitants were given prior warning nor offered alternative housing or financial compensation.
In the Old Cityis neighbourhood of Burj Al-Luqluq, seven houses and the community centre with its sports facilities for children and families, the only one of its kind within the Old City, are currently slated for demolition so that settler organization, Ateret Cohanim, can build the Maiale HaiHasidot settlement in its place.
23 June, at least four Christian families living inside the old city of Jerusalem, where local Churches accommodate more than 500 homes for Palestinian families. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and the Catholic Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land own most of these homes. Churches are already facing difficulty in attaining renovation permits and expansion is almost impossible.
Last month, ten Christian families in Beit Hanina, a suburb area of North East Jerusalem, received demolition orders for their six year old apartments in the Al-Sunbula building. Half of the building was licensed originally while permits to formulate the rest were not given. Now all the inhabitants face the same fate if the municipality carries out its threats.
On 1 July, the municipality handed out demolition orders to seven new families in the Wadi Hilwa neighborhood of Silwan.
MORE BACKGROUND ON THE CASE OF SHEIKH JARRAH
The neighbourhood consists of 28 families, and is facing a number of eviction orders which are part of a plan to implant a new Jewish settlement in the area, close to the Old City. After the Al Kurd family has been forcibly removed from their home in November 2008, it is now the turn of the al-Ghawe and Hannoun families to face imminent eviction, while others are awaiting further eviction orders.
The families have gone through 37 years of legal battles, fighting for the right to stay in their houses where many of them have been born and which they legally own. To date, the Israeli courts, including the High Court, decided in favour of the Jewish settler organisations, which claim the ownership of the land based on falsified documents. The courts have not only ignored all the documents produced by the Sheikh Jarrah community which clearly prove their legal status and the ownership of the land, they have also shown that their decisions are not based on law and justice, but are clearly political decisions, serving the goal of cleansing the Palestinian people from Jerusalem.
The latest court hearing, held on the 17th May, ordered the families to sign a guarantee for 50,000 NIS and present a further guarantee for $50,000 from the bank. The court has ruled for this money to be taken if the families refuse to hand in their keys and leave their houses voluntarily by noon on the 19th July. After this date, the settler organisations have permission to enter the houses and the fathers of the families will be sent to prison, charged with contempt of court. Now that all legal avenues have been exhausted, the families last hope is that media attention & international pressure can help stop the evictions taking place
Maher Hannoun, resident from Sheikh Jarrah faced by imminent eviction order and imprisonment, said:
As refugees and people living under occupation, we are asking people to help us with our struggle for our rights. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Israel’s authorities can get away with demolishing the homes of Palestinians in order to build settlements or national parks. The price we and our neighbours have to pay is too high, we are faced with two impossible choices – either we throw our kids out on the street or we go to prison. If we lose our homes, there is nowhere else for us to go, the only option we have is to live in tents.
International solidarity gives us more power and strength to continue in our struggle and stay in our homes. We need support from people around the world to let everybody know about our story and pressure their governments to help stop this racist policy of house evictions and demolitions.
What you can do – suggestions for further actions:
– Contact your MPs and other political representatives to tell them about this story. Ask them to raise the issue of East Jerusalem in the Parliament and Government meetings and put diplomatic pressure on the Israeli authorities.
– Contact media representatives in your countries and ask them to cover the story of Sheikh Jarrah and the ongoing ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem.
– Organise demonstrations, talks, film nights or photo exhibitions in your countries. Email We ask for people to stand in solidarity with the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and support their fight for justice.
If you would like to find out more contact Eva on 054 344 2512 (011-972-54-344-2512) or Liam 054 992 6354 (outside Palestine 011-972-54-992-6354)