Fighting occupation alongside the Sheikh Jarrah families

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Combatants for Peace’s long struggle against the Israeli occupation and its apartheid practices discriminating against the Palestinians has been deployed in Jerusalem as well. Our movement is a direct contributor to the collective effort to defend the rights of the Palestinian inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan and Issawiya, all three neighbourhoods situated in East Jerusalem.

The battle of 8 of Sheikh Jarrah’s families in particular, threatened by the spectre of eviction from their houses, has been much publicized over the last few months. Why do we support them? Because we believe in the right of these families (and 20 others) to stay in houses which were built for them back in 1956 on empty lands. The Jordanian government and the UNRWA, the UN agency dedicated to the Palestinian refugees, cooperated in order to grant new properties to these families displaced by the Nakba tragedy.

“I was nearly 7 years old when we moved in the neighbourhood, Mohammad Sabbagh, one of the leading figures of today’s resistance movement, recounts. “We immediately became one big family with all of our neighbours. What I loved to do with my brothers and friends was to play soccer. There was a very big playfield just down the street which has disappeared today. We used to run 10 or 15 laps every single morning to start our day.”

© Michal Hai, CfP

65 years later, Mohammad walks through the neighbourhood from morning to evening, checking on other families, protecting what can be protected and contacting lawyers when arbitrary arrests by the police occur. “I took over the essence of our struggle from my father when he died in 1997. Until today, thank God, I still have the energy to fight. Peacefully but resolutely. There is no question I will stop”, Mohammad asserts.

Mohammad Sabbagh and relatives. © Michal Hai, CfP

Mohammad speaks on behalf of his extended family of 42 people, including ten aged under 18, living under the same roof. Altogether, three generations of Palestinians who have spent all their lives in the neighbourhood.

The other families have similar stories. Abdel Fattah Skafi’s building accommodates three of his children and their families, a total of 13 people. “Everyone in my house knows my position: we will simply not go away.” Nonetheless, Abdel Fattah admits some of his grandchildren fear the violence exerted by settlers who managed to move into the neighbourhood in the early 2000s. “They often panic when they have to go to sleep.”

Abdel Fattah Skafi and wife in front of their house. © Michal Hai, CfP

The same prevails down the hill. “Some of my children spend bad nights in constant fear that something will happen,” activist Salah Diab laments. “We try to preserve them from the tensions, from the daily provocations by settlers and the regular intrusions of the police in our home, but how can they be truly spared?”

© Michal Hai, CfP

© Michal Hai, CfP

It is in their names that Mohammad, Abdel Fattah, and Salah participate in the demonstrations which take place every Friday a few meters away from the properties under threat. “I am not fighting for my home only, but against the whole occupation process,” Salah explains. “Sheikh Jarrah has become a symbol. If we win here, I am convinced that we can push back new settlements in Silwan and all around Jerusalem…”

Salah Diab with father and brother. © Michal Hai, CfP

Combatants for Peace is present at the demonstrations as well, along with other anti-occupation organizations. Israelis and Palestinians together show solidarity for the concerned families. The mobilization of Sheikh Jarrah’s families went internationally viral in May 2021 alongside the last war on Gaza, helped by numerous webinars and live chats which organizations like ours set up.

© CfP

On August 2, 2021 the judges of the Supreme Court suggested a compromise: the families shall become “protected tenants” if they agree to recognize the ownership on the lands of the profit-driven US-based company Nahalat Shimon.

The deal looks ugly and dishonest to all families. “We have been fighting in courts for almost 50 years to prove that we are the owners of our properties… What do they think we will say?”, Adel Budeiri, another Palestinian inhabitant, asks.

© Michal Hai, CfP

Yet in the judges’ blunt statement that they did not want to see any more eviction happening, one could see something changing in the power dynamics at play. “The focus on Sheikh Jarrah is so huge nowadays that no one wants to bear the responsibility to put additional families in the street”, Mohammad Sabbagh analyses. Salah Diab agrees: “It is the first time in my life that I saw a judge doing his best to try to avoid any eviction.” And so, among the Sheikh Jarrah families, hope prevails that the injustice of occupation will soon be over.

  © CfP