Tucked in a corner of East Jerusalem is the neighborhood of Sheik Jarrah, founded in 1865 and one time residential center for Jerusalem’s Muslim elite. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jerusalem was split down the middle by the Green Line with Sheikh Jarrah the middle man between Jordanian controlled East Jerusalem and Israeli controlled West Jerusalem until Israel occupied it once again in 1967.
Under Jordanian control, abandoned Jewish homes were rented to Palestinian refugees and in 1956 the UNRWA built homes for 28 families in Sheik Jarrah. The government promised the residents that should they reside in their homes, ownership papers would be bestowed upon them. The Israeli government had little choice but to let this arrangement stand – at least until the 1967 Six Days War when Israel occupied the neighborhood and disputes began to arise.
During this time the Knesset (Parliament) passed the Legal and Administrative Maters Law which allowed the “original” Israeli owners to the right of return and for the repossession of their land – either by themselves or their heirs – as far back as 1948 allowing for eviction of current residents. (Keep in mind that the right of return for 500 thousand Palestinians has been denied and is remains a sticking point in any proposed peace process.)
In 1957 the Al Kurd family was one of the 28 families that moved into the UNWRA houses, their Matriarch having fled Haifa in 1948. The family lived in relative peace for decades and in the summer of 2008 began construction on an addition to the home in order to accommodate the growing family (many generations living under one roof is an expected norm). Like many Palestinians Nabil al-Kurd didn’t have a building permit, firstly the cost is upwards of $5,000 but namely because while Israelis are given free range to build whatever they want wherever they want, Palestinians are routinely denied building permits which results in a lot of unlicensed building.
When the addition was completed the Israeli courts accused the family of not paying rent for 30 years (on a home they already owned)and the house – like so many – was placed under demolition order. What’s unique about Israeli demolition orders is that there is no appointed time – they can happen the same day or it could be years before action is finally taken. Often you’ll hear of a family having their home bulldozed in the middle of the night. The most insidious part of this is that Palestinians have two choices; they can either demolish the home themselves or the government can come in and do it for them with bulldozers – which the Palestinians must pay for.
As the family was being evicted, the judge confiscated the new construction. A month later Zionist settlers moved in claiming their grandfather built the house and it was theirs. The al-Kurds brought the family to court where they presented suspicious Ottoman-era lad deeds as proof of ownership dating back to the 1800’s. A trip to the Ottoman archives in Turkey revealed that the documents provided by the settlers were forgeries; not only were the records nowhere to be found in the archives but the settler’s documents lacked all the hallmark characteristics of the era such as a detailed description of the property. Despite the obvious forgery and the fact that deeds of that era only allow for PRIMARY registration of ownership – not the eviction of 3rd party inhabitants – the judge sided with the settlers recognizing their claim of original ownership under the Legal and Administrative Matters law mentioned above.
In a 1982 court case the al-Kurd family was ordered to sign ownership of the property to the Israeli government under the threat of eviction and demolition and to begin paying rent – an amount which still hasn’t been settled upon. This has effectively forfeited any claim to ownership the family had while allowing the government to do anything they wish with the property without any required authorization. While the family is still fighting against this ruling, the judge entrusted the new constructing to the settlers.
In November 2008 the family found itself forced to live in tents in their courtyard while Zionist activists moved into the front of their home. 11 members of the al-Kurd family were later forced to live in the four rooms of the back of the house while the Zionists lived in the front. During this time settlers unleashed attack dogs on the family, thrown human waste on their children, sexually harassed the women, set fire to a tent that Nabil and his 4 year old daughter were sleeping in, urinated on mattresses used by 2 son sleeping outside, defecated on lawn furniture and burned stolen family belongings.
Zionist activists from all over the globe rotate living in the front of the home making sure that it is always occupied so that the al-Kurd family cannot take it back. Several times a male settler has stood in the window that faces the family’s court yard, nude and masturbating which as forced the family to hang blankets so their children don’t witness it. When asked why they are there, settlers vomit the same tired rhetoric; God gave them this land, it belongs to them.
Do not think that this is an isolated incident. 60 families in the Al’ja’ouni neighborhood have suffered the same fate. The Gawi and Hannoun families were both shocked awake at 5:30am one summer morning by IOF smashing through their windows and being dragged from their homes – 53 people in total were suddenly homeless. With nowhere to go the families lived for months in tents under the olive tree across the street from their homes.
Why, you might ask, is Sheikh Jarrah so important to settlers? It is a strategic neighborhood – if it is taken over it will complete a ring of Jewish majority with Sheikh Jarrah to the north, Silwan to the south and the Mount of Olives to the east which will cut off the Old City from the northern Palestinian neighborhoods. Annex and control/colonize is the hallmark of the Israeli government whose aim is to break up the contiguous Palestinian state by creating a Jewish majority. If the state of Palestine is mostly Jewish, and not contiguous how can it be considered at state at all? It’s all about land.. all about creating the Jewish State.
I met with Nabil and the al-Kurd family on November 18th. Despite his mother having just passed away, he spent the afternoon with me telling me his story between mug after mug of hot, sweet tea. Waves of shock and anger rolled through me, and at one point during the conversation a settler – a corpulent ginger haired man – emerged from the front of the house to walk his German Sheppard, Nabil chuckling at me as I watched in open mouthed shock. Again, it’s one thing to hear something – it’s another to witness it for yourself.
While many members of the al-Kurd family sat with me, it was Nabil’s cousin who was the most provocative. He addressed the one thing I hadn’t heard any Palestinian speak of until him; the Holocaust. I found it strange that, despite living amongst so many Jews – many who are descendants of those who experienced and/or escaped the Nazi regime – very few Palestinians spoke about it.
“This terrible thing happened, the Shoa, but the Israelis are still living in the ghettos in their minds,” he said. ” They have blinders on, you know like the horses? Blinders, and can only focus on having their own country -but it has become their only narrative, their sole identity.”
It was at that point that I sat back in my chair, and exhaled deeply. For days I had been thinking about the phenomena of inter-generational trauma which is displayed in children and grandchildren of people who have survived atrocity. I have witnessed the trauma first hand; first in an Armenian woman who told me of horrifying nightmares of persecution, death and torture though it was her great-grandmother that had survived the Armenian genocide. The second was in an Native American woman who suffered at the abusive hands of her alcoholic and drug addicted parents who were fighting off the trauma of THEIR parents who had been in boarding schools. The Jews are no different, save for the sheer scale and planning of their destruction. They’ve passed the trauma of the Holocaust from generation to generation, sending their children to the camps so that they can “know heir history.” It is undeniable that the Shoa is a part – a SINGLE part – of Jewish history, but it is not the entirety of their history. The continued elaborate study, and focused emphasis on the trauma has caused it to be the only narrative and identity they have – they have internalized it so that the gas chambers are ever bit as real now as they were back then. Everything concerning Israeli policy is rooted in the fear of this terrible event happening again. If Israel is, in fact, a country of traumatized people like the theory posits, then how can anyone help? It’s not as if you can send and entire country to therapy! Yet, the longer we go without finding a viable solution that can heal them, the will continue to engage in the twisted tactics and tools on the Palestinians that they have learned from the Nazis.
As final point, I will ask you what Nabil’s cousin asked me –
“What is the difference between a Jewish State and an Islamic one?”
Until next time.