Ethnic Cleansing In Sheikh Jarrah:
The Case Of The Hannoun Family
By Michael Galvin
10 July, 2009
When you stand on the Mount of Olives opposite Jerusalem looking out at the vast expanse of desert that stretches toward the West Bank in the distance, the towers of Ma'ale Adumim block your view. Reaching up far higher than any Palestinian building, the starchy white skyscrapers of this illegal settlement block of 33,000, mostly Orthodox Jews, stick out of a patch of desert with luxurious red-roofed villas and palm trees surrounding them. Ma'ale Adumim was established by 23 Israeli families in 1975 and was recognized two years later by the Israeli government of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the commander of the terrorist Irgun militia and Prime Minister from 1977 to 1983 who proclaimed in 1948, "The Partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized... Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for Ever."
Since this date the Israelis have been slowly but consistently tearing away at the originally Palestinian-majority city. In 1948, the city was divided into two halves, the eastern half annexed by Jordan in 1950. In 1967, the Israeli military occupied East Jerusalem imposing Israeli law, confiscating 34% of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements and 54% for "open green space" - or future development - leaving a little more than 12% for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In 1980, under military occupation, Jerusalem was declared the undivided "capital of Israel." As the number of construction projects have increased dramatically over the past two years, the settler population is now up to 225,000 while Palestinians number just 30,000 more. Additionally, with the completion of the separation wall, 30% of which lies outside the Green Line, 120,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians will be cut off from the city while 142,000 Israeli settlers will be brought in, in effect shifting the "democratic majority" to a solid Israeli advantage. Palestinian Jerusalem is fractured even more by the Israeli political agenda which enforces racist laws allowing Jews access to public housing within 80% of the city, allowing them to build up to eight stories - whereas Palestinians are technically only allowed two - and canceling thousands of Palestinian ID cards forcing over 10,000 of them to leave the city or live there clandestinely over the last few years.
The Hannoun family are one of the few that have been determined to remain at all costs, fighting for the last 37 years, making their case the longest running in Israeli legal history. Maher Hannoun welcomes us warmly into the house where he and his two brothers and their families, numbering 17 in all, have lived since before Maher, 51, was born. The family shares their mint tea and hookah, and Maher invites us to the patio where he chain smokes and recounts his life. As refugees from Nablus and Haifa respectively, his mother and father came to Jerusalem following the Nakba, where the Jordanian government was working with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to construct houses for fleeing Palestinians. The family moved into the house in 1956, and stayed for the three years required to transfer ownership to them from the Jordanian government. In 1964, they added on new sections to the house, receiving permission to rent or build, thus assuming that ownership had been transferred to them. However, in 1967 a sephardic settler group claimed that a sacred Jewish tomb was located in the center of this community of 28 Palestinian families, and following the Naksa (or Six Day War) they took over a house in the community while one of the families was out of the country. In 1972, they claimed the other 27 houses in the neighborhood which began a series of court cases that lasted for the ensuing 37 years.
Maher carefully recounts the details letting the ash on his cigarette build up until it falls off on its own. The first case, he says, was for only four houses and the Israelis lost, the Jordanian documents being declared legitimate. "Their strategy is to take a few at a time so that they don't win or lose all at once." And in fact once the Israelis gain a foothold they can use the military and violent settler tactics to make life miserable for the rest of the community, he adds. In 1982, they chose four more houses, including the Hannoun family's, once again attempting to chip away at the neighborhood, and the Palestinians hired an Israeli lawyer to represent them as Palestinian lawyers were refusing to work in Israeli courts at the time. In the end, the lawyer made a deal without consulting the residents, legalizing a fake Ottoman document from 1875 which legitimized the sephardic group's claim to the land, yet gave the Palestinians protected tenant status.
Allowing the rent to build up for 10 years, in 1992 the settler group sued for payment of rent which the Palestinians obviously couldn't afford. "I would have been able to buy two houses for what they were asking," Maher says. In 1994 a judge froze the case but in 1999 another judge called for the families to pay roughly 40,000 dollars to the Israelis, and consequently ordered the police to take the family's furniture to pay for the rent. Maher: "My mother who is an American citizen was very sick at the time and the only thing they left was the bed for her to die on."
In 2002 the court gave them 18 days - until the 19th of April - to leave the house. On the 22nd at midnight, over 500 armed policemen arrived, closed the area, and kicked out the two families - the Hannouns and the Al-Gawis, 51 people in all - after a three hour struggle. For the next two months they lived with a neighbor and then were forced to rent elsewhere in the city until 2006 when their Palestinian lawyer told them to return to their house without a court order. The community came together to force out the settlers and the Hannouns could once again live in their home, momentarily in peace.
In 2007, the sephardic group sold the land to an Israeli-American company known for settlement construction, Nahalat Shemoun, which submitted a project to the Israeli municipality of Jerusalem in which it proposed to demolish the 28 houses in Sheikh Jarrah and build 250 settlement units to house Jewish immigrants, which included a shopping mall. The case was again sent to court after which a court order was delivered in 2008 to re-evacuate the houses. Maher was sent to jail for three months for not respecting court's decision.
After more trials and tribulations, another evacuation deadline was made on the 28th of March 2009. Many internationals came to stay in the Hannoun house, and consulates from the US, Britain, France, Sweden and the Czech Republic sent their support. This time, if the family didn't evacuate the house by May 4th, Maher would once again go to jail: "They treated me as if I'm a criminal and a terrorist for wanting to stay in my home," he said. The order was renewed again for the date of July 19th after which the family will have to pay fines for every day they remain in the house - and this on top of the tens of thousands they already owe.
Maher says an example is being made out of him. While this is true, looking out at Ma'ale Adumim it is clear that something more systematic is at work. The banner hanging over the Hannoun's house "Stop Ethnic Cleansing" seems to identify exactly what Israeli political policy is about; the organized expulsion and purification of a city's undesired inhabitants.
To support the Hannoun family go to www.standupforjerusalem.org and sign the petition. Read the call to action for Monday the 13th of July and take part in actions in front of Israeli embassies and consulates around the world. Call and harrass elected officials in the week leading up to the 19th and tell them the Hannoun and Al-Gawi families must stay in their homes!
Originally from St. Louis, MO, Michael Galvin attended a liberal arts college in Minnesota from 2004-2008 where he worked with groups mobilizing against the Iraq War. He is currently in the West Bank working with organizations against the Israeli occupation of Palestine. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.mdgalvin.wordpress.com.