As we struggle against current injustices and feelings of despair, it is crucial that we remember and celebrate the victories we have achieved as a community.
Exactly one year ago today, the Sumarin family was supposed to be evicted from their home in Silwan by the Jewish Naitonal Fund, working in coordination with the schemes of Judaization of Silwan espoused by the City of David’s managers, the extremist ELAD settler organization. One year later, following one of the more powerful and intense campaigns I have ever been involved in, run by folks at Rabbis for Human Rights, Solidarity, Rabbis for Human Rights-NA, the Jewish Alliance for Change, in cooperation with Palestinian activists from the Wadi Hilweh Alternative Information Center and the Sumarins themselves, the Sumarin family is still in their home and the process remains frozen.
I wanted to take a moment brief history of the campaign (from my angle, at least- if folks see things differently, I’d be happy to hear how and change accordingly): On November 14th, the Sumarins were issued eviction orders by the JNF and its shady subsidiary company, Himanuta. The next day, Nir Hasson covered the story in Haaretz, and on November 17th, Hagit Ofran (an activist who I admire deeply, who I got to know through this campaign, and who is now a dear friend of mine) wrote a piece in Hebrew and in English on the Huffington Post in which she explained the story behind the planned eviction:
”Two months ago, the court scheduled their eviction for November 28, 2011 in a ruling handed down in the absence of defense by the Sumarins. Their house is considered by the authorities as a property of an absentee, and therefore, it was transferred to the hands of the Himanuta company which requested the eviction.”
Many of us began meeting and planning different courses of action, including a massive letter campaign- both international and within Israel- to the JNF and the JNF-KKL, telling them not to evict the Sumarin family.
On November 23rd, things kicked into action in earnest.
Rabbis for Human Rights launched a public letter campaign:
”As Israeli rabbis who are deeply concerned both with Israel’s security and with the human rights of all people living under Israel’s control, we in RHR urge you to take action to stop JNF’s Himnuta subsidiary from evicting the Sumarin family from their home. The family has been living in this house for more than four decades. JNF, as a group concerned with the well-being of the State of Israel, must act to prevent this injustice.”
A parallel, coordinated campaign was launched in the US by Rabbis for Human Rights- North America and the Jewish Alliance for Change, and yet another parallel campaign was launched in Israel by the Solidarity Movement, who also began organizing solidarity vigils at the Sumarin house, starting on the 28th, and a demonstration in Silwan/in front of ELAD’s City of David. In the UK, the Left-wing Jewish group, Yachad, picked up the call for justice and started a letter campaign of their own. (Working with both RHR and Solidarity at the time, and coordinating directly with Hagit and folks in RHR-NA, I helped organize different aspects of the campaign and wrote a piece that would serve as resource called JNF: Planting Trees or Uprooting Families).
Thousands of letters were sent in the first few days. Activists continued to pressure the JNF online, including on their Facebook page, and within a day, the JNF-KKL in the US issued the following statement (which is so stunningly bizarre, untrue and illustrative of so much, I cannot but include it in full):
This was a complete and boldfaced lie.
Within hours, our responses to the JNF’s attempted parry began emerging. Rabbis for Human Rights issued the following statement:
“Court documents in our possession clearly indicate that Himnuta, a 100% KKL-JNF-owned subsidiary, has waged a legal campaign to have the Sumarin family evicted from their home…
The response of KKL-JNF confirming the connection between Himnuta and ELAD, combined with additional information that we have gathered, only reinforces the fact that the KKL-JNF and its subsidiary Himnuta bear responsibility for the pending eviction of the Sumarin family, and are thus morally obligated to do everything in their power to freeze the eviction and to undo the damage that they have wrought.
Until we receive confirmation that the eviction has been frozen, we ask that you, supporters of RHR, redouble your efforts to contact KKL-JNF, asking them to prevent the eviction of the Sumarin family.”
And Hagit Ofran publicized the Eviction Notice, which is issued in Himanuta’s name, along with documentation proving that Himanuta is 100% owned by the JNF:
“According to JNF’s response, “KKL-JNF leased the land to Elad in the early ‘90’s … KKL-JNF has no rights, control, or responsibility in this issue at all”. In fact, as the Eviction Order proves, all legal action against the Sumarin family has been taken by Himnuta (which is wholly owned by JNF).”
The campaign continued and grew in force in the US and in Israel, and on November 27th, the JNF agreed to temporarily freeze the campaign. The notification was publicized in Haaretz, in English:
“At the last minute on Thursday night, the Jewish National Fund announced a delay in the eviction of 12 members of a Palestinian family from the house where they’ve been living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan…
For its part, the JNF said the court ordered the Sumarin family to leave the premises in 2006 and family members have rebuffed efforts to seriously discuss a resolution of the case. Nonetheless, the JNF said, additional time would be granted to resolve the issue. Elad did not comment.”
In parallel, the legal efforts to stop the eviction achieved a similar success. The JNF-KKL/Himanutah statement in Haaretz did not include a timeframe, but on November 28th, the original date of eviction, the Israeli court dealing with this case ordered, following a request by Adv. Muhammad Dahleh, to “freeze the eviction procedures.”According to Hagit Ofran:
”The main request submitted by Dahleh was to cancel the previous ruling of the court, from 2005, which ordered the eviction of the Sumarin family without any response or defense by the family. Today, the court gave Himnuta, who is demanding the eviction, a chance to respond to [Dahleh and the family’s] request until the 18th of December 2012. After that, the court will decide whether to cancel the eviction ruling or not. The court ordered that until the decision is made, the eviction procedures will be frozen.”
The following notice was published on the JNF’s Facebook:
“Out of a sense of public responsibility and given the sensitivity of the situation, Himanutah has decided to ask the Israeli courts not to enforce the eviction of the Somrin family at present. KKL’s position has always combined safeguarding the land rights of the Jewish People while taking into consideration the rights of minorities in Israel. By doing so, the company is extending an additional opportunity for dialogue which is now being mediated by KKL.”
With December 18th as the new potential eviction date, the campaign continued.
The coordination between activists, between media members, between international and local groups, between Palestinians and Israelis seeking justice was stunning. Rabbis for Human Rights called on supporters to send another letter to the JNF, calling for the eviction to be cancelled in full, we opened a Facebook page to coordinate campaign efforts, members of student groups like J Street U in the US signed on to the campaign, Yachad continued to contribute to the the campaign, and filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrovich, along with Israeli activist Eyal Raz, put the story into video form:
On December 14th, in a hugely symbolic victory for the campaign, Seth Morrison, a JNF board member in the US, resigned in protest of the JNF’s plans to the evict the Sumarin family. In his open letter, written in the Jewish Daily Forward, Morrison wrote that:
”I hope that JNF will decide to cancel this eviction for good, and to refrain from pursuing additional such evictions. But I felt I had to resign now because senior people at JNF made clear to me that they still plan to get the Sumarin family out and transfer the property to Elad.
I have always supported Israel through organizations like JNF because I believe that the Jewish people have the right to a secure, democratic and peaceful homeland in Israel. And I strongly believe that the Palestinian people have the right to a secure, democratic and peaceful homeland in a neighboring Palestinian state. By supporting right-wing settlers in “Judaizing” Palestinian neighborhoods, JNF makes this vision harder to achieve. I fear that such actions endanger Israel’s future as a secure and democratic state.”
All in all, thousands and thousands of letters were sent, dozens of Op Eds and media articles written, a number of protests, tours and solidarity vigils were held and when the December 18th eviction date was again delayed, and then the next date was delayed again, it began to become clear that the JNF did not intend to evict the Sumarin family in this round of the battle, that the de facto freeze would remain and, although the victory was not complete and the possibility of eviction still remains a reality to this day, it was a victory. We had won. The Sumarin family, the Palestinian and Israeli and international activists, the NGOs and Human Rights organizations, RHR’s voice of a Judaism that puts justice first: we had won.
One year later, the family remains in their home. It might be the case that the campaign will need to be relaunched at some point, but we proved to the JNF, to ELAD and to the world that such injustice would not go over easily. This was an example of how cooperation, perseverance and a true orientation towards justice for all can, in some cases, win out over seemingly unshakeable, ultra-wealthy and state-supported actors who value narrow ideology over humanis, but who are susceptible to pressure like almost every corporation, government or actor in this political world.
Finally, as an after-word, I wanted to publish a poem I wrote last year, after the night of the planned eviction:
Sesame, Smoke, Eviction, Dust, JasmineSilwan, East Jerusalem. 27 November, 2011, 2200. The Jerusalem Municipality’s eviction of the twelve members of the Sumarin family is scheduled for 28 November, 2011, 0000.
When we arrive
the circle of white plastic chairs leans
towards us scraping chipped hooves
on the cold tiles. White-knobbed joints and
logs pop and fwick as the murmur slows
so that the loudest sounds are cracked pockets
of air and fire dancing in the wheelbarrow.
50 years old they told me later
(the wheelbarrow, that is:
the fire is 44 or 63, depending on how you count).
When we arrive
we look like other people
whose arrival means other things:
water-colored eyes, loose jeans, the gait
of those for whom a policeman on a dark street
When we arrive
it takes Mohammad, nine years old, a few seconds to recognize
me: I am wearing a hat to keep the cold
out of my ears and the top of my
spine. He runs over to say hello and the plastic chairs
resume their ancient routine of creak and
whisper. I raise a hand, then place it on my
breastbone, no closer to my heart than to the side of my chest
filled only with lung.
Peace be Upon You and Your
Watery Coffee and Sesame Bread.
I ask Mohammad how he is and he says
not so good smiling I ask him why
not smiling he says you know why
and I am silent.
Then he starts to tell me about school:
how he hates to get up early and will I sleep
at his house tonight yes I say I hope so
I hate to get up early too.
The air is medium, smoke and semi-silence
and my thoughts skip to a campfire with
Abe and Andrew and Jade and Johna and the oblivion
of stars and wine and 19-year old virility.
But here of course it is different:
here we can’t see the stars
because there is a tarp over the courtyard.
We hear a crinkling and look up
and for a few minutes everyone is debating:
cat or snake
One of the Sons of the House
tells a story about how once he was napping
and a small cat fell on his stomach:
It was fine he says because of my belly
but I was so frightened I nearly died!
Everyone laughs a little bit too loud.
Suddenly there are bright lights outside
and the sound of a truck.
The plastic chairs begin to writhe and
wither in the heat of the wheelbarrow’s hapless flames.
Our necks are cracking to see:
our necks are cracking.
Please don’t let them –who are us but also, tonight, so deeply not us–
The air is made of smoke and sesame
and it is the garbage man from the neighborhood
come to say hello, in solidarity
hello we say
and laugh quietly this time.
We are still awake at two thirty
in the morning and as we begin to fade into
the white plastic, the family brings out white plastic
bags full of bread and za’atar and plastic plates piled with
meat which none of us eat: silly leftists, it’s very good!
And reddish-black kettles of coffee and tea.
They will stay up all night, the family, but we are
tired: If you need anything they say just tell us.
If anything happens we say just wake us.
And now the concept of shining our lights of
privilege and justice on armed soldiers
doesn’t sound as romantic, in the medium air of early
Palestinian morning. Then I think of Mohammad
being pulled out of his room and suddenly I am very
We all sleep on springful reddish-black
plush couches in the room they prepared for
the Jews. You are Jews? one of the little ones asked but…
Some Jews want you out of your house we thought at him
and some Jews want you to stay
and want to stay, too.
In the morning
three men are still awake, standing
around the wheelbarrow
maybe older than occupation itself, depending on how
you count, with the trimmed white beard of the logs
still sizzling and hiccupping in its belly
and the air is loaded with dust and jasmine:
after all, who could sleep on a night like this
except for most of us?
Then when the morning is getting very bright
we hear that the eviction has been temporarily frozen
and I want to weep and laugh but I am too tired
so we shake hands, and nod our heads seriously and
say let’s make temporary into forever
and as I walk home through the shopping malls
and green buses I try very hard to remember
how to make things forever
and I can’t so I whisper to myself
maybe just for a very