On a seemingly desolate road in East Jerusalem, in the area of Sheikh Jarrah, dozens of Palestinian families live under continuous surveillance and harassment. Located next to the tomb of Shimon Hatzaddik (a revered Jewish High Priest), the street stands as an attestation to the indescribable conditions under which most Palestinian people live today.
The situation here is a familiar one for Palestinian families all over the West Bank. It is a story of Israeli expansion; of Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory, a war of attrition in which Palestinian families in the area become victims of psychological, and often physical, violence because of the colour of their skin, or the god they believe in.
The Israeli invasion into Palestinian territory is enacted through the creation of settlements; a process by which Israeli people, predominantly Orthodox Jews, squat Palestinian land that they feel should be in the Jewish domain; a process which always results in violence. On the receiving end of this violence, certainly in the case of Sheikh Jarrah, are inhabitants who have been in the area for generations, and claim legal rights to the land. The Israeli state apparently acts as an intermediary between the two, whilst openly being intent on annexing all of Jerusalem and creating a Jewish majority in the city, thus serving the interests of the settlers.
With two Jewish settlements on the street, tensions run high in this small residential area located just outside the centre of Jerusalem. The two settlements, across the street from each other, are in buildings that used to belong to Palestinian families. The smaller of the two, a squatted extension of the Al-Kurd residence, resembles a warzone more than a family home. Anti-Arab graffiti and Stars of David cover the front wall of the property. Just past the low stone walls demarcating the property, Israeli flags decorate the front of the squatted extension, accompanied by scribbles on the wall such as ‘Fuck Palestine’ and ‘This is Jewish land’.
As a foreigner visiting this settlement, the absurdity of the situation is striking. In front of the odious graffiti and Israeli flags adorning the squat stand several young men on guard, young men who do not spare their insults when met with a new face. To the right of the extension lies a narrow alleyway which leads to the back of the property, the part in which the Al-Kurd family live. They have been the legal owners since it was built in 1956; they were evicted from their extension as they only had a permit for construction to the rear of the property. This is because, according to the father of the family, Nabil Al-Kurd, the Israeli government refused him a planning permit because he was Palestinian. He had built the extension defiantly with his bare hands.
Every night, international and Israeli activists gather in the alleyway of the property, acting as a buffer between the settlers and the Al-Kurd family. As this entrance is used daily by the Al-Kurd family, they are in constant contact with the settlers. The settlers, having been capable of violence against the family as well as their home in the past, take out their anger on the monitoring activists, who have to face verbal and physical abuse from the settlers, including, on occasion, the throwing of faeces.
‘We have nothing to lose here – this is what we have lived with our entire lives. This man here has been in and out of jail since the age of 11, for doing nothing more than being Palestinian,’ says Mohammed, a local resident of Sheikh Jarrah who frequently visits the settlement to support the monitoring activists, as he points to his friend outside the settlement. Being on the receiving end of aggression from settlers and state, the residents experience the full oppression of the Israeli military occupation on a daily basis. This is what life is like for the local residents, and there is no other option but to continue living the best way they can.
Sheikh Jarrah serves as one of hundreds of examples of the absurdity and inhumanity of the situation in the region today. The residents are in direct daily contact with settlers who are trying to take over the neighbourhood, despite the fact that such a takeover is supposedly completely illegal. The Israeli state is constantly ready to crack down on any attempts at resistance, and even offers logistical support to the settlers.
‘What saddens me,’ says Mohammed, ‘is that in a few years’ time foreign visitors will come here to find the entire street colonized. There will be no memory left of the people that used to live here, and we can’t do anything about it.’
With Israel planning 2,600 settlements in East Jerusalem, who knows what the future holds for the residents of Sheikh Jarrah.