East Jerusalem Exiles

The Ground Shifts in Sheikh Jarrah

"In principle, land ownership by Palestinians is recognized in Jerusalem," Halper says. "But 54 percent of the city was frozen, declared 'open green space.' These spaces are then rezoned, because Israel controls the zoning process. Palestinian land is expropriated for 'public purposes.' But it's never Palestinian public purposes," he adds. "It's all legal, but it's all just a mechanism for control and dispersal of the Palestinians." The pattern can be seen, he says, in the Jewish settlement of Har Homa, which was a nature preserve, "even though it was owned by Palestinians." It was rezoned, and the Israeli bulldozers went to work.

Samuel Shamir is representing the Jewish groups in the Sheikh Jarrah case, and he wants to know the Voice's "slant." After dwelling a bit on my ethnicity, a lecture begins on the case which differs greatly from Dahleh's view. When asked whether he is concerned that honoring the Ottoman deeds will open the floodgates on Palestinian claims to their former homes within the "green line," he replies, "Of course not."

Outside the Al-Ghawi shacks on Uthman Ibn Affar Street, Nasser's son Ayman studies for his Arabic exam on a bench. His mother says he's still at the top of his class, despite the turbulence at home. On a day off from work, Nasser is ambling around in white pants and a white T-shirt. He wears a long black beard and on his forehead is the round scar that is the mark of piety amongst Muslims. I ask him about what is happening in his neighborhood. "This is first and foremost about politics, and then, perhaps, about religion," he says.

Carmel, Alisar, and Amal Al-Qassem on the porch of their home
photo: Jehad Nga
Carmel, Alisar, and Amal Al-Qassem on the porch of their home

But a dispute is beginning to crack their neighborhood solidarity. Some of the residents think the Al-Ghawi family should find a house, and have collected some money to pay for it. "They are giving the Israelis an excuse to act against us," one tells me. But Maysoon Al-Ghawi, holding her youngest, Abdullah, insists it won't be enough. Rental prices are high in Jerusalem, and they are afraid to go far because once Palestinians leave the city, they lose the ID that allows them to work in Jerusalem.

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