A sign in front of the al-Ghawe family tent reminds visitors that in a deal with the United Nations in 1956, the family gave up their food aid in exchange for ownership of their home
Over the weekend of Nov 6-9, 4 MPTers visited two Palestinian communities that are resisting home demolitions and evictions in different ways.On Friday, four MPTers joined about 40 Palestinians, internationals and Israeli activists at the al-Ghawe family tent in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The family has been living with neighbors and in a tent across the street from their home since early August of this year, when they were evicted to make way for Israeli settlers. (See the MPT blog of October 31 http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/11/e-jerusalem-incomplete.html for more background.) The al-Ghawe family had requested international presence on Friday before sunset, as on the previous two Fridays, 20-30 Israeli settlers had prayed and danced in the street in front of the tent. The family saw the settlers’ action as provocative, even threatening, especially as the family has been attacked by settlers in the past (see for example, http://www.alternativenews.org/jerusalem-info/2062-continuing-settler-violence-in-sheikh-jarrah.html). There was a festive atmosphere in the street as the family, neighbors, and Israeli and international activists stood around talking. A small number of police and military were present on the street, between the road that turns off to a synagogue, and the family tent. The family members and their supporters did not know if the police and military were preventing settlers from coming any closer to the tent, or if the large presence discouraged them.
Meanwhile, home demolitions continue in East Jerusalem. According to Human Rights Watch, http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/06/israel-stop-east-jerusalem-home-demolitions, Jerusalem city authorities bulldozed 5 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem between Oct. 27 and Nov. 2 because the homes were built without a permit. 57 people, many of them children, were displaced. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), it is extremely difficult and expensive for Palestinians in East Jerusalem to obtain building permits. The gap between the number of housing units need to accommodate population growth and the number of construction permits issued is approximately 1,100. For this reason, at least 28% of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are built without a permit, and so some 60,000 Palestinians are at risk of having their homes demolished. For the full text of OCHA’s report the Planning Crisis in East Jerusalem: Understanding the Phenomenon of “Illegal” Construction see http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_planning_crisis_east_jerusalem_april_2009_english.pdf..
A section of the Wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem
On Sunday, the 4 MPTers visited a Mahmoud (not his real name) a Palestinian friend of MPT, who lives in a small community near Bethlehem. The man is in the process of helping a neighbor rebuild his home which was demolished by Israeli Forces. The neighbor, who has three small children, did not want photos taken of the home, as it is being rebuilt without a permit, and so is subject to demolition. Mahmoud is also worried about his own home, as the demolition order on his home just expired, and could be renewed at any time. 80% of the homes in this small community have demolition orders. Mahmoud thinks that it is important for Palestinians to rebuild their own homes as an act of resistance, and he does not want help from Israelis or internationals to do the rebuilding. He said he would notify the MPTers and other internationals if the house received a demolition order. On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Makmoud called to say that Israeli police had been seen taking photographs in the community.
Gilo, or Checkpoint 300, from the Bethlehem side
Mahmoud works in Jerusalem. Before the Wall was built, he was able to walk to work in about 45 minutes. Now he must go through the Checkpoint 300, also known as the Gilo checkpoint, and the trip takes at least 1.5 hours.
OCHA published a report in May 2009, Shrinking Space:Urban Contraction and Rural Fragmentation in the Bethlehem Governorate (report available at
http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_bethlehem_shrinking_space_may_2009_english.pdfThe report shows the problems faced by Mahmoud and his community are very typical of the current situation in Bethlehem. About 600 workers from the Bethlehem Governorate travel through the Gilo checkpoint each morning, some arriving as early as 2 a.m., to make it through in time for work. According to a UN study, the average time to cross the checkpoint is an hour, but can be over three hours. A survey of the women in the community of Husan found that less than 1/3 of husbands who worked in Jerusalem before the Wall was built still do. Approximately 66% of the Bethlehem Governorate is Area C, where Israel has security control, as well as regulating planning and construction, and Palestinians are seldom able to obtain building permits.
Observation tower along the Wall in Bethlehem