New Internationalist

Living beside your oppressor: a Palestinian reality

Protesters at Sheikh Jarrah

Palestinian solidarity protests, March 2011. Photo by liormania under a CC Licence

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.

A Sheikh Jarrah childhood
A Sheik Jarrah childhood. Photo by ISM Palestine under a CC Licence.

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.

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  1. #1 editor 07 Nov 11

    If the Arabs in the Sheikh Jarrah area are so oppressed, how come they don't want to leave. Millions of Muslims in Muslim countries are fleeing to go to Europe, Canada, or USA, but the Arabs living in Jerusalem don't want to leave because they like it there. They have a good life with lots of freedom, especially with the new train servicing the area. If they were unhappy, they would be trying to leave, they prefer to stay, because life is good there.

  2. #2 Adriano Merola Marotta 07 Nov 11

    Reply to ’editor’;

    Where have you taken these figures of ‘millions’ of ‘Muslims’ (I never said all the residents were Muslims) leaving the Middle East from? I take it that you have never spoken to a Palestinian, because like any person under military occupation, the option of leaving is one of surrendering. Many Palestinians do leave because of the horrible conditions under which they live their daily lives, but many chose to stay. Those that do have a strong emotional and cultural affinity to their homeland and would rather try and resist Israeli encroachment than give up and fulfil the wishes of the Israeli settlers.

    To put it in a different context: imagine a foreign army came to your neighbourhood and told your family and neighbours that you had no right to live there, regardless of how long your family had owned the land. Then imagine that you refused to leave. You refused to leave because you have always known this to be your home; this is where your memories are and where your heart lies. Then imagine religious supporters of this same army squatted one of the houses on your street and started harassing you because of the god you believe in or the colour of your skin. And then imagine a complete stranger, no doubt someone with little contact or knowledge about your neighbourhood, wrote on the internet that you are actually deluded if you think that you are unhappy. In fact, this person would say, you ‘prefer to stay’, because ‘life is good’ here. Would this person be right? I think not. I think the question this stranger should be asking is why are the homes of these people being threatened in the first place?

    And the new train servicing the area has only helped Israeli domination of East Jerusalem; it is built to link together all the Israeli settlements in the area to make movement for Jewish settlers easier. I could write a whole piece about the new train service, something I am not going to do here.

  3. #3 Nicholas Simon 07 Nov 11

    The major falacies of your article:
    1. There is no oppression based on the color of ones skin in Israel or the West Bank. That accusation is beyond preposterous. Israeli Jews are composed of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Middle Eastern, Asian, Arab, and Black Jews and there is no discrimination. It is conflict between two societies, not race.
    2. The Israeli Gov't didnt refuse his building permit because he is Palestinian, but because Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have made the collective decision to not be citizens of Israel, although all can still apply for citizenship. Its PA leaders that prevent them doing so.
    3. What the is the problem of Jews moving into Palestinian neighborhoods and transforming them. In America we call that housing discrimination. Would we prevent minorities from moving into white neighborhoods? Is it 1963? Do we believe in American values? Its ILLEGAL to 'settle' and live there? Because they are Jews? The West Bank and East Jerusalem is the last place in the world where people say Jews cant live.

  4. #4 Adriano Merola Marotta 07 Nov 11

    I will reply to your comment Nicholas Simon, in the order you set forth;

    1. Having been in the region myself, I have seen first-hand what Israeli racial prejudice is comprised of. It is in fact a conflict of race, between Israeli and Arab as well as between Ashkenazi and Sephardic (which ethnically includes Arabs). I could cite hundreds of sources for this conclusion, but I will spare you the heavy reading. [a href=’’] Reports showing the structural discrimination of Arab Israelis, together with[a href=’’] recent reports on routine racism of Arabs in Jaffa because of their ethnicity. [a href=’’]Banning the right to commemorate your cultural history or [a href=’’]differentiating between Arabs and non-Arabs in marital law would be considered racist, no? Or maybe [a href=’’]a majority of Israeli Jews supporting the state in encouraging Arabs to move would be considered racist. And finally, on this point, I would say that although the Israeli population is comprised of Jews from all around the world, there seems to be tensions between [a href=’’]Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, with many [a href=’’]Sephardic Jews claiming institutional discrimination because of the colour of their skin.
    To conclude, I am not saying that all Israelis are racist or that race is the primary reason for this conflict, I am simply saying that to dismiss racism as ‘preposterous’ is not correct.
    After all, how do you think Israeli police officers tell the difference between the Jewish settlers in the settlement I mentioned in the article? Besides their vigorous flag-waving, of course.

    2. He is living in East Jerusalem which is legally in the eyes of the Palestinian Authority viewed as the capital of Palestine. The question, dear Nicholas, is why should he apply for Israeli citizenship? East Jerusalem is officially not a part of Israel, so the jurisdiction of the state of Israel should not extend in to East Jerusalem, although it does. If, as you admitted, it is a conflict between ‘two societies’, then why are you asking citizens of one society to assimilate to the other society in question, when the latter society has no right to do what it is doing?

    3. There is nothing, nothing, wrong with jews moving in to a Palestinian neighbourhood per se. I don’t think the residents of Sheikh Jarrah think that, and I certainly don’t. What is wrong however, is for the state of Israel to try and expand its jurisdiction in to areas that currently are not in their domain whilst, as I mentioned above, discriminate against the people it decides to dominate. The Ultra-Orthodox Jews did not legally move in to the neighbourhood nor did they move there because they wanted to live in the friendly nice area of Sheikh Jarrah. They moved there because they wanted to expand the territories within Israeli Jewish domain, in the hope of making life too unbearable for the Arabs living there to force them to leave. Their ardent Israeli nationalism is testimony to that.
    In a all-encompassing nation where the state of Israel together with the West Bank and Gaza were one political entity, where complete social, political, ethnic and economic equality ruled supreme, there would be no problem with a Jewish family to legally move in to a non-Jewish neighbourhood. Its not a problem for me, and I am sure it would not be one for the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah. Sadly, as of yet, this scenario is not a reality.

    I am sorry to have potentially challenged a worldview you probably hold very dear, but please do not suggest I would claim something preposterous (implying it is not true) because there is nothing I would claim in a forum like this which I wouldn’t back up with facts.

  5. #5 David Dineley 16 Nov 11

    A statment on ’British policey in Palistine’ issued on 3th july 1922 by the cononial office, placed a restrictive construction upon the Balfour decclaration, the statment excluded ’the disappearance or subordination of the Arabic popolation, language or custums in Palistine’ or’the imposition of Jewish nationalty upon the inhabitants of Plasitine as a whole’ and made it clear that the eyes of the mandatory power would be watching.The Jewish national home was to be founded in Plaistine, and not that Palistine as a whole was to be CONverted into a Jewish national home. In 1917 Walter Rothschiled, 2nd Baron Roshschild (powerfull Jewish banker family)(D,D), was addressee of the Balfour declaration to a Zionist federation which commetted the British Goverment to establishment in Palistine of a national home for the Jewish people, later, Lord Victor Rochschild (same family, great hindsight)(D.D), was against granting asylum or even help to Jewish refuges during the Holocust. There a a few people who say the the Holocaust did not happen,this is just a publisty stunt, as i eveyone off my age (1/11/53) plus and below, knows it took place, it was horrifict and incomprehensible, what took place and not only to Jews, but i beleave the Jews have played that sympathy card too long, too offten and to exsteams, and now there the persecutors, Palistine is like a sceen from the ghettos of Warsaw. David Dineley, Le'thornes Stables, Lambourn, Royal Berkshire, United Kingdom.

  6. #6 Marie Lloyd 17 Nov 11

    I have heard of this legendary defense of Sheikh Jarrah by sympathetic and humane allies of the Palestinians there under siege. If there is any material support the protectors need to continue their noble work, please contact me by my e-mail. I offer my admiration and best wishes, and to the Palestinians I say: peace to you, my best wishes to you. I donate to your children's summer camps.

  7. #7 Adriano Mérola Marotta 20 Nov 11

    I appreciate your knowledge of history David, very impressive. I think, as you highlight, it is important to understand what went wrong historically. Many of the average immigrants that moved to Palestine following the Holocaust were impoverished, hopeful individuals that did not necessarily intend for many of the things done in the name of Israel to happen. This explains why in the early 1970’s, there was a mass exodus of Israelis that left Israel to return to Europe or the US.
    There is a lot to be said about the issues raised by you, too much for me to discuss here. I would say that the Holocaust should not in any way be denied, as the overwhelming historical evidence proves the reality of the Holocaust. It was something that all humans should condemn to the fullest, and it was one of the most gruesome and malicious things to have ever been inflicted on humanity.
    For an interesting account of the ways the Holocaust is used today as a tool for Zionist propaganda, check out the book “The Holocaust Industry” by American-Jewish academic Norman G. Finkelstein. His parents were Holocaust survivors, which makes his angle all the more interesting;

    Reply to Marie;
    It is amazing to read of your support for the people in Sheikh Jarrah.
    “Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity” is a group of Israeli & Palestinian (as well as international) activists that try to highlight the issues of the area, they are amongst the monitoring activists that stay overnight in settlement I wrote about.
    If you ever happen to be in Jerusalem, I would suggest you spend a night in the settlement of Sheikh Jarrah. It is pertinent to the Al-Kurd family to have people stay there overnight, as I did in September.
    Otherwise, please check out their website and see in what ways you feel you can help the most, all support is appreciated, and I commend your support of the Palestinian people.

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About the author

Adriano Mérola Marotta  a New Internationalist contributor

Adriano Mérola Marotta is a Uruguayan-Swedish social justice activist and freelance writer. The son of Uruguayan political refugees, he grew up in Sweden and did his BA in Development and his MA in Global Political Economy at the University of Sussex. Personal tweets @AdrianoMerola.

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