Category: East Jerusalem

One Year After the Campaign to Stop the JNF’s Planned Eviction of the Sumarin Family in Silwan: Recollections, Reflections and Cautious Rejoicing.

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.

The Sumarin Family in their home in Silwan, Next to the City of David

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).

Soldarity Demonstration Outside of the Sumarin House/Next to the City of David

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):

Initial JNF Response to the Campaign

This was a complete and boldfaced lie.

Vidui/Confession, Rewritten for Suhaib Alawar

We are standing outside of the court. There are seven of us, Israelis and Americans. Suhaib’s parents are standing with us. No one is sure what is happening. The court’s name, “Peace Court,” seems even more nauseous than usual. Inside the barbed wire-rimmed jail, a fourteen year old boy is being held by the same authorities that half a year ago held him in solitary confinement, threatened him with a knife and told him he’d get tortured with electricity if he didn’t say what they wanted him to say. When he was released from jail, after a month, he was sentenced to house arrest and told that he could not finish his 9th grade year. Five months after his release, Suhaib was finally allowed to return to school, on the condition that he go and return with a parent. This past Saturday, on their way back from school, Suhaib’s mother stepped inside to go to the bathroom. When she emerged, she saw that her son had been arrested by Israeli police for violating the terms of his continued house arrest.
We hear that the court decided to hold him until Thursday. After all, we must all get ready for the approaching Day of Judgement. There is no time to deal with every case of every kid that Israel has chosen to torture. And so, as Suhaib sits in the Russian Compound, only minutes away from my house in West Jerusalem, I will do my preparations for the Day of Judgement by rewriting some of the liturgy, with my friend Suhaib in mind.

Ashamnu: We are guilty of oppression.
Bagadnu: We have betrayed the lessons of our people.
Gazalnu: We have stolen land.
Debarnu Dofi: We have falsely accused children of crimes.
Heyvinu: We have perverted the notions of justice and law.
Vihirshanu: We have made our children and our children’s children to do evil deeds.
Zadnu: We have had evil hearts.
Hamasnu: We have been so, so violent.
Tafalnu Sheker: We have been dishonest to the world and to ourselves.
Yatznu Ra: We have advised our justices and judges to torture others.
Kizavnu: We have lied and broken even our own laws.
Latznu: We have been contemptuous of those who call for peace and mean it.
Maradnu: We have rebelled against a history that teaches “Thou Shalt Not Oppress.”
Niatznu: We have provoked others to throw stones and to join in the cycle of violence.
Sararnu: We have failed to do what is right. We have failed to do what is right.
Avinu: We have succumbed to the temptation of empire, of land, of money, of power.
Peshanu: We have acted with complete disregard to moral standards.
Tzararnu: We have persecuted and oppressed others, mostly those who are Palestinian.
Kishinu Oref: We have been stubborn in our insistence that what we do we must do.
Rishanu: We have arrested and tortured 14 year old children.
Shichatnu: We have corrupted ideals, hopes, scripture and conscience.
Tiavnu: We have committed abominations. We have committed abominations.
Tainu: We have gone astray. God, how we have gone astray.
Tiatanu: We have misled others and ourselves into justifying or ignoring that which is unjustifiable and must not be ignored any longer.

As we say these words tonight and tomorrow, let us not think of them as empty words, or as metaphors. These words are real, they speak to the collective sins we have sinned and continue to sin every day. And to ask forgiveness, in truth, we must first put an end to these sins. God, help us find the strength to put an end to these sins.
The building in which Suhaib is imprisoned.

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