Agence France Presse (AFP)
July 28, 2008 - 4:37pm

"I was married here, I had my five children here and I want to die here," says a defiant Fawzia al-Kurd, determined that Jewish settlers will not drive her family from their home in occupied east Jerusalem.

But sadly for the Al-Kurds, whose single-storey two-room house of golden stone that has been their home for the past 52 years, Israel's High Court has ruled differently. They are to be expelled, and the house, a wing of which has already been taken over by settlers will be lost forever.

The house, in the Sheikh Jarrah district, has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance against the steady pressure of Jewish settlers seeking to take yet more terrain in east Jerusalem.

It's a hot July afternoon, and Fawzia is sitting outside under a large black tarpaulin stretched from the eves of the house. By her side, lying on mattresses in the shade are two young Swedish activists, ready to act as human shields if the police show up with the eviction order.

Chains and locks hang near the door, ready for them to chain themselves to the window in defiance. Banners on the wall proclaim "We Will Never Leave" and "No Expulsion of Families."

"The settlers threatened us, they offered us millions of dollars to go live somewhere else, but we are staying here," Fawzia says.

But on July 16 the High Court ordered that the Al-Kurds be expelled, the final chapter of a saga that dates back to the creation of Israel 60 years ago.

In 1948, the Al-Kurds fled their original home in what is now northern Israel and took refuge in the eastern part of Jerusalem, which was under Jordanian control.

Eight years later, they and 27 other families were given houses by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

But in 1967, Israel captured east Jerusalem during the Six Day War, eventually annexing it in defiance of international law and proclaiming the city its "eternal and undivided capital."

After the war a Zionist organisation registered under its name the title to three hectares (nearly seven acres) of land in Sheikh Jarrah on which the house sits.

The legal battle began some 10 years ago when a settler association called "Nachlat Shimon" (Simon's Estate) bought the disputed title, and 10 Jewish families moved into the neighbourhood.

The group is named in honour of Shimon Hatzadik (Simon the Just), a figure revered in Judaism who was a priest in the ancient temple of Jerusalem and who is buried in Sheikh Jarrah.

--'It's a deliberate policy of driving us out of Jerusalem' --

Says Shlomo Coleman, a member of the association: "Why here? First, it's a beautiful place, it's quiet but also to take back Jewish properties. People wanted to live close to Shimon's tomb; it's a special place for us."

Coleman insists that he and his people are acting according to Israeli law.

"Justice is on our side. We don't put a gun on your head and say 'get out.'"

Lawyer Hosni Abu Hussein represents the Al-Kurd family and strongly disagrees about the justice of it all.

"Bogus," he says of the property titles. "They are nothing more that a right to farm, dating from 1879, not mentioning any name nor the precise place."

Sheikh Jarrah has become a symbol of the Palestinians' fight against the Israeli policy of settlement, one of the key issues preventing the two sides from making peace with each other.

"Our history is nothing more than a simple matter of property ownership," says Maher Hanun, a local resident who was sentenced on Thursday to three months in jail for refusing to leave his house.

"It is part of a deliberate policy of driving us out of Jerusalem so they can take total control."

"If they can claim houses in east Jerusalem, we can claim houses in west Jerusalem," he adds, an allusion to the fact that many of the Palestinians living in the east were driven from their own homes on the other side of town.

Hatem Abdelkader, Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad's advisor for Jerusalem affairs, said the city plans to build homes in Sheikh Jarrah for Jewish residents.

He said this would contribute to what is becoming a Jewish belt around the eastern side of the Old City, isolating it and its sizeable Muslim quarter from the rest of east Jerusalem.

The property dispute in Sheikh Jarrah has been a painful one for the Palestinians, because it has become emblematic of their plight, and even the US government has protested against the eviction, a diplomatic source says.

But there are more battles being fought. Abdelkader said suits over the ownership of 11,000 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem are now in the courts. This in a place with a population of 250,000 Palestinians and the need for 60,000 homes.

Yet since 1967, he said Israel has granted permits for only 10,000 homes, with another 20,000 having been built illegally, but 5,000 of them have been demolished.

Putting it in much simpler terms, Jerusalem's mufti, Mohammed Hussein, said during a recent visit to the Al-Kurd home that it is "every Palestinian's home."

In the end, Fawzia may get her wish. The family was to have been evicted immediately after the court ruling but was delayed after they appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule in the next week or two.


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