Sheikh Jarah 248 88 abe.
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
Nearly two-dozen neighbors gathered inside a home on Othman Bin Afan Street in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah Wednesday afternoon, some 24 hours after a group of Jews had entered the front section of the home to carry out renovations.
The property - the back section of which is home to 13 members of the al-Kurd family - was thrust into the spotlight on Tuesday as the latest in a series of Sheikh Jarrah properties embroiled in legal battles over ownership claims, and neighborhood residents who had gathered there on Wednesday had little else on their mind.
"We don't know what's going to happen," said Nabil al-Kurd, the father of the family currently living in the home's back section, as he stepped outside. The meeting inside the home between neighborhood residents and lawyers concerning recent and ongoing developments in the area had just adjourned.
"We're just hoping to stay in our home," he added. "Obviously, we have nowhere else to go."
Al-Kurd explained that Tuesday's arrival of the Jews to the property signified their intent on moving into at least its front section, which has been vacant for a number of years, and of which a court ruling has named the Jewish claimants as rightful owners.
But al-Kurd said he and his family would remain in the back section of the home "even if the Jews move in." While al-Kurd added that he was fearful Tuesday's renovations were also a hint that he and his family might be evicted at a later date, he said that a larger message had been received by the entire neighborhood, where more than two-dozen additional families are facing possible eviction.
"Every time there is an eviction, every time they try to come into another home, it raises the tension in the neighborhood another notch," he said. "People see that it happened here, and then they think, maybe I'll be next."
"That's why so many people came to hear what the lawyer said," he added. "Because if one person wins a case, it's like we all won a case, and if one person loses, then it's like we've all lost. Every development that happens here affects every single one of us."
The roots of the ownership dispute over the 28 properties in question dates back to 1948, when a number of homes in the neighborhood that belonged to Jews before the creation of the state were seized by the Jordanian government under its Enemy Property Law during the War of Independence.
In 1956, 28 Palestinian families who had been receiving refugee assistance from UNRWA were selected to benefit from a project in which they forfeited their refugee aid and moved into homes built on the seized properties in Sheikh Jarrah.
The agreement stipulated that the ownership of the homes was to be put in the families' names - a step that never took place - and court battles between Jewish groups that represent some of the former Jewish homeowners and the current Palestinian residents have been going on in some cases since the 1980s.
The first eviction resulting from those court cases came in 2008, when extended members of the al-Kurd family were evicted from their Sheikh Jarrah home, not far from Nabil al-Kurd's. Two additional families, the Gawis and the Hanouns, were evicted at the beginning of August, and another six families are facing imminent eviction if their ongoing court battles are decided in favor of the Jewish claimants.
Regardless, Othman Bin Afan Street has become a sort of ground zero for the ongoing tension in the neighborhood. Directly across the street from the al-Kurds' home lies the former home of the Gawi family, into which a number of Jews moved in after the Gawis were evicted.
That tension was evident on Wednesday when a relative of the al-Kurd family, who gave his name as Muhammad, approached the former Gawi home and began to speak to a Jewish man who stood at the gate.
"Why are you doing this?" Muhammad asked him. "This is just adding to the hatred that exists between Jews and Arabs - it's just making things worse."