McCAUGHAN: Jerusalem – Evicted Palestinian family keeps watch near home taken by settlers October 16, 2009


by Rev Pat McCaughan  -  Episcopal Life Online -  15 October 2009

Most days, Sharihan Hannoun and her family sit along the sidewalk on dusty white plastic chairs watching the East Jerusalem home from which they were forcibly evicted, watching as the strangers who took it over come and go.

“Today we stay in the street 65 days,” said Hannoun, on October 8. “The first few nights, we slept here,” recalled the 20-year-old who was a psychology student at Birzeit University in Jerusalem. That was before August 2 early morning police raids left 37 members of her extended family homeless.

Hannoun, wearing black slacks, a long-sleeved white turtleneck sweater and matching white head covering worn by Muslim women, recalled being awakened at 5 a.m. when Israeli police broke down the front door of the home owned by her parents since 1956.

“I told them we have ownership papers. They said they didn’t want to see them. They said, ‘it’s not your house, it’s our house. They put a gun to my brother’s back and said for him to leave the house. He is just 10 years old,” she said.

“They broke everything in the house, the television, everything,” she recalled. “They went to the refrigerator and ate the food. They took my brother’s football and started playing with it in the yard. They said, you are Palestinians and we can do what we want with you.”

What happened to the Hannoun family is part of an increasingly frequent pattern in the disputed Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, located a few blocks north of the Anglican Cathedral of St. George the Martyr and the diocesan offices of Bishop Suheil Dawani.

“We have a problem with confiscation of land. Imagine sitting on the sidewalk watching people live in your house,” said Omar Harami, a staff member of Sabeel, a Christian ecumenical organization that, among other things, promotes the plight of Palestinians in the Middle East. With chapters in at least 10 countries, Sabeel is an official partner of the Presbyterian Church USA.

“Usually the police, or soldiers, move in and evict Palestinians and the settlers move in. In some cases, the settlers use their same furniture,” he said.

In a land where the past is often present, the Hannoun family is among at least 28 families embroiled in a bitter land dispute that spans centuries. In some cases, residents date their right of ownership to the 16th century Ottoman rule of Palestine, and also when that area was under Jordan’s control. That control ended after Israel secured the land during the 1967 six-day war and the struggle for land ensued.

Sheikh Jarrah is one of 19 Palestinian neighborhoods in what is known as Israeli-annexed Jerusalem — areas claimed by both Palestinians and Jews. In recent years, amid increasing tensions, Jewish settlers have begun to move into the area, near a holy site, the tomb of Simon the Just, a Jewish High Priest during the time of the second temple in Jerusalem.

Harami said Palestinians are helpless to fight a vicious cycle of occupation as Jewish settlers increasingly relocate to the area. Although the U.S. and other governments have asked Israel to stop the evictions of Palestinian families, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has declined to get involved in what is deemed a civil matter. Israeli courts have largely ruled in favor of Jewish settlers, frustrating Palestinians who have appealed to the international community for help.

“When you are under occupation, you have no country and we are under occupation,” Harami said.

A Jewish settler real estate company, Nahalat Shimon International, in August 2008 filed plans with the Jerusalem Local Planning Commission to demolish existing Palestinian homes and build a 200-unit settlement in its place, the Shimon HaTzadik.

Eventually, he hopes, an international court will order Israel to stop, but “if they can grab all the property they can before that happens, it will be harder to make them go.”

If the Palestinians leave Jerusalem, they will lose their “Jerusalem identity,” said Maureen Tobin, a Sabeel volunteer from Maine. “That identity is very precious to people because it theoretically guarantees them certain services, medical care and everything,” she added.

She and the Rev. Robert Tobin, retired rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were in Jerusalem to lead a group from the United States, helping to raise awareness of the land disputes.

Daniel Rossing, director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, declined to comment specifically on the Hannoun situation, but said that Orthodox Christians believe they were the original inhabitants of the land.

He said the notion of a Promised Land is an important one, depending upon “who’s using it and what the circumstance is. When the notion of it is used by a downtrodden group as a source of hope and inspiration of something yet to come, but will come, that’s one thing. But when it is used by an empowered group to make a claim on land, or to usurp land the Promised Land has a whole different connotation.

“That’s what’s going on in every one of these house demolition episodes — how people are using the concept of the Promised Land as a title deed, or as a hope of a future.”

Meanwhile, Hannoun and her family wait in the street and watch as four Jewish settlers, three young men and a woman, lock and leave the house they have called home for more than 50 years.

A nearby Palestinian-owned hotel has donated rooms for them to sleep. The family is surviving through the aid of other family and neighbors who offer some meals and use of bathrooms “because they know today it is us in the street, but tomorrow it may be them.”

A website, Stand up for Jerusalem, has been established to help focus international attention on the plight of Palestinians. Eventually, Hannoun hopes an international court will return them to the family home. “We write letters to Mr. Obama and Mr. Blair,” she said. “We want someone to make them stop.”

I just want people to know what is happening to us, to know about us. We are human beings, but we live in the street like dogs.”

The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal News Service Correspondent for Provinces VII and VIII and the House of Bishops. She is based in Los Angeles.

If you liked this article, please consider making a donation to Australians for Palestine by clicking on the PayPal link
Thank You.
Bookmark and Share

Add a Comment

required, use real name
required, will not be published
optional, your blog address