Thursday, May 27, 2010

A family's tragedy: Settlers Take Over Beit Safafa Home

Palestine Monitor
27 May 2010
Last week, Palestine Monitor went with EAPPI to visit a Palestinian family evicted from their home in Bet Safafa, South-East-Jerusalem. Upon arrival, the first thing one noticed was the poverty of the place – the houses and sheds had been constructed by lashing together various everyday materials. Most of the material was re-used and in bad condition. The expropriated house was dilapidated, without glass in the window-frames. The looming question was: who would want to live here?
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Samha Hassan Salah in her 90s is living in a goat shed after settlers took over her home
Courtesy: EAPPI

And yet the house is the object of a dispute, as two competing parties are vying for ownership. Two weeks ago, the Salah family was evicted and Yitzchak Herskovitz, a Zionist settler and American citizen, moved in. Not long after speaking to the Salah family we could see a few settlers gathering on the terrace of the house. Two of them came to us and introduced themselves as English friends of the new “owner”. When asked how they could justify what had happened, one replied, “What has happened is a tragedy but it had to be done.”

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An Overview of the place

As soon as one of the Palestinians stepped into the courtyard of the house arguments began, with one settler calling the Police. Upon arrival one officer immediately approached the settler who had made the call, and another asked us the reason of our presence and eventually demanded that we leave. It was at this point that something very strange happened. When the police officer asked for the papers of the settler, he showed his American ID – he was not even Israeli but was able to evict Palestinians inhabiting their home for more than 40 years.

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Here the report made by EAPPI

A Palestinian family on the edge of Jerusalem are sleeping in their animal sheds tonight after being evicted from their home to make way for Jewish settlers. Thirty-three members of the Salah family, including 21 children and an elderly couple, were turfed out after a court decision in favour of an ideological American settler.

Yitzchak Herskovitz, an American ex-carpenter in his 70s, moved into the Salah family home on 2nd May after winning a 17-year court battle over ownership of the land. The Salah family say they bought the land in 1966, when it was still under Jordanian control. "We have been living here since before 1967," said Ismael Salah, whose 103-year-old father Ali Ibrahim Salah bought the land from a local Armenian. "Now we are living in sheds built for our sheep and chickens."

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The decrepit sheds lie on a flat piece of scrubby land next to the Salah family’s house, which was built by Ismael’s father. Settlers have taken over the home and erected an Israeli flag on the roof. Zionist settler groups and the state of Israel itself often exploit the unofficial nature of pre-occupation land deals to take over Palestinian-owned properties in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Ali confirmed his purchase of the land with a handshake. The family’s lack of documents, along with what Ismael termed the "incompetence" of their lawyers, meant they were unable to defend themselves from Herskovitz’s claim that he owned the land.

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Now, 35 members of the family have been evicted and they owe 108,000 shekels (over $28,000) in fines, on top of the tens of thousands they have already paid in legal costs. The settlers have added insult to injury: they call the family "Arab squatters." "We cannot allow Arabs to occupy our homes and our properties, to steal and rob our Land from us," Herskovitz was quoted by David Wilder, another radical American settler, as saying.

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But this is odd logic. Palestinians have lived here for centuries, long before the start of large-scale Jewish immigration from Europe and America. Palestinians’ rights are trampled by the demands of settler groups and the state.

"They want to get rid of all the Arabs."

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Across the road from the Salah home, the community of Beit Safafa, a village which has been largely subsumed in a rapidly expanding Jerusalem, is threatened by settlement expansion. The illegal settlement of Givat Hamatos is set to spread across the open area of land between their village and the noisy main road to Hebron. In 2009, the Jerusalem municipality announced plans to build 4000 additional housing units here, in defiance of international law, further undermining chances for a peace deal over the holy city. "Israeli construction plans in Givat Hamatos will make final status territorial arrangements based on the Clinton parameters in the Beit Safafa area difficult, if not impossible," said the Israeli human rights group Ir Amim at the time.

Palestinians wishing to build new homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank face systematic discrimination and over 24,000 have had their homes demolished since 1967. In Jerusalem itself, the combination of settlement expansion, evictions, grossly unfair planning practices and residency laws places huge pressure on local Palestinians to leave. Ismael, whose family is at the sharp end of Israeli policy in Jerusalem, has a stark analysis: "They want to get rid of all the Arabs from here."

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Part of Givat Hanatos. The Salah family’s house is on the top right just behind the small hill

Photo by Palestine Monitor and EAPPI

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