Updated: Apr 23
My name is Saleh Diab, I am 53 years old, but I feel like I have lived a thousand years. I am married and I have 5 children between the age of 11 to 19.
I am an ordinary person, like any Palestinian. I want to live a simple life and raise my children without fear, without occupation and with confidence like any other person in the world. Our lives are different because we wake up in the morning to the ruins of houses, to new victims, including children. We got used to the violence and the barriers of the occupation. We go to bed in fear, get up in fear, leave the house in fear of violence.
We arrived at Sheikh Jarrah from Jaffa during the Naqba. My aunt lived here before 1948. We were ruled by the Jordanian government that gave us the land. The area was empty. In the agreement with UNRWA, we gave up the refugee rights for the right to a home. UNRWA built 28 houses here, From 1953 to 1956. Two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room.
In the 1967 war East Jerusalem was occupied by the Israelis. There was a grave for the Hijazi family near our houses. The Shanti family who lived next to it, went to Kuwait during the war. When they returned, they found Jews in their house. They also discovered that the tomb of the Hijazi family had been renamed for the tomb of Shimon the Righteous. You can find in Israel several more graves of Shimon the righteous. The Israelis turned Muslim and Christian graves into Jewish graves to control the area. After the war, the High Authority of the religious Jewish Sephardic endowment claimed that the land was theirs.
11 families hired a lawyer to represent them and over the years the court ruled that the houses belong to us, the original inhabitants. We realized later that our lawyer claimed that we owned our houses but not the land.
In 2008, the court ordered the deportation of the Al Kurd family. The Israeli forces closed the whole neighborhood one night and violently broke into the family's house. They expelled them out of the house. The house was invaded by settlers. We set up a tent in an empty lot in the neighborhood. Every day the police confiscated the tent violently with tear gas and arrests and we brought a new one. After 10 days, the father of the family died of a heart attack. Diplomats and members of the Knesset came to support us. Israelis also came who wanted to help and we started working together. Sheikh Jarrah made headlines.
In 2009, two more families were expelled from the Hanun (15 people) and Al Rawi (36 people) family homes. It was done by a court order, issued in the middle of the night, when our lawyer was in hospital. The evacuation was done in an extremely violent manner. We were not allowed to leave our homes to help the families. Settlers entered their homes. The violence continued by arresting of the members of the families who lived in a tent in the neighborhood. A settler threatened to shoot us.
Another 11 families received an evacuation order, including my family. Lawyers went to Turkey to check the taboo of the neighborhood from the time of Turkish rule. No proof was found for the claim that a Rabby bought the land in the 19th century. There were various unsuccessful attempts to find a justified claim to evict us.
We started demonstrating every Friday, people from the neighborhood and Israelis joined us. Every demonstration involved police violence and arrests. Sheikh Jarrah's name made headlines all over the world. Supporters arrived from different countries to join the demonstrations. They experienced the violence and the number of participants increased.
The protests continue to this day. I lead the demonstrations every week. I was arrested almost twenty times, several times I received orders of distancing from the neighborhood. I was arrested because I am a leader, no other reason.
The goal of the settlers and the Jerusalem Municipality is to build houses in place of our houses and all the neighborhoods around the Old City and Al Aqsa Mosque.
During Ramadan in May 2021 there was a lot of violence. The Israelis forbade the social evening gatherings outside Nablus Gate, after the day's fast. Also here, in the neighborhood.
The court issued deportation orders for another four families. We increased the demonstrations and the violence of the police towards us also increased. The settlers attacked us with tear gas, attacked me and broke my leg. They attacked my house every day, for several days and broke my ribs. The police arrested me. The attacking settlers were not arrested. MP Ben-Gvir came here. I thanked him for putting the neighborhood in the headlines.
I was detained for five days and then forbidden to stay in the neighborhood. The demonstrations continued and the court ruled not to evict us. The demonstrations did the job.
Ben-Gvir and the settlers moved to the second neighborhood and an eviction order was issued for the Salem family.
I meet representatives from other countries. Representatives from the European Union visited us last week. I told them directly that I think they speak but they do nothing. They help the corrupted Palestinian Authority is no help. I ask them: 'Could you live in the conditions we live in? The UN was part of the deal on our houses. We kept our part of the deal, why don't you help keep your part?'
When I see that Palestinian children being injured, or getting arrested or being killed, I see them as my children. I can't sleep at night. I aspire to a world without violence and without racism. I oppose the occupation, not the Jews. I encourage the demonstrators every week. I remind them that the occupation will end. I talk to God and read the Holy Book every day. I can see before my eyes what will happen in the future. I have a strong will. Justice is never broken. Evil has its time and then will pass into the trash of history. I want to stand before God without bad deeds. We strive for love between people. The demonstrations I lead are based on love, not hate.