USi editor Tim Lezard reports from East Jerusalem
We’ve all experienced noisy neighbours, right? We complain to the authorities, and they sort out the problem. But what if the authorities were the ones who installed the noisy neighbours?
That’s exactly what happened to 71-year-old Nabeel Al-Kurd, who’s lived in the same house in East Jerusalem since 1956. He decided it was time for him and his wife to give some space to the other eleven family members – including his 94-year-old mother – so built an annex next to his home.
But because he didn’t have a permit, Israeli soldiers smashed down his door at 5am, kicked him out and threw his furniture out on the street. A couple of hours later, Israeli settlers moved their own furniture in.
The settlers, young, idealist Zionists, were placed there by the Israeli authorities to force Nabeel out of his home. They did their best – playing loud music, insulting his family, even letting their dogs attack him – but Nabeel stayed firm.
“I won’t go anywhere unless I die, when I shall go to the cemetery,” he says, defiantly. “The settlers are there to provoke conflict. Always the police are coming, always we are scared about the children. We don’t allow them out because they get into fights.
“The settlers don’t stay here for long. They are only here to prove they are controlling the house, then new ones move in. They want us to leave. This is a silent war, not a war with tanks like in Gaza. We ask you to raise your voices, to tell people of our situation.”
Nabeel’s situation is far from unique, as Ingrid Jaradat Gassner from the Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights tells us earlier in the day.
“What is going on in Palestine is far worse than apartheid because not only do Palestinians face racism and discrimination every day, but Israel wants them to leave the land,” she says.
“The settlers should not be here in East Jerusalem. Israel treats East Jerusalem as its own territory. It is in complete control over construction, allowing settlers to build, but not Palestinians.”
Jerusalem, like Berlin during the Cold War, is divided into East and West. The West is the Jewish area; the East is the Palestinian area. In 1967, Israel granted permanent Israeli residency to Arabs living in the city at that time. Those not present lost the right to reside in Jerusalem.
To build homes on their land, Palestinians must first seek a permit from the Israeli government, which turns down 95% of applications. When the alternative is being made homeless, it is no surprise Palestinians build houses anyway. There are currently 20,000 houses in East Jerusalem built without permits. A third of the population risks eviction from their homes if the state decides to demolish their homes.
“If their homes are demolished, they leave East Jerusalem and their residency is revoked – it’s Catch 22,” explains Ingrid.
At least Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have some semblance of freedom, even if it is in the shadow of the barrier. If they live on the West Bank their lives are controlled by soldiers, checkpoints and the dreaded barrier.
They are not allowed to use the new highways running between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem or serving the new settlements. They have to use old roads, detouring around the new ones, sometimes more than doubling their commute times.
They have to drive around the outside of Jerusalem while Israelis can drive through the city. Palestinian homes have water tanks on the roof so when Israel decides to cut off the mains water, they have reserves. Israelis are waved through checkpoints, Palestinians forced out of their vehicles and searched.
When you witness the inequality, it’s hard to argue with Ingrid’s description of apartheid.
- USi editor Tim Lezard has recently returned from Palestine, where he was part of a delegation organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. USi is publishing exclusive extracts from his report in advance of its publication on September 14th. The report is funded by ASLEF and TSSA.
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