Page last updated at 01:55 GMT, Saturday, 15 November 2008

Eviction in battle for East Jerusalem

Fawzia al-Kurd in the tent where she now sleeps
Fawzia al-Kurd has been living in the tent since she was evicted on Sunday

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

Fawzia al-Kurd, 57, raises her black cloak to show the bottoms of the pyjamas she is still wearing several days after she and her wheelchair-bound husband were forced from the home he had lived in for five decades.

She had no time to change or gather her possessions when the Israeli police arrived in the early hours of Sunday morning.

In borrowed shoes, she shows us around the tent that she now calls home near the single-storey, two room house in East Jerusalem.

Jewish Israelis who had already moved into the extension the Kurd family had built for their son, have now taken over the rest of the flat.

'Never forgive'

Mohammad al-Kurd, 55, who is partially paralysed and suffers from heart and kidney problems, diabetes and high blood pressure, is now staying with relatives.

He had lived in the house for 52 years when the Israeli Supreme Court served an eviction order on him in July.

"I will never forgive the Israelis for what they have done to me and my sick husband, kicking us out of our own house in the early hours of the morning. I may forgive other things they have done, but not this," said Mrs Kurd.

Israeli flags on house in Shimon Hatzadik/Sheikh Jarrah
The Jewish-occupied houses are adorned with Israeli flags

The eviction is the culmination of a decades-long legal dispute between the Kurd family and organisations seeking to boost Jewish residency in the Israeli-occupied east of the city.

The case, followed closely by international activists, goes to the heart of one of the most hotly-contested issues in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks - the status of Jerusalem.

Palestinians fear an Israeli drive to create "facts on the ground" in the part of the city where Palestinians are the majority and want to locate the capital of a future state.

Israel considers all of Jerusalem its capital and has annexed to the east of the city and extended its municipal boundaries into the West Bank.

But the international community sees it as occupied, along with the West Bank, since the 1967 Israeli-Arab war.

The few houses draped in blue and white Israeli flags with their own armed guards, amid a cluster of cream stone Arab-style properties, are therefore considered illegal settlements under international law.

Their inhabitants will not speak to the media.

'Not forced out'

But Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim, an organisation which promotes Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem says "nobody's forcing anyone out - the courts ruled they [the Kurds] were living there illegally".

Front door of original house and extension built by Kurd family (Image: ISM)
The Kurds' lived metres from the Jewish settlers who moved into the extension (Image: ISM)

The Kurd family were among some 700,000 Arabs who fled or were forced from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war that followed the creation of Israel.

Jordan, which controlled the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the war, and the UN housed them and several other families on the plot of land.

But after 1967, a Jewish association laid claim to it in the courts on the basis of Ottoman-era documents.

An Israeli lawyer working for the Kurd family agreed to relinquish their ownership claim to the land in exchange for "protected tenancy status".

The family maintain they were unaware he was doing this and fired him as soon as they found out.

July's court ruling followed a labyrinthine legal battle, but was apparently based on the Kurd family's refusal to pay rent to a trust fund established in case the Jewish claim was finally validated.


Since 2001, a group of Jewish settlers has been living in the Kurds' extension.

Their argument is that it was built without official permission - as is much Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem because the Israeli authorities rarely grant building permits.

Both sides say the other harassed them as they lived side by side, the front doors metres apart.

Map showing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem

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Mrs Kurd said her Jewish neighbours would teach their children to shoot toy guns at pictures of Palestinian children; the Jews have said they had excrement and stones thrown at them by local Arabs.

Jewish groups also point out that the house is near the site held to be the burial place of 3rd Century BCE Jewish high priest Shimon Hatzadik, and an old synagogue there was used as a rubbish dump and goat shed until they sought access to clean it up.

A Jewish settlement company has already proposed a 200-unit development where 27 families neighbouring the Kurds currently live. They fear they will be next.

Mr Luria says that the eviction is an unusual case.

Counting just over 100 families that have moved into about five sites in what he calls the "Holy Basin" around Jerusalem's Old City in the past five years, he says most cases are straightforward transactions.

"No-one acts individually to just drive someone out - an Arab wants to sell, he sells and a Jew moves in."

The sales are usually at inflated prices, sometimes done through middle men to protect the vendors from recriminations.

Mrs Kurd says she turned down an offer of US$10m for her modest apartment.

Daniel Siederman, a left-wing lawyer specialising in Jerusalem, says the location is one of several targeted by Jewish organisations which effectively ring the Old City, home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy sites.

"The battle for the Old City has begun, and these are the crown jewels," he says. "The Kurd family has been run over by historical forces beyond their power."

He says the situation is very different for Palestinians trying to reclaim pre-1948 property from what is now Israel.

"We have a very unlevel playing field and it doesn't work the other way round."

To Mr Luria, the Green Line - the 1949 ceasefire line - between East and West Jerusalem is meaningless, whatever the international community says.

"God gave the land to the Jewish people. Full stop."

But the Kurds are currently mounting a legal challenge, based on Jordanian documents which have recently come to light.

Mrs Kurd says she is hopeful she will one day return to the house: "It is my homeland, it is my right."

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