This is the third and final piece in a series on life in Israel and Palestine, in conjunction with Israeli Apartheid Week. You can read part one and part two online.
“Don’t waste your breath, they won’t do anything anyway.”
These were the (translated) words of a 94-year-old woman living in East Jerusalem, whose family is being kicked out of their home by Israeli settlers and the Israeli government. In 2001 these settlers evicted the al-Kurds from the front portion of their home—claiming it belonged to Jews—occupying the house and forcing the family to live in the back.
The al-Kurds have been living in the house, which was given to them under the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), since 1956. They had initially become refugees in 1948, when, fearing violence against themselves, they fled their home in Haifa (which is now part of Israel) as refugees to East Jerusalem—at that time, under the control of Jordan.
Over the years, settlers have used dogs to intimidate and harm members of the family—including Maysa al-Kurd, the 54-year-old daughter of the family. The al-Kurds said that settlers would expose themselves and perform other indecent acts in front of the women of the family, forcing them to permanently hang up towels and laundry in front of their windows.
In 2008, an Israeli court ruled that the house belonged to Sephardic Jews when the Ottomans controlled Palestine and ordered the family out. This family’s case was the first time in Israeli history where the judge came to a house and took the keys away from a family.
Muhammad al-Kurd, the owner of the house, died of a massive coronary attack two weeks after the ruling. The family is still fighting the eviction to this day, with evidence in hand that the Ottoman-era document showed that Sephardic Jews rented, but did not own, the house. As symbols of a greater issue, the al-Kurds have spoken countless times to delegations from around the world.
The eviction of the al-Kurds is not even the only one in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood—by 2009, 28 families had been evicted, leaving over 60 people homeless. In December 2012, the Israeli court evicted another family, leaving an additional ten people homeless, including six children.
Listening to this family pour out their suffering to us didn’t sit right with me, and when we got on the bus to return to our hotel I understood why.
A Palestinian member of our delegation got on the microphone and translated something he heard the 94-year-old mutter over and over again in Arabic to her daughter during the presentation: “Don’t waste your breath, they’re not going to do anything anyway.”
And it really didn’t feel like there was anything we could do for this woman and her family beyond relay the story back home. Sydney Levy, a national member of Jewish Voice for Peace and one of our delegation leaders, told us later that night that the woman was right—that we were not going to get this woman’s house back.
“She has every right to feel hopeless because of what she’s seen and what she’s experienced. Your job is to take that feeling and move yourself into action. Your job is not to feel hopeless,” Levy said. “Our job is to convey messages of hopelessness here, not so people at home feel hopeless, but so they can be moved to do something.”
I wished I could tell this woman that we were doing something. Indeed, many of us are working on various campaigns to end the occupation from campuses and community organizations around the United States. And speaking for myself and Students for Justice in Palestine at Stanford, we will not stop until justice is realized for people across Palestine and Israel.
I had asked during the question and answer session: What can we do to be the most helpful to the family. The answer of Maysa was a new one to me: Get your legislators and your president to end these injustices.
“The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations,” the U.S. State Department declared last December. “This includes building in the E-1 area as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution…We have made clear to the Israeli Government that such action is contrary to U.S. policy.”
As someone skeptical of the electoral and diplomatic process, this suggestion was new to me. We try many things in our campus work, but reaching out to legislators has not been one of them. While the position of the United States government on the settlements is clear, its willingness to hold to account its “greatest ally in the Middle East” is not. President Obama, who demanded a full freeze to settlement construction as a condition for peace talks in 2009, has allowed his Secretary of State John Kerry to pursue peace talks today without this condition. In fact, Israel has tendered over 5,000 settlement contracts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the talks began in August.
Yet having heard this call to action from someone who is directly and seriously affected by the occupation, I commit to putting this in my arsenal of tools to contribute my part. I also challenge my peers, who if they have read this far now know of another person’s oppression and its direct connection to U.S. students and taxpayers, not to let this woman’s prediction ring true.
Kristian is co-president of Stanford Students for Justice in Palestine. He invites anyone interested in continuing this conversation to hear Palestinian activist and Stanford alumni Fadi Quran ’10 discuss the movement for justice in the region tonight at 7:15 p.m. in the Ujamaa House Drake Lounge.
Contact Kristian Bailey at [email protected]