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Archive for November, 2008

Mr al Kurd is dead.  Just 55 years old – younger than both of my parents – he died in hospital last night, just two weeks after Israeli police evacuated his family from their house in East Jerusalem.  His health had been poor for a long time, but he lived in his home, shuffling about in his pyjamas, sitting out in the sunny courtyard for much of the day.  But when 50 Israeli police came to their home at 2am on Sunday 9th November, first arresting the 8 internationals who were staying there, ready to lock-on in such an event, and then forcing him and his wife, Fawzieh, from their beds, dragging them out of the house without letting them even take a change of clothes, rendering them – in one fell swoop – homeless, he had to be hospitalised immediately.

Fawzieh has since been living in a tent on a nearby football pitch.  It’s a protest tent, designed to garner media attention, and as such Israeli authorities have been bulldozing it every other day.  Luckily, as it’s a tent, it’s easy to put back up again.  A small moment of comedic relief came a few days ago, when they also bulldozed the surrounding fence, which was erected not by the Al-Kurd family, but by Jerusalem city council.

Fawzieh is a strong, strong woman.  She has been a major force behind this whole campaign – a campaign not only to save her house, but to save all the other 28 houses in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood that face the same fate as hers.  For many months now she has opened up her house to the general public, letting it become the site of a media circus.  Night after night she has explained her story to countless delegations and solidarity groups.  Day after day she showed journalists around the area, with grace and alacrity.  She developed great media savvy, imploring cameras “Wayn al democrati, habibi?  Wayn al democrati?” (Where is the democracy, darling?  Where is the democracy?).  All this while caring for a sick husband and cooking two meals a day for the internationals who were camped out in her courtyard for months.

Right now, even in her grief she has set up a public mourning site at her tent.  For the next few hours she will receive visits from the hundreds of people who will undoubtedly come to pay their respects, despite the rawness of her loss.

How the state killed Mr Al Kurd 

Mohammad Al Kurd moved into his house in East Jerusalem with his family when he was 3 years old, in 1956.  Theirs and 27 other houses were built as part of a joint project between United Nations Refugee and Welfare Association (UNRWA) and the Jordanian government, for refugees who had fled the Nakba (1948 war that created 700 000 Palestinian refugees).  The families were granted ownership of the houses in exchange for giving up their food rations. 

After the 1967 war, when Israel occupied East Jerusalem, two Israeli settler groups, the Oriental Jews Association and The Knesseth Yisrael Association, made a claim that they had owned the land prior to 1948, and, in 1972, got the land registered in their names with the Israeli Land Registrar.  Then in 1982, the lawyer hired to represent all of the refugee families in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood, Tosya Cohen, unbeknownst to the families, made an agreement with the settler associations to recognise the settlers’ ownership of the land in return for status for the families as “protected residents”.  It’s unknown why he did this, whether he was just stupid, or was paid off, or was ideologically on the wrong side to begin with.  At any rate, the families fired him as soon as they found out what he had done, and denounced his agreement, but it was, in many senses, too late.

Despite the fact that in 2006 the Israeli High Court found the settler associations’ ownership papers to be falsified, and compelled the removal of their names from the Lands Registrar, the Israeli Land Registration department then refused to rezone the land so as to register the land in the true owners’ names.  Further, the Israeli courts refused to allow any of this evidence into the separate case concerning the Al Kurds’ eviction, and so on 16th July 2008 the Israeli Supreme Court issued an eviction notice for the Al Kurds, for not paying rent to the settlers associations.    

In the meantime, while the family was in Jordan in 2001, getting medical treatment for Mr Al Kurd, the Jerusalem municipality gave the keys to the apartment they had built as an extension to their home to settlers – under the pretext that it had been built illegally.  Ironically, the usual excuse for housing demolitions is that, being built without planning permission, they are unsafe to inhabit.  The residents are being protected from themselves.  In this case the annex was unsafe for the Al Kurd family, but safe for the rotation of settler families who passed through there. 

As such, for the past seven years, the Al Kurd family had been living with settlers in their home – in the annex they built for their son and his family.  This brought with it all sorts of abuse, even from the small children; as well as harassment from Israeli police and security guards employed by the settlers associations to patrol the property.    

The settlers occupying the annex have also received an eviction notice to evacuate the property – but Israeli police have chosen not to carry-out the order.  In fact, the same day the Al Kurds were evicted, instead of evicting the settlers as well, more settlers just moved in to occupy the entire house.

All of this has not been the result of a series of accidents and miscalculations.  This is part a deliberate strategy to create the “facts on the ground” necessary to preclude the possibility of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.  This collusion between settlers and the Israeli state is the basis of the well-publicised plan to “Judaise” East Jerusalem.  Since 2004, more than 1200 Palestinians have been made homeless in East Jerusalem alone through home demolitions.  There are currently more than 80 Palestinian houses slated for demolition.   If the remaining 27 Palestinian houses in the Sheik Jarrah neighbourhood are evicted, those buildings too will be demolished to make way for a 200 unit settler apartment complex.  This will complete the ring of settler apartment buildings needed to effectively annex the old city in East Jerusalem forever.  The Al Kurds are just one family victimised by a series of policies whose ultimate aim is the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem.

And now Mr Al Kurds is dead.  A severe heart-attack.  He might not have been taken out with a bullet, or a bomb, but he was killed by the Israeli injustice system all the same.

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