East Jerusalem


I shall attempt to give some impression of the situation through describing two ‘protest tents’ (of a very different nature) which we visited.

Um Kamel and her protest tent has been headline news on Al Jazeera (the Arabic language news network). When we arrived, there she was, sitting in front of her tent, erected in the centre of a large public square otherwise just a sandy area. It took her some time before she was ready to tell us her story: it was still all so painful. The police had closed off all the roads. The settlers came in the middle of the night to take over her house. They had forged documents. A policeman called David knew that the settlers had themselves put these official-looking stamps on the documents. She prefers not to talk about what happened; she becomes too emotional. Her husband was handicapped and in a wheelchair. 100 settlers came with police at 3.30 a.m. She wanted to dress and look after her husband. They kicked in the door and came in with force. She was trying to help her husband physically with some private matters when they came. He fell over. There were 50 policemen, 3 of whom forcibly escorted her out. She was thrown into her neighbour’s house. Her husband had a heart attack. They wouldn’t allow an ambulance to come close, such that they didn’t get one until 10.00 in the morning. The settlers took everything out of the house and had a party. She was out on the street. He was taken to the hospital. He stayed in the hospital for one night. She stayed in the hospital with him and then came here and built the tent. Her husband had another heart attack; they took him to the French hospital; it was two weeks before he died. (This apparently was after a judge had ruled in her favour: see the web reference below for further details.)

Her tent has been demolished six times and everything taken away. They even took her brazier, wood, and the water she had to clean her hands. She was (in 2009) aged 56 with nothing; not even a change of clothes. She is given 450-500 shekel fines at the municipal court each time her tent is demolished. The land on which she is camped is not hers, but neither does it belong to the settlers. She is paying rent to the owner of this land. She comments as a Moslem (speaking through a translator): ‘God sent all the prophets and there is no difference [between us] and that is our religion. Why cannot we do what God says? All of these wars: it’s a disgrace.’ Further, of all the (Jewish I think) people going to pray who cross the main highway and pass her here, that they wear ancient clothes (religious dress). ‘Do they not feel shame?’ Of 1948: what a shame they [the Israelis] started the way they did, evicting people from their villages, and they are continuing this with no justification in ordinary human terms. There is violence, crime and the suicide rate goes up. ‘What is this doing to the soul of the Israeli people?’ There is no law; Palestinians are not allowed to live normally in their homes and in their towns. At the time we saw her (May 2009) she had been there 7 months. In the winter it is cold and muddy. Internationals have chained themselves to fences to try to stop the evictions. There are a number of consulates in the area, including the British. She comments that the diplomats pass by; they know more than in Tel Aviv [where most countries have their embassies].

What made an impact on me was not just the facts of the case but this lovely woman sitting there with great determination and seemingly at peace.

The second protest tent which we visited was in Silwan, called by Israeli Jews the City of David. It is a crowded urban area just south of the Dung Gate (for people who know Jerusalem). One should say something of the area. There is spurious archaeological digging going on here, which is dangerous: 17 children had fallen through a floor in a school which had collapsed. (Such ‘archaeology’ is carried out by right-wing non-professionals to show that the area has been for ever Jewish.)  The authorities are trying to move Palestinians out house by house (see House Demolition). There is nothing like playgrounds for children. The people in Silwan tried to fence off an area for such a playground, using as a barrier old oil drums which were painted bright colours. A demolition order had been placed on the oil drums! The people are living in Third World conditions. There are no sewage pipes. Half the houses have no water supply, so they connect up to whoever is connected. They are forced to build illegally; nothing is provided by the state.

The protest tent was very interesting. It was filled with a collection of wonderful photographs, evidently the work of a professional photographer, graphically demonstrating what is happening to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. These photographs were being sold quite expensively: heaven knows who buys them and whether they make an impact.  One supposes that most Jerusalemites are quite oblivious to the circumstances of their Palestinian neighbours.

We also visited a house near where the wall was being built through Jerusalem, the building having been temporarily halted owing to a legal dispute. The border police had thrown a handicapped man out of a second floor window. Three Palestinians were in prison; cigarettes had been stubbed out on one man’s body. The settlers wanted to take the building over, but the judge had given them one floor only; they immediately moved in, taking over the whole house, and held a party. We were able to see this site through going onto the roof of an adjacent house, still occupied by Palestinians, but which had a demolition order on it.

What becomes perfectly clear is that the Israeli government is trying to break down Palestinian society; that they have no intention of allowing the Palestinians to become a viable society alongside the Jewish.

Specialist Literature:

- Meir Margalit, No Place Like Home: House Demolitions in East Jerusalem (ICAHD, March 2007).

- ‘The Colonisation and Ethnic Cleansing of Jerusalem’, leaflet, Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

  1. -The background to Um Kamel’s case can be found on this blogspot.

  2. -B’tselem website

  3. -Stand up for Jerusalem

I will also recite the following because it gives a good sense of the kind of thing that is going on, but I am a little muddled as to whether it all relates to a block that Um Kamel indicated the other side of the square.

The authorities want to build a Jewish settlement of 400 units; 14 homes will be demolished to build it. Settlers broke into houses, each one with a gun in their backpack, and people were being injured. They pretended they were from the municipality and wanted to see the electricity/water [meters presumably]. They chained the gates shut so Palestinians could not get out. All the settler leaders were there. They threw a two year old child out of a window: the child was taken to hospital traumatised. Um Kamel saw someone carried out on a stretcher. But the settlers had phoney documents and were kicked out of court on one occasion. There has been a protest camp. But had it got Palestinians back into their houses? No. They have Turkish deeds showing that it was never a Jewish property. But they were told these deeds had arrived too late. (I’m not quite clear whether these last comments relate rather to her own house.)

Um Kamel at her tent

The Tent at Silwan

See Further on this Site:

- Settlements

- House Demolition

Susan Barry

The Wall winds its way through Jerusalem

No man’s land

With the division of former (British) Mandate Palestine in 1948 the historic centre of the city, East Jerusalem (in Arabic, Al Quds) fell under Jordanian rule. In the 1967 war Israeli forces took East Jerusalem and united the city. East Jerusalem is thus considered occupied territory under international law. (The BBC should not refer to it by the euphemism ‘disputed’ territory.)

After their conquest the Israelis set about the judaisation of the city. The Palestinian population of Jerusalem has, since 1967, grown from 68.6K to 255K, this representing a third of a total Jerusalem population 750K. One third of the Jews living in Jerusalem are orthodox, standing out on the streets through their dress. The Palestinians are continuously being squeezed through discriminatory laws, house demolitions, problems with passes and the enforcement

East Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock;

the Mount of Olives beyond

of residency laws. Although they pay 40% of taxes (orthodox Jews being exempt from taxes), they receive but a mere 8% of the municipal budget back in the form of public services. (See for an example of this see Education.) There is a systematic plan to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem to make way for settlers, which will result in a new wave of refugees. The contrast between the leafy suburbs of West Jerusalem (containing many wonderful old Arab houses) and the desolation of housing estates in East Jerusalem could hardly be starker. West Jerusalem (2009) had 531 sports facilities, East Jerusalem 33; West Jerusalem 36 municipal swimming pools, East Jerusalem none.