From my journal, interviews, letters, and other writing about internally expelled Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza (once I can enter Gaza), plus their ancestral homelands. These dispatches are based on my latest sojourns in Palestine-Israel from mid-May to mid-July 2019 and more recent writing. Currently, the Covid-19 pandemic prevents me from returning. I now begin making plans to return in fall, 2021.
My major intention is to convey the perspectives expressed by the people I interview, allowing for translation problems and misinformation on the parts of all people involved. The histories they present, for instance, I may not agree with. I feel accuracy in reporting is more important than accuracy of their statements. Rather than insert my disagreements with their statements, which could be regarded as an act of white, Eurocentric, male supremacy, I hope to provide open platforms for those I meet.
To respond to the face, to understand its meaning, means to be awake to what is precarious in another life or, rather, the precariousness of life itself.Judith Butler
Nabeel Al-Kurd was born in Nazareth, worked as a driver or courier, and then, because of the 1967 war, moved to the Jordanian-controlled Old City of Jerusalem for safety. Jordan, also controlling this section of Jerusalem, considered him and his family refugees and built housing in the 1950s in Sheik Jarrah. Because of his expanding family, in the 1980s he built an addition to his home. He’s never been allowed to use it because Israel constantly denies him a building permit—a frequent occurrence, in my view, intended to force Palestinians to leave Jerusalem, to ethnically cleanse the city. Israel demands payment of a yearly fine for building without a permit, which Nabeel pays; if he refused, Israel might demolish the addition and perhaps his original home.
He told me that a large young Israeli family moved into the addition, but, aware of its history, conscientiously moved out. Young settlers then rotated in and out, up to 12 people. They brought women, drugs, alcohol, and noise. He told me when we last met in May 2019 that Israeli security drove the settlers out and the addition he built, the small building sitting in front of Nabeel’s current home, was now guarded or supervised by what Nabeel calls a “fat Israeli from New York City.” He claimed the Zionist occupiers would open a window facing his home and shout obscenities, encourage women in the addition to bare themselves, and throw garbage toward him and his family. He erected a curtain to partially shield his family from this attempt to force evacuation. An olive tree Nabeel showed me seems to thrive, but he told me settlers destroyed a lemon tree, first with oil and other poisonous fluids, and then by ripping it out.
Nabeel, in his 70s, looks healthy but has had previous heart problems. He does not own the land his home is on but rents it from the municipality. I imagine his stress level is high. I asked him how he stays strong to fight for his rights: it’s my home, our home, our Palestinian land; I demand justice!
Mohammad Sabagh is an equally skilled storyteller, having, like Nabeel, told the story many times to media, delegations, concerned people like me. Like Nabeel, equally threatened by the ongoing and relentless Nakba, he is active in the Sheik Jarrah resistance movement. So I won’t try to retell his equally compelling story.
I asked Mohammad if he’d mind showing me his house, which is behind and up the hill from Nabeel’s. Yes, but I don’t have much time; I need to get to the post office in 10 minutes. He explained that to house others in the family he’d expanded the small original blockhouse provided by Jordan. He showed me his guest room where he brings delegations. There I made perhaps the best photo of the set of him.
Previously I’d tried photographing him as he labored with his smartphone to show me a photo of a visit from Jimmy Carter. As I told him and Nabeel, Carter is perhaps the only American president who would visit here. Can one imagine Trump coming to Sheik Jarrah to visit potentially expelled Palestinians? No; instead, if Trump came, he’d probably visit the settlers. Maybe stay overnight with them in an occupied house to get a deeper feel. How about Biden, I would ask now since he’s been elected president?
Settlers claim the entire neighborhood is Jewish and therefore belongs to Israel. They base this on a claim that a Jewish holy man, Simeon the Just/Shimon HaTzadik, is buried in a shrine in Sheik Jarrah. Nabeel claims that the body is not Jewish but a Muslim which would give Palestinians rights to the land. Archeologists and historians have reached consensus that the body is a Roman matron. Despite this disavowal of the religious claim, settlers pray at the shrine; I once visited near it as Jewish Israelis flooded the region for a holiday and prayer. This issue has been adjudicated, always with results favorable to the settlers; now Israel is firmly in control, acting with impunity. I won’t delve further into the details; for those interested, I’ve provided links below.
Since the 1970s, resistance to Zionist incursions has taken the form of marches, weekly demonstrations, legal challenges, protest tents, and planting trees. One evicted family, the Aal-Hanoun’s, lived outside under a protest tent for weeks. Progressive Jewish Israelis often organize and support these acts of resistance.
Family of Nassar Al-Ghawi, living under a canopy in 2009, across the street from their former home, now occupied by settlers
March and demonstration co-led by Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, 2012
Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” It also prohibits the “individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory”
The extensive appropriation of land and the appropriation and destruction of property required to build and expand settlements also breach other rules of international humanitarian law. Under the Hague Regulations of 1907, the public property of the occupied population (such as lands, forests and agricultural estates) is subject to the laws of usufruct. This means that an occupying state is only allowed a very limited use of this property. This limitation is derived from the notion that occupation is temporary, the core idea of the law of occupation. In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the occupying power “has a duty to ensure the protection, security, and welfare of the people living under occupation and to guarantee that they can live as normal a life as possible, in accordance with their own laws, culture, and traditions.”
The Hague Regulations prohibit the confiscation of private property. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the destruction of private or state property, “except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”.
…The unlawful appropriation of property by an occupying power amounts to “pillage”, which is prohibited by both the Hague Regulations and Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and many national laws.Amnesty International (my emphasis)
Facebook page of Mohammad Al-Kurd, son of Nabeel, now living and studying in the United States
For a visceral, up close view of the Al-Kurd family, you can watch this video, My Neighborhood, by Just Vision. It features Nabeel’s son, Mohammed Al-Kurd (named after his late grandfather), author of the article I quoted earlier, as an articulate teenager in Sheik Jarrah.
For a contrasting view (SS): We all live in Shimon Hatzaddik by JPost.com staff (March 2010)
Only 3% of Palestinians have been vaccinated so far, by Mondoweiss editors (April 16, 2021)
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