The struggle of American millionaire and settler patron, Irving Moskowitz, to expel the Hamdallah family from their house, has culminated with the probable expulsion of the family from a bedroom and the front yard to make way for a right-wing, religious Jewish family.
Moskowitz’s decade-long legal attack on the Hamdallahs in Ras al-Amud, East Jerusalem, is emblematic of the unswerving fortitude exhibited by ideologically motivated Jews bent on settling the ‘historic basin’ of the Old City.
The Hamdallah household, comprising three families, is positioned on the verge of Ma’ale Zeitim, the biggest settlement in a Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. The presence of the house is preventing the expansion of the settlement on its western border. This fact has fuelled Mr. Moskowitz for the past sixteen years in pursuing four claims simultaneously in separate courts, in an attempt to evict the family from this space, which, according to Mr. Moskowitz, is his to dispose with.
In 1990, Mr. Moskowitz bought the tract of land upon which the Hamdallah house is built from religious seminaries that had been able to register the land in their name after the annexation of East Jerusalem. Israeli law permits Jews to claim ownership of land owned before 1948, a privilege not extended to non-Jews. Consequently, Moskowitz was able to finance the Ma’ale Zeitim settlement there.
In 2005, a judge decided that the Hamdallahs could keep everything built before 1989 and were to be evicted from all buildings constructed subsequent to that date. Two years later, Moskowitz filed a new suit against the family, which claimed the front yard and one bedroom should be included in the sections to be evacuated. Though the extension was built in the mid 80s, the suit succeeded in attaining a ruling to this effect in early March 2011. Upon the ruling, Moskowitz stated his intention to install a Jewish family in the bedroom, along with armed guards, by March 14.
Shlomo Lecker, who has been defending the family for the past ten years, believes this decision is ‘clearly biased in favour of Mr. Moskowitz, as a result of the political situation.’ Mr. Lecker succeeded in attaining an order to delay the move for one month. He believes that, should the settlers be allowed to move into the appointed bedroom, ‘they will harass the family until they want to leave completely, part of the drive to expand Ma’ale Zeitim.’ The Hamdallahs have been in Ras al-Amud since 1952, after being displaced from their home in Ramle in 1948.
The room to be evacuated is home to Ahmad and Amani Hamdallah and their one year old baby, situated in a three-room extension, comprising a bedroom, a bathroom and a small sitting room. Khaled Hamdallah, Ahmad’s uncle, lives in the main building with his family and sister-in-law. Ahmad was born here, as was his father.
‘We have nowhere to go if the settlers move in’, she explains, ‘there is no space in my mother-in-law’s house.’ The couple do not know what will happen next; ‘we are waiting for a decision.’
The Hamdallahs have no contact with the residents of Ma’ale Zeitim, though sometimes the settlers’ children try to taunt them by waving or pulling faces from inside the compound, Amani notes. She has emptied her bedroom of furniture for fear of the settlers entering her home at any moment and throwing it out. ‘They will come suddenly; it could be at midnight, we do not know.’
‘If they come in to one bedroom, they will keep trying to take more and more,’ Amani predicts. ‘In my mind and my heart, I feel hopeless. If your house is taken, what do you do?’ she asks, revealing the psychological stress that dogs the family in their daily lives. ‘My husband does not sleep, always thinking about our situation’, she continues. ‘We cannot move forward, stuck in a limbo of waiting and not knowing.’
On top of this, the Hamdallahs are financially crippled by the extensive legal fees. For example, for two weeks legal work, they paid 15,000 shekels; ‘most of our money goes to the lawyer,’ Amani tells us.
Most observers view the settling of East Jerusalem as part of a drive to chip away at Palestinian culture and identity in the city. Daniel Luria, spokesperson for Ateret Cohenim, a religious Zionist organisation involved in buying Palestinian property in East Jerusalem and moving Jews in instead, thinks otherwise. ‘Jewish life in Jerusalem is something automatic and natural,’ he commented. ‘I’m not sure why the world involves itself when Jews move to areas in Jerusalem but it smacks of racism and anti-Semitism. This is the Jewish homeland and there is nothing the world can do about it. They are the indigenous people and the rightful heirs of Jerusalem and the whole of Israel’.
A recent report by Ir Amim on the development of the court case notes how the pertinacious single-mindedness of settlers in East Jerusalem usually gets them what they want. For instance, according to the report, ‘there is at least one extreme, ideological settlement in each of the Palestinian neighbourhoods in the Old City and the historic basin surrounding it.’
While these projects are funded by private donors, they have the tacit recognition and approval of the state. Mr. Lecker is fighting what seems like an impossible battle against a legal system, which as an arm of the state, is permeated with the Zionist doctrine and consequently privileges an exclusively Jewish agenda.
Settlers taking over Palestinians’ homes in East Jerusalem is nothing new. Read about past incidences