Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jewish settlers in the Old City

Starting tour with Mahmoud Jiddah
We got an inside look at the impact of Jewish neighbors in the Old City of Jerusalem, thanks to a special tour by Mahmoud Jiddah, a Palestinian of African descent who works for a non-profit that provides health care for indigent Palestinians. He says "people are willing to live in bad conditions rather than lose their right to live in Jerusalem."
Young observer

Some of the doors were very low

Rayiseh Al-Karaki has been renting her family's small apartment upstairs in an old building since 1980. Four of her children are married and live elsewhere; five are still living at home. She says her problems started four years ago when Jewish settlers moved in next door. They share a narrow common hallway.
Rayiseh Al-Karaki

Rayiseh says her Jewish neighbors harass her. She says they have taken her laundry off the line and stomped on it, dumped dirty water on her floor, cursed her, struck her, and pushed her head against the wall. She says she lives in fear and locks the doors when she goes shopping so her children inside are protected.

While we were there, she says her neighbor removed pictures that she had hung on the wall beside his door.
Rayiseh showing where she hung the pictures;
settler's door at left

A few minutes later, a 30-year-old Israeli settler who declined to give his name or be photographed came out of the door and gave us a very different account of their relationship. He said, "She put the picture on our door frame to annoy us. Once when I opened the door, she spit in my face. She tells lies that I cursed her." He said the hallway is supposed to be for common use, but she put a sofa in it, and threw bread crumbs on the floor during Passover.

Rayiseh says settler organizations offered her a blank check if she would move out, but she refused. In her words, "This is my homeland, part of my personality. I won't sell. I want to die here."

Hassan Muhamad Hassan Atiq with key
to old family homestead in Ramle
We also visited Hassan Muhamad Hassan Atiq, whose family keeps the key to the house in Ramle, west of Jerusalem, from which they were driven by Israeli forces in 1948.  They moved to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City until their house was demolished in 1971 and then moved to the Muslim Quarter. There are currently five people in the household.

Garden entrance to Hassan's house

Hassan's house
Hassan has  been fighting demolition orders since 2006 because he did remodeling, combining four rooms in one, without a permit. He has been paying a monthly fine for the last two years--using his children's income to do it--but the fine will not forestall the demolition. His next court hearing is April 20, but all he can hope for is to gain some time. In his words, "In the courts, there is no justice."  If his house is demolished, I asked where he would go. His reply: "To the street, or the grave. Every time I hear a noise, I am afraid the bulldozers are coming."

Settler door (middle) between two Palestinian doors
In another building we saw tiny apartments of Palestinians and settlers intermingled, with a settler guard post on the roof to monitor all the security cameras. We did not have a chance to  find out how they get along.
Guard booth on roof

Cage to protect soldiers from Palestinian trash
We saw a cage over an intersection in the Old City that reminded me of the one in Hebron to catch trash thrown by Jewish settlers on the Palestinian market below. But Mahmoud says this one was actually erected to protect the soldiers below from trash thrown by Palestinians above. (He says there are other locations in Jerusalem where the mesh is to protect Palestinians from settler trash.) I pray that the day will come when nobody throws trash on anybody.

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