Monday, 13 July 2009

East Jerusalem: the quiet eradication

Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign (GPHRC) have joined fellow internationals in expressing their resilient support for Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of East Jerusalem facing Israeli evictions and house demolitions.

Israel's purges are part of a systematic ethnic cleansing policy to secure control of all Jerusalem in perpetuity. Residents of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, Ras Khamiis, Al Tur, Sur Beher and parts of the Old City have been subject to every legal pretext and falsification Israel can muster, with the Israeli courts shamelessly conspiring in the removal orders.

The recent eviction of the Al-Kurd family in Sheikh Jarrah, followed by the tragic passing of Mr Al-Kurd, has been met with admirable resistance by the family, neighbours and international supporters. Protest tents, intended as a defiant statement of dwelling rights, have been continuously torn down by Israeli forces and re-erected by protesters. Israeli contempt for homeless and threatened Palestinians has been matched with an unbending demand for legal justice and rights of tenure.

The Hannoun and al-Ghawe families of Sheikh Jarrah now face imminent eviction and imprisonment. Each has been forced to lodge NIS 50,000 guarantees to the Israeli courts, with the families' fathers facing jail unless they vacate their premises by 19 July 2009.

Maher Hannoun from Sheikh Jarrah is one of those awaiting eviction and jail. He speaks movingly here, at the new Stand Up For Jerusalem defence site, about the staggering violation of their human rights and the crucial need for active international support:
"As refugees and people living under occupation, we are asking people to help us with our struggle for our rights. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Israel's authorities can get away with demolishing the homes of Palestinians in order to build settlements or national parks. The price we and our neighbours have to pay is too high, we are faced with two impossible choices - either we throw our kids out on the street or we go to prison. If we lose our homes, there is nowhere else for us to go, the only option we have is to live in tents. International solidarity gives us more power and strength to continue in our struggle and stay in our homes. We need support from people around the world to let everybody know about our story and pressure their governments to help stop this racist policy of house evictions and demolitions. "
As noted by the defence group:
"The Hannoun family are one of 27 families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem facing eviction from their homes as part of a plan to implant a new Jewish settlement in the area. The family are refugees from 1948, after being displaced from their home in Haifa during the Nakba, and currently consist of 18 people, 6 of whom are children. They have lived in Sheikh Jarrah since 1956 when the Jordanian Government and UNRWA gave them their houses as part of a project to house Palestinians forced to flee their homes."
Shamefully, the BBC has reported next to nothing of these brutal events and persecutions. Small wonder, then, that people approaching our GPHRC stall know little of the brutality taking place in East Jerusalem. Which, of course, inspires us all the more to spread the word.

Rather fittingly, a BBC film-maker visiting our stall also seemed perplexed as to the reasons for this non-reporting. While partially accepting the charge that the BBC (and other media) may have become "embedded" into an Israeli lifestyle - thus viewing daily Palestinian suffering as peripheral - and that there is substantive pro-Israeli sentiment at the BBC's higher echelons, he remains convinced that BBC journalists retain unfettered freedom to report without editorial interference.

Of course, neither he nor his senior colleagues willingly see, or seek to understand, the deeper institutional constraints under which they work. Which, again to illustrate our case, begs the question: why haven't the BBC's Jerusalem bureau been reporting the daily abuses in Sheikh Jarrah and other parts of East Jerusalem? As with multiple requests to account for their non-reporting of daily Israeli aggression across the West Bank, no serious answer is forthcoming.

In short, if the BBC were saying things too critical, too often, of Israel, they wouldn't be where they are. That's why Orla Guerin was shunted out of Jerusalem after BBC Director General Mark Thompson's cosy visit to see Ariel Sharon. It's also why Jeremy Bowen was rebuked by the BBC Trust for 'straying' in his, fairly mild, criticisms of Israel. His resulting silence on the matter spoke further volumes about journalistic compliance.

It's taken persistent struggle to focus attention on the victimised of Sheikh Jarrah and the apartheid policies being executed in East Jerusalem. And it's been Palestinians and people from all around the world conducting support actions that have been critical in highlighting the issue.

Which all helps remind us of the axiomatic point that big power never relinquishes its thefts and oppressions voluntarily. Nor does the realisation of justice ever come through the varnished words of big political leaders - or media questioning of those words. Qualitative change comes about, rather, through determined, patient resistance from below - part of which includes indicting the media. It may be painful and incremental. But, just as unremitting internal and external campaigns helped expose the gaping contradictions of the South African state, so too is that momentum building in exposing the gross evils of the Israeli regime.

Neither, contrary to Zionist 'enquirers', hard and soft, at our stall, is it a question of "looking at both sides of the problem." Indeed, that kind of default line and fake appeal is a substantial, mendacious part of the problem. The real task, rather, is to isolate the principal aggression - still, as in Sheik Jarrah, being carried out - and to confront the principal aggressor behind it. All else is convenient obfuscation and prevarication, allowing for continued occupation and ethnic cleansing.

While Netanyahu and Obama engage in this latest round of US-Israeli overtures, Palestinians are being forcibly driven from their homes in East Jerusalem, the settlements remain in place - the 'stop expanding' line being another expedient diversion - and Gaza hangs on the brink of starvation.

As the al-Ghawe and Hannoun families contemplate eviction and jail, it's sobering to stop and think about the oppressive, racist psychology upholding that 'two sides' logic. What it's really saying is that the original and ongoing violation of Palestinian land and homes is of no primary significance. It's saying that international law and UN-defined rights are dismissable. It's saying that, unlike protected Israelis, Palestinians have no automatic, equal rights before Israeli courts. It's also saying that Palestinians should not even consider coming to the 'negotiating' table as equal parties, but as penitent, humble beggars requesting some of their remaining crumbs of land.

That's the kind of political, economic and military boot-in-the-neck version of a 'two state settlement' Israel has in mind. And the violent efficiency of that 'solution' is all too evident in East Jerusalem.

GPHRC wish to extend our continuing support and unrelenting solidarity with the families of Sheikh Jarrah and other threatened parts of East Jerusalem. The Israeli state can evict, demolish, incarcerate and murder. But they can never extinguish this human resistance or claim that most precious of resources: just cause. That belongs, as indisputably as the land rights and houses being stolen here, to the Palestinians.

In memory of Mr Al-Kurd.


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