French towns and departments step up aid to Palestinian families in East Jerusalem

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This program, subsidized by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, allows the center to organize, for Palestinian children and young people, cultural and sports activities, vocational training actions, summer camps, but also school support, as well as psychological support and solidarity actions for families hard hit by arrests, evictions and house demolitions which, according to the RCDP missions that go there, have accelerated even further since l Covid epidemic.
Amani Odeh, whose house is threatened with demolition, is the co-founder of the Al-Bustan center. Kutaybah Odeh, is president of the Al-Bustan association. His family is threatened with expropriation and forced displacement. After being welcomed to the National Assembly and the Senate as well as in several French cities, both, at the initiative of the former MEP Francis Wurtz, met on Tuesday, MEPs in Strasbourg.
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What is the situation of families in East Jerusalem today, particularly in the two neighborhoods where threats of eviction seem to be concentrated, the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood and that of Silwan, where the socio-cultural center of which you are the responsible?

Amani Odeh. Violence against families manifests itself in several ways. The first is the question of identity. We do not have Palestinian IDs in Jerusalem. We just have a residence document which can be withdrawn from us at any time by a court order, as is the case with Salah Hamouri now. So we don’t have a nationality. In Jerusalem, we are not Palestinians – we have a Jordanian passport, but we are not Jordanians, – and we are not Israelis. It is the first form of direct violence for the Palestinians. We have no legal existence.
Then there is the issue of habitat. We live on land that belongs to us but we do not have the right to build since the Israeli municipality does not issue us a building permit. However, given the population density and demographics, we are forced to build. However, building leads us to not respect Israeli law. So without a permit, we end up having to demolish houses, or else they are the ones who decide to demolish the houses of the Palestinians. These demolitions take place either on the basis of legal justifications, but which are in fact illegal since East Jerusalem is under occupation, and the Israeli legal basis does not normally exist. Or even according to a historical narrative which says that these lands belong to the Jews for hundreds of years and that they must return to the Israelis. And this is where there really is a problem. Our fight today is neither legal nor historical, it is political. It concerns the presence of the Palestinians on this land which belongs to them. We refuse to go through this Israeli law, even though we are forced to go through Israeli courts, but we know very well that this is not our goal. Our goal is really political: it is our presence, as Palestinians, in Jerusalem. The end goal of this whole procedure, as we know it, is to get there to be only a minority of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and to increase the number of Israelis, Jewish settlers, to be able to say: there are more Israelis than Palestinians in East Jerusalem, so, de facto, this land is Israeli.
The other form of political violence is arrests. There are two types, which are very violent and which break us. The first is the arrest of children. Today, we have arrests of children aged 5 to 25, of varying length, which are sometimes renewed, sometimes repetitive. The child is arrested, then released, then he can be arrested two months later. Even after being arrested and released, there is a second form of pressure on Palestinian children, and that is house arrest. His parents become his own jailers. He is prohibited from going out, going to school, or having any activities. It is also a form of destruction of social relationships since, if a parent becomes the jailer of their child, what can become of their relationship? There are also many arrests that take place in schools, with the trauma that this causes in the child, and for his whole class. Children are also victims of beatings, and interrogations take place without their parents.
The fourth form of political violence is the presence of settlers who are armed today. There have been several cases of assassinations carried out by settlers. Expropriation is another form of violence. In Batn Al-Hawa, one of the districts of Silwan, the expropriation of 86 families is expected. The court ruling was made on the basis of allegations of Jewish ownership of these lands over 100 years ago. As the municipality does not arrive at the expropriation by legal measures, it is associations of settlers who take over and undertake procedures to arrive at the eviction.

– Apart from a center like the one you created, what do young Palestinians in East Jerusalem have in terms of education and recreation?

Amani Odeh. There are parents who put their children in public schools which are under the authority of the Israeli Ministry of Education, there are those relationships there. But the problem in Silwan, especially in Al-Bustan, one of the neighborhoods where the example is very convincing, is that we have an Israeli authority which orders demolitions, and also proposes to build structures like a stadium. of soccer. But we cannot accept. We ourselves proposed an urban plan that included several public amenities and the maintenance of houses in the neighborhood, but this plan was refused by the Israeli authorities and by the municipality. Today, the Palestinians are being forced to trust no Israeli authority. The main idea, we as Palestinians, is to say, we are occupied, we are in a territory occupied by Israel. So, we cannot ask the Palestinians to accept Israeli authority, that would mean accepting the authority of the occupier without them recognizing our presence in the territory. It would be schizophrenic.

– What is the place for you of international support, compared to the actions you are leading inside East Jerusalem?

Kutaybah Odeh, In fact, the two are complementary. Outside, we need it because we need this international support to show the world that there is an abnormal situation, that there is violence and occupation. At the same time inside, things are also happening. The example which can illustrate this is the intervention of Hillary Clinton in 2009 with the municipality of Jerusalem which made it possible to freeze the demolitions for 10 years after a negotiation. How did the information get to Clinton? It is because there was initially a resistance tent on the ground which allowed to have media coverage which made the international community react. Outward communication allows us to reach out to politicians, and inside we organize our own activism to defend ourselves, to be able to change Israeli policies against the population.

– How do you judge the attitude of the European Union?

Kutaybah Odeh. Since I was 10 years old, I have seen Europeans in my neighborhood. I see delegations marching, Europeans, diplomats. What changed ? It is the increase in resistance tents at home, the increase in the number of demolitions, the number of arrests and the increase in political violence that we are experiencing. Yes, there is a European diplomatic action, but it is absolutely necessary that Europe can say no to the occupation of Israel since 1967. Today the attempts of the Europeans are timid and there are no red lines which allow European diplomats to be able to go beyond and have a stronger action towards the Israeli authorities to protect the Palestinians.

How do you assess the action of the Al-Bustan Center in the current situation?

Amani Odeh. The activities we have at the center, in partnership with French communities, have given us strength and protection at the same time. It can be felt in the neighborhood because today, for example, we have an increase in the beneficiaries of our activities. 11,000 beneficiaries of our activities out of 65,000 inhabitants throughout the Silwan district. We organize psychological, sporting, cultural and social support. We were able to lighten the pressure on the inhabitants a little, give them a little breathing room in this daily pressure that they experience. It has also made it possible to reweave links between residents since people see each other, they meet at the Center, talk to each other, they express their fears, they manage to free their words. For us it’s a great success because this support from the outside came when we were flat, when we could no longer see light at the end of the tunnel. It made it possible to break the isolation and allow the inhabitants to believe in this international support, from France in this case, in their fight for their rights. They could see that their message was delivered in France. They were able to talk about their situation, their suffering and they also say, through the delegations that travel abroad, that as Palestinians, we love life, we are not the terrorists that the Israelis describe. We are not people who love death. We want our children to have a better future, to live in safety, to have our rights respected and enforced. This type of partnership for us is a real window open to the world to deliver our message and to one day be able to achieve our freedom.

(1) The departments of Loire-Atlantique, Seine Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne. The towns of Bagneux, Besançon, Bezons, Gennevilliers, Gières, Ivry, La Courneuve, Montreuil, Nanterre, Rennes, Rézé and Villerupt.

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