House of Peace, House of War

On September 2, 2013, the Israeli High Court, in its final hearing on the Al Rajabi building, stated it would make a final decision in 1-6 months. For those like Fatma Jabari, the past, present, and future of the house, which has affected her everyday life, looks grim.

by Susanne, Hebron team

A demonstration in support of the Al Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/S. Hefekaeuser.

A demonstration in support of the Al Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/S. Hefekaeuser.

Fatma Jabari clearly remembers when the Israeli settlers moved in at the opposite site of the street. At 9:30 pm, two soldiers came into her house. Instead of ringing the bell, they crashed the door. They stood with their rifles in the hallway of the family home, in which plastic chairs and sofas are normally waiting to seat the guests of the family. With a brisk voice, they told the family to leave the house. “My husband was very sick and weak, he already had a couple of heart attacks, he could barely move”, says the old woman, deep crinkles of sorrow casting shadows on her face. The family had to wait outside several hours while the soldiers searched the house for weapons or any other source of danger for the settlers.

Fatmas new neighbors were fourteen Israeli settler families who, in March 2007, moved into the three-story house that the Palestinians call “Rajabi house”, while the settlers refer to it as “Beit Hashalom”, or “House of Peace”. Located at the rim of Wadi Al Hussein, the Rajabi building is strategically located on the street that connects Kiryat Arba settlement on the outskirts of Hebron with the settlement houses in the Old City of Hebron.

A religious dream

Claiming to have bought the house legally from the Palestinian Rajabi family, the settlers moved here to make a religious vision come true:

“We have been praying for Eretz Israel for 2000 years, so that we could come back to Eretz Israel. Now we are here.” says the settler Ruti Hizmi in a video on YouTube. The forty-something lady is sitting on a red velvet sofa, her hair is covered with a violet scarf.

Eretz Israel or “Greater Israel”– the land God promised to the Jews – is a project, which the politics in Israel tries to impede. This is a project that must be defended, says Ruti: “We do exactly the opposite. Instead of destroying it, we build Eretz Israel anew.” In the process of building anew, the settlers work against the people whom she simply refers to as “our enemies” – the Palestinians that inhabit the land.

“We are 70 people, where are we supposed to go?”

Fatma is one of those enemies. She limps through the small courtyard of her house which lies sandwiched between the Kiryat Arba settlement and the Rajabi building in the valley. She has been living in this house for 41 years. A horde of children slides down the stairs in wooden fruit boxes into the yard whose fence has been stuffed with cardboard and ply wood in order to protect the inhabitants from the curious looks of passersby on the street. Fatima is dressed in a golden robe and white headscarf. She has friendly brown eyes, but has difficulty moving. She broke her hip once, she explained, while trying to protect her grandson from an assault by a settler girl.

With a tremor in her hand she points to the bullet holes in her window frame.  They are a reminder of the settlers, she says. On a daily basis, they threw rocks at her house or shot the house with live ammunition. On her daughter’s wedding day, the settlers even threw tomatoes and eggs at the bride. According to a B’tselem report, the soldiers did not intervene on the Palestinians behalf. Instead, they ordered the wedding guests to stand along a wall, hands crossed behind their heads. In spite of all the difficulties, Fatma never thought about moving out of her house.

“We are 70 people, where are we supposed to go?”, she asks.

The settlers burnt houses and cars, beat up people and opened fire

The settlers have been gone for five years now. In November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the ownership situation of the building is not entirely clear. The Rajabi family denies they sold the house to the settlers. When they realized to whom they sold the house through a Palestinian middleman, they cancelled the contract immediately. In court, however, the settlers used two forged documents to prove their purchase.

Due to the court decision, the settlers were evacuated by force from the building in December 2008, but retaliated in the following days. They burnt houses and cars, beat up passersby and journalists, and threw stones at Palestinian homes. One group of outraged settlers attacked the house of the Abu Saifan family in the valley between Kiryat Arba and the Rajabi building. One settler opened fire and hit three men of the family.

Human Rights Organizations expect a catastrophe

During the September 2 court hearing, the Israeli judges allowed the Rajabi family’s lawyer to speak only rarely. “They did not listen to all my arguments”, he says. He is not very optimistic to win the case. Legally speaking, it is a difficult case. It is about forged papers, money that has been paid or not and the legality of middlemen in transactions.

The International Human Rights Organizations active in Hebron, however, know that the Rajabi case is about far more than that. From a Human Rights perspective they expect a catastrophe should the house be turned into a settlement once again. The street in front of the house could be closed for Palestinians altogether, new military checkpoints could be installed in the area that would impede the access of students to two Palestinian schools and there could be further assaults on the mosque next to the building, the Palestinian cemetery and on the Palestinians themselves. The affected persons are the men, women in children living in the valley, people like Fatma.

Fatma’s family will lose anyway

Fatma stands under a Jasmine tree in the atrium of her house, gazing to the Rajabi house that rises above her head on the other side of the street in an almost threatening way. On the roof, there are two soldiers on watch. When the Israeli High Court makes its decision, Fatma knows that she and her family will lose anyway. Should the settlers win, the daily hassle will begin once again for the family: Flying stones, shooting, assaults. Should the settlers lose, Fatma fears their revenge. “I want to live in peace, with my children, my grandchildren. I want the violence to stop”, Fatma says. She looks to the group of children who are still playing around wildly in the courtyard. In the meantime, they have shattered the stair sliding fruit boxes to pieces.

Sign the Petition: Al-Rajabi building faces looming court decision

The Al-Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/M. Prisco

The Al-Rajabi building. Photo EAPPI/M. Prisco

The Israeli Supreme Court will decide the future of the Al-Rajabi family building, located in Hebron’s H2, on September 2, 2013.  The building is situated in a valley at the southern entrance of the Kiryat Arba settlement, in a strategic location that could link this settlement to five other nearby settlements around Hebron’s Old City.

When did it all begin?

On 19 March 2007, approximately 200 settlers occupied the building and claimed to have purchased it. The settlers launched a campaign of attacks against Palestinian families and their property in an effort to pressure Palestinians to move away from the area. Their efforts were supplemented by an increased presence of Israeli soldiers in the area to provide security for the settlers, which resulted in severe movement and access restrictions for Palestinians.

On 17 November 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the ownership deed produced by the settlers was forged, and declared that the ownership of the building should only be decided after the case has gone through all levels of litigation in the Israeli Judicial system. The settlers were ordered to vacate the building, which they did, while injuring approximately 25 Palestinian civilians, damaging seven cars, and vandalizing three homes in the process.

Determining the future

In July 2013, the Israeli district court granted ownership to Israeli settlers, despite proof that they used forged and illegal ownership documents. The Hebron Rehabilitation Committee appealed the July decision and now awaits the final decision of the case on September 2, which will determine the future of the building.

“The community feels it is in a lose-lose situation. If Israeli Supreme Court grants settlers ownership, Palestinians will have lost part of their community,” noted a former EAPPI observer in Hebron.  “If the court does not grant settlers ownership, Palestinians fear reprisal from the settlers as happened in the past.”

Take action to protect the Al-Rajabi building

With the court decision only 1 week away, you can help protect the Al-Rajabi building. Sign the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee’s petition HERE.

You may be interested in..

Bassam’s Story – the new settlement threatens the existence of his shop

Christian Peacemaker Teams coverage of the building including interviews with 4 affected families

EA Blog: Hebron locals fear new ‘House of Peace’ settlement

by Michele, Hebron Team

A few days ago we visited Bassam Jabari, a shoemaker who lives in Wadi al-Hussein, the area just behind Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron. Wadi al-Hussein is a valley between two settlements, Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot. As all settlements in the West Bank, Kiryat Arba and Givat Ha’avot are illegal according international law. Bassam’s shop is small.  His family is growing, they are now eight and live in a small apartment behind the shop.

Image

He has tried to extend his house by building an extra floor, but the Israeli authorities have stopped work several times because his house is located in the Israeli controlled Area C, despite the fact that Hebron city has granted him a construction permit. According to “The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories” (B’tselem), over the past three decades have Israel has employed a policy of planning, development and construction in the West Bank that significantly limited the building of Palestinian homes and buildings and instead favored the establishment and the expansion of Israeli settlements. Palestinians who request a construction permit from the Israeli authorities must undergo a time-consuming, complicated and expensive process that usually ends with refusal.

Since 28 May 2012 Bassam has been prevented from performing any further work in his house. “A few weeks ago, Israeli soldiers came to my shop and ordered me to stop work in the house. It was just a plumber who fixed a problem we had at home. The captain said, do not touch anything house, I’ll try to help you with this. Nothing has happened yet. ” According to Bassam, Israeli border police intervened just because the settlers who live in the area contacted them. “Every time they suspect I resumed work, they call on the Border Police.”

In Wadi al-Hussein, almost opposite to Bassam’s store, it is located al-Rajabi house (which the settlers call Beit HaShalom, Fredshus) that have caused much tension in the area since March 2007. The Israeli settlers claimed to have an agreement to buy the house signed in 2007.

Image

This claim was disputed by the Israeli Supreme Court which in November 2008 ordered the settlers to leave the building. As a consequence, the settlers reacted violently.  Al-Rajabi house contributes also to Bassam’s problems. He says, “The settlers once came to my shop and told me that only when they get al-Rajabi house I will be allowed to continue to build.” The legal battle over al-Rajabi house continues but Bassam’s situation has not improved. A week ago, he turned to Hebron city, the DCO 7  and even TIPH. 8. Now he is waiting and hoping that he will soon be able to resume the works.