Repression reveals Israel not a democratic state

August 22, 2009

Since being evicted from their homes in the East Jerusalem community of Sheikh Jarrah on August 2 in a pre-dawn raid, the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families, both Palestinian, have been living on the street.

On August 2, 53 Palestinians were evicted from homes where their families had lived since 1956. The new occupants were protected from protesters and journalists by the Israeli military.

"This is the image that Israel now presents to the world, a country that claims to be democratic, yet oppresses the weakest members of society", said Jacky Rowland in an August 7 Al Jazeera English report.

East Jerusalem communities like Sheikh Jarrah have been under attack by Israeli settler organisations, that have tried to evict Palestinians from their homes in order to create wholly Jewish communities. It is a fight that has lasted over 30 years.

After the 1967 annexation of Jerusalem by Israel, settlers were able to claim ownership of Palestinian land with the Israeli land registrar.

The Shepherd Hotel site, where the Hannoun and al-Ghawe families lived, was bought by United States-based millionaire Irving Moskovitz in an illegal sell-off by Israeli settler organisations.

Despite verbal criticisms of the evictions, neither the US nor British governments, nor the European Union have taken any actions designed to help stop such land grabs.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros said in an August 2 report: "As the family stood by the barrier, we heard police officers taunting them saying they were in Israel, not Palestine, now."

United Nations and US officials were also forced away from the scene, Ma'an news agency said on August 3.

On August 18, a United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report said 475 Palestinians still face eviction from the neighbourhood.

Rowland said: "Not only are they evicting Palestinians from houses, they are also closing streets in East Jerusalem, setting up roadblocks, preventing people from moving around freely.

"In this way, the Israeli authorities are showing that they hold international law in complete contempt."

The Hannoun family has documents from 1956 proving that the house was built and provided to them by United Nations Relief and Works Authority and the Jordanian government. They received these homes after being expelled from their homes when Israel was created in 1948.

This evidence was ignored by an Israeli court on February 15, which ruled in favour of the new "owners" claim to the land.

Following the 1967 Six Day War, Israeli settler organisations lodged Ottoman period documents with the Israeli land registrar to claim ownership of the land. Despite these documents being found to be false, settler organisations have continued to fight through Israeli courts to evict the Palestinian families from their homes.

In April 2002, the Hannoun and al-Grawe families were evicted for the first time. In 2006, the settler organisations had their claim to the land revoked by the land registrar, but the families were not granted to the land either. Despite this, the families returned to their homes to continue their fight.

Then, despite not having a right to the land, two Israeli settler organisations sold the land to a settler investment company, Nahalat Shemoun. They have submitted plans with the Jerusalem council to demolish the 28 homes and build 250 settler units.

One of those evicted, Maheer Hannoun, told on August 2: "Despite condemnation from the international community ... the Israeli government continues to pursue the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem.

"My family were refugees from 1948 and now we have become refugees again. We were forced out of homes to make way for settlers, contrary to international law … But the unjust policies of Israel to judaise East Jerusalem render our legal proof of ownership irrelevant."

At a candlelight vigil outside the evicted homes on August 11, Rabbis for Peace executive director Arik Ascherman was arrested for silently protesting.

US Republican 2012 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee further inflamed the situation by attending a dinner at the Shepherd Hotel on August 17. He planned to visit extremist settler outposts in the West Bank during his trip.

Faced with increasing intimidation, activists fighting Israeli occupation are gaining a greater profile around the world.

Ezra Nawi is an Israeli-Jewish activist facing court for his non-violent defence of indigenous Palestinian Bedouin homes being demolished by Israeli authorities in the Hebron Hills in 2007. His sentence will be handed down on September 21.

In March, Judge Eilata Ziskind told the court that Nawi was "disturbing the peace" by stopping the Israeli bulldozers to defend Palestinian homes near the settlement of Carmel, close to Hebron. He was convicted for rioting and assaulting a police officer, charges he denied.

The June 27 New York Times said: "It is perhaps best to think of him as the Robin Hood of the South Hebron hills, an Israeli Jew helping poor locals who love him, and thwarting settlers and soldiers who view him with contempt."

His story has become known around the world as part of a growing movement of Israeli Jews in the Palestine solidarity movement. US-based group Jewish Voice for Peace collected 20,000 signatures from around the world in support of his release, which were accepted by the court on August 16.

[Visit to support Ezra Nawi's legal case.]

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