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The displaced Sheikh Jarrah families are Palestinian refugees who were displaced from their homes in Haifa and Jaffa during the 1948 war. Israel prevented refugees from returning to their cities, confiscated their homes and brought in Jewish Israeli families. In the 1950s, the Jordanian government, which controlled East Jerusalem until 1967, settled 28 refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah in coordination with the United Nations Aid Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Middle East.
After the 1967 war, when Israel expanded its occupation to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, Jewish settlers began to raise claims on the refugees’ homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The settlers relied on an Israeli law of 1970 that allowed Jewish people to regain property from their families in East Jerusalem prior to 1948.
In 2009, settlers began to take over some homes of the families in Sheikh Jarrah and evicted 53 refugees, including 20 children, by an Israeli court order. I met the families affected in 2009. We organized ourselves together, brought delegations of Israeli and international solidarity activists into the neighborhood and laid the foundation for a grassroots movement. I co-produced a documentary about the community’s reaction to these evictions.
Last fall, Israeli courts decided to evict several more Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Four of these families appealed and an Israeli Supreme Court hearing was scheduled for their case on Monday.
Under the leadership of a new generation of Palestinians, the community in Sheikh Jarrah resumed and reinforced its protest movement. Numerous Palestinian youths joined the families of Sheikh Jarrah to break Ramadan every evening, to eat, to sing and to dance together, although they were attacked with stones by the settlers and beaten by the police, insulted, arrested and with one smelly liquid was poured over them.
On Saturday, thousands of Palestinians were on their way to Jerusalem to spend the last days of Ramadan in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, as is our tradition. When the Israeli police prevented them from entering the city, they parked their cars and buses on the highway and started walking. Residents from all over East Jerusalem – including Sheikh Jarrah – drove to the highway to pick them up.
It gives me hope to see unity and support from all parts of Palestine and from abroad. #SaveSheikhJarrah appears every few seconds on my Twitter feed in Arabic and English. Local activists have made it clear that these evictions are not a “real estate deal between private parties” as the Israeli government is trying to portray, but part of a systemic policy of replacing Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem with Jewish Israelis.