People cannot live freely by confiscating the rights of others
- Amal Alqasem Abu Hasnah, Chair of the Association of Women's Forum in Jerusalem
Since 1972 the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has been subject to extensive legal disputes over the ownership of its land and the rightful occupants of its houses. As a district of East Jerusalem such controversy over land ownership has been in existence long before this date. Even before the mass displacement of Palestinians in the year of 1948. But it was in 1972 that this specific battle for residency took its particular form. This was the year that extremist Jewish Groups claimed ownership of land in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighbourhood, and registered their claim to this land with the Department of Israeli Territory on the basis of archaic Ottoman documents.
In 1982, the claim of these groups, represented under the collective title Ateret Khomin, was officially acknowledged. This concession was made on the condition that the Palestinian families, now supposedly squatting in Jewish-owned territory, would remain in their homes as tenants. The Palestinian families in question were unaware of this bargain, made on their behalf by their lawyer, Elias Cohen. They have since seized to use his services.
Since the early 1990s, Hosni Abu Hussein has represented the Palestinian families' interest in this matter. He has achieved much success on their behalf, most significantly trumping the documents produced by the Ateret Khomin counsel, by locating documentation amongst Turkish archives which disproves the prosecution's claim to ownership. The validity of this later discovery has been upheld by the Israeli court. However, both the families of Maher Hanoun and Abdel-Fattah Ghaoui were evicted from their homes before this point. This amounted to the eviction of 55 people in total.
In 2008, the Shimon Bees company made its first appearance, announcing its intention to build two hundred settlements in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. This company has purchased the disputed land from the Jewish groups who claim ownership of it.
The same year saw the eviction of the Muhammed Kurd family. Their home was swiftly occupied by Jewish settlers. In August 2009 the Maher Hanoun and Abdel-Fattah Ghaoui families were evicted for a second time. In December 2009 the family of Nabil Kurd was evicted, and their home seized by settlers.
The Palestinian Authority has a leased home for displaced families for ten years until a solution to their plight has been reached. The evicted families in Sheikh Jarrah have demonstrated their resistance to their eviction by remaining in their neighbourhood in tents on the roadside. Amal Alqasem Abu Hasnah, Chair of the Association of Women's Forum, has said of the situation: "The tent for us is a symbol of the process of displacement and eviction based on racial grounds and on the basis of ethnic cleansing. We use the tent to receive solidarity from all over the world, including the solidarity of the Israeli peace camp."
This solidarity has expressed itself in Sheikh Jarrah in the form of weekly peaceful protests against the house evictions. Every Friday, dozens take part in the demonstrations organised by the Israeli peace movements. Amal explains that these demonstrations are not met with violence by the Israeli police compared with the weekly peaceful demonstrations in Ni'lin and the winepress and the Prophet Salih, which usually end in many injuries among the Palestinians. Amal says: "the demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah end without injuries because the Israeli police are keen to show their ‘Democratic' face in Jerusalem and to mislead the world opinion about the reality of the conflict here."
Amal expresses her distrust of world media, and its portrayal of the Palestinian situation. She emphasises the importance of international pressure and awareness. Through the participation of internationals in the weekly protests she says: "we found the importance of the International Solidarity Movement, which organizes groups and encourages them to come to Palestine to see the events face to face, making our version more credible, and exposing Israeli practices to the world."
International interest in the situation in Sheikh Jarrah has ranged from resistance on the ground to the scrutiny of political authorities. This October former US President Jimmy Carter visited Sheikh Jarrah during one of the weekly protests. Elsewhere, the UN Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert H. Serry, has described the house evictions as "contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory." While members of the US Executive have expressed condemnation of the situation: US State Department spokeswoman Mary Meltson said the house evictions constitute violations of Israel's obligations under the US-backed "road map" peace plans.
Amal urges the international community to raise its voice to gain justice for Palestinians and the protection of their human rights.