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Evicted Palestinians camp by home taken by settlers

By Jihan Abdalla
/ Source: Reuters

By Jihan Abdalla

Fresh dates and chicken soup were served up at dusk on the sidewalk in the well-heeled suburb of Sheik Jarrah this week, as the evicted Palestinian al-Ghawi family spent another night camped outside their former home.

Their stone house in Arab east Jerusalem, in a district of consulates and trendy restaurants, is now home to Jewish settlers, who moved in as they were being kicked out on Aug 2.

The furniture and belongings of the seven-member family were tossed on the street. Their neighbor offered shelter.

But the al-Ghawis refuse to give up and go away. On the third day of Ramadan, when the world's one billion Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, they gathered with a group of supporters for the traditional evening meal.

Eaten exactly at dusk to break a day of fasting, iftar -- Arabic for breakfast -- is usually a home-cooked meal eaten inside the home.

The al-Ghawis had takeout, on the sidewalk.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war, a move never recognized internationally. Some 200,000 Jews now live here, alongside about 250,000 Palestinians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asserting a biblical claim to Jerusalem, has said Jews have a right to live anywhere in the city. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a state they hope to create in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The evicted families are descendants of refugees who came to the area in 1956, according to the Israeli organization Ir Amim, which monitors -- and opposes -- Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.


In legal proceedings stretching back to the 1980s, Palestinians have disputed the Jewish claim in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood which has become a focal point of Jewish settler development plans in East Jerusalem.

Israeli police who turned the family out of their home said they were acting on eviction orders issued by an Israeli court, which had upheld a settler organization's land ownership claim based on 19th-century documents.

Settlers have moved into six other buildings. Armed men guard the stone houses where settlers have hoisted Israeli flags.

Along with Israel's demolition of what it deems illegal Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, evictions here have become a further irritant in Israel's relations with Washington, already strained by the dispute over Israel's settlement activities in the occupied West Bank.

Among supporters of the evicted family on Monday evening was Rafiq al-Husseini, chief of staff of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"We are here to make sure that they don't have iftar on their own, that we are in full support and solidarity with them," he told Reuters in a makeshift protest tent outside the house.

Fifteen minutes before the minaret's call to eat, Nasser al-Ghawi set the table with packaged food, plastic silverware, and bottled water -- a donation from a nearby restaurant.

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammed Hussein, was also present for the symbolic iftar meal and celebration.

"We would like to tell the world that we are here, yes, on the street, but we are in front of it. And we cling to our right to these homes, and we don't accept an alternative. Eventually, justice must and will come," he said.

Maysoon al-Ghawi, mother of five, said losing her home has changed her outlook on the future.

"Our dreams and our plans for the future have all been canceled," she said, cradling two-year-old Sarah.

Ramadan, she said, is supposed to be a stable time for the family to spend time together, the time to buy the children promised toys, and new clothes. Instead, she must go to her neighbor's home to bathe them and wash their clothes.

"I feel incompetent and incapable of doing anything for my children, because I have nothing left," she said.

With summer nearly over, and school about to begin, Maysoon said she had still not bought her children's schoolbooks.

"Where would I put them? On the street?"