Thursday, March 11, Jerusalem.
"Fuckin' Bitch! Fuckin' Cunt!" I cross the street and greet the man who is swearing at us.
"Shalom. Isn't it great that Israel offers freedom of speech!" I say to him. The man retorts: "Go back to East Jerusalem with your friends. Fuckin' Assholes!" Marcey and I have come to Jerusalem today to join people supporting the court case of Rifka Al Kurd, one of 28 Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem whose homes are being threatened by settler organization take-over.
In front of the Magistrate's Court, a small group of "Anarchists Against the Wall" display signs "Sheikh Jarrah in Danger. Stop Apartheid." Only about 20 people can fit into the Courtroom so others gather outside. A man from Norway tells me about his work with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program of the World Council of Churches, initiated in 2002 to end the occupation. He's one of four people based in East Jerusalem who monitor checkpoints and support Palestinians suffering from home dispossession and demolitions. He tells me he works with all the Israeli peace groups.
I'm diverted from our conversation as I notice the Palestinian women leaving the courtroom, accompanied by their lawyer Hosmi Abu Hussein (also, by the way, lawyer for Cindy and Craig Corrie), British and French diplomats and Rabbi Arik Asherman, founder and head of Rabbis for Human Rights. Marcey walks over to Rifka, who is leaning on her daughter's arm, and asks if we can interview her. Her daughter lets us know that her mother is tired now and to please come in an hour to their home in Sheikh Jarrah.
The road to Sheikh Jarrah is dusty. As we approach the neighborhood, we see the men of the families sitting on plastic chairs by the rock wall below their homes that have been dispossessed. Israeli flags are floating above one of the houses with a Menorah-like rooftop. The women are sitting further along the wall. Two chairs are brought over for us and we are offered coffee. I ask Rifka to tell us her story and her daughter translates the Arabic to Hebrew, and Marcey translates the Hebrew to English for me. For the next hour, in the intense heat of the afternoon sun, this self-possessed, distinguished 87 year-old woman, in her black "hadil" relates her history and the history of her family..
Rifka Al Kurd's history is one of continual dispossession since 1948, when the three large restaurants she and her husband owned in Haifa were taken from them; her husband and brothers thrown into jail, and Rifka began her long history of seeking a secure home for her family. Her story takes her from Haifa to Jordan to the old city of Jerusalem, to the community of 28 families with a house offered to her and her husband by the Jordanian government and UNRWA. Her story grows in complexity as she petitions to enlarge her house to make more room for her son and his family; the extension is ordered demolished; she fights the litigation and is ordered to pay 100,000 shekels fine; no one is allowed to inhabit the extension; the key is in the possession of the court; enter the settlers and Rifka's family belongings are thrown out into the dusty yard and broken; the latest news is that the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem intends to turn this part of the house into a municipal office.
I look across the street from where we are sitting, and discern an l-shaped house that lies behind a low wall. I see Israeli flags flying over the l-shaped extension. Rifka, her son, her daughters and their families remain in the other part of the L.
Today's trial was postponed. It was to be about the part of the house not yet lost to her.
As Rifka tells me her history, a settler comes down the stone steps at the end of the rock wall, below the home of the Al Ghawi family which is now in the possession of the settler organization. Women wearing pastel headscarves and carrying babies walk up and down the steps. The man watches us and Rifka tells me not to be afraid.
I want to refer you to Marcey Gayer's two articles, published on the Electronic Intifada, one in July 2009 alerting the public to the take-over of the Hanoun and Al Ghawi families' homes; the other in August 2009 following their forcible eviction. With no alternative residences, the families camped out on the street in front of their homes. Marcey shows me the dusty ground that was their campsight. The tents were finally removed by the authorities.