Sunday, 4 April
Reporting from Occupied Palestine
It is Sunday but, like every other day of the week, Nasser Ghawe sits with his wife and three small children on the street verge opposite his house in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. From the outside the house appears rundown but it is in a select area of the city, just around the corner from the American Colony Hotel, the USA consulate and the British Council.
Since 1956 the building has been home to the Ghawe family, refugees from the village of Sarafud, near Ramle. It was built by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) on vacant Palestinian land to house victims of the 1948 Nakba – the first ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
In 1967 the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza came under Israeli military occupation. Five years later settler organisations commenced claims to gain title to the property and, in 2009, the Ghawe family received their first eviction order. Despite being able to produce documents dating back 110 years to Ottoman times, proving Palestinian ownership of the land, successive Israeli courts have found against the Ghawes.
In August 2009 a gang of settlers broke into the house and commenced smashing the furniture. The Israeli police supported their action. Indeed, the head of the police squad took the house key, kissed it and presented it to the settlers. The extended Ghawe family of 37, including 20 children, were arrested and detained for 6 hours before being evicted into the street. The settlers then moved in.
The family has maintained its vigil outside their home, summer and winter, since then. The tents they have put up have been pulled down sixteen times by the police, who have told the Ghawes that they are not welcome in Jerusalem and should move “To Jordan or some other Arab country”. Despite these vicissitudes the Ghawes, together with supporters from Israel and around the world maintain their vigil, knowing that the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem cannot continue unopposed.