Fighting the occupation in Sheikh Jarrah
As the world has turned its eyes upon Sheikh Jarrah, Combatants for Peace has been on the ground in Jerusalem, continuing its long struggle against the Israeli occupation and its apartheid practices. Our activists have joined in the collective effort to defend the residents of the Palestinian inhabitants of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, and Issawiya, three East Jerusalem neighbourhoods facing an ongoing threat of eviction.
The battle of eight Sheikh Jarrah families, in particular, has been highly publicized over the last few months. Why does Combatants for Peace stand behind these families? Because we believe in the right of Palestinians to stay on their land. In 1956, the Jordanian government and the UNRWA granted these properties to families displaced by the Nakba. Families that had lost everything and endured immense hardship built new lives upon this land, where they now, once again, stand to lose everything.
“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 patrols the neighbourhood from morning to evening, checking in on neighbouring families and doing all that he can to keep to his community safe. “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 the entirety of their lives in this home.
Other families throughout the neighbourhood have similar stories. Abdel Fattah Skafi’s building is home to three of his children and their families, a total of 13 people. He is steadfast in his stance on potential eviction: “Everyone in my house knows my position: we will simply not go away.” Nevertheless, Abdel Fattah admits that his grandchildren fear the brutal and irrational violence exerted by settlers who moved 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
Residents across the neighbourhood are subjected to the same unending threat of violence. “Some of my children spend bad nights in constant fear that something will happen,” activist Salah Diab laments. “We try to protect 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
It is for the sake of their grandchildren that Mohammad, Abdel Fattah, and Salah participate in weekly demonstrations across the neighbourhood, calling for an end to the unrestrained violence of nearby settlers and the ever lingering threat of eviction. “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
Each week, Combatants for Peace joins in these demonstrations as well, along with a score of other anti-occupation organizations. Israelis and Palestinians together show solidarity for the concerned families. The mobilization of Sheikh Jarrah’s families went viral internationally in May 2021, due to widespread media coverage and digital activism efforts by a host of organizations, including Combatants for Peace.
As the end of summer neared, the families were promised a conclusion to this cruel saga. On August 2, 2021, the judges of the Supreme Court suggested a ‘so-called’ compromise: the families can become “protected tenants” and be given a limited set of rights over there homes, only if they agree to recognize Nahalat Shimon, a US based company, as the true owners of the land.
It’s an ugly and dishonest deal; that much is clear to all residents of Sheikh Jarrah. “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?”, asks Adel Budeiri, who calls Sheikh Jarrah home.
Despite the disappointing blow served by this recent verdict, the dynamics of the occupation do appear to be shifting, if only in Sheikh Jarrah. “The focus on Sheikh Jarrah is so huge nowadays that no one wants to bear the responsibility of putting families out on 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 an eviction.” And so, among the Sheikh Jarrah families, hope prevails that the injustice of occupation may one day come to an end.