The voice of a Palestinian activist
My name is Zuheir Rashbi, I’m married to Rula and we have four children, two daughters and two sons. I live in Batan al-Hawa neighborhood, Silwan, East Jerusalem.
My father bought the land from a Palestinian, in 1966, during the Jordanian rule and built the house on it. When the family grew, we expanded the house, and each brother built an apartment for his family.
One night, in 2001, there was a knock on the door, when I opened the door, in front of me stood unidentified people and attacked me. I beat them back. They claimed to be policemen, but didn't show me any identifying mark. They beat me and I didn't understand and didn't know what they were talking about. They hand cuffed my hands, and only then did the Border Police soldiers arrive, because of the hustle, my brothers and family members came out. The soldiers moved them away from me. A few months before, my father underwent open-heart surgery. He tried to speak to the soldiers and asked why I was being arrested, in response, tear gas was thrown at him. As a result, he choked and died. My brother was getting ready to go to work and was preparing sandwiches for his working day, when he heard the yelling, he left the house with the knife still in his hand. He was arrested on the grounds that he wanted to attack the forces. Two weeks later, he was released without charge. At the time of my arrest, it turned out that it was a mistake and not me they wanted to arrest. Despite this, I was accused of assaulting the undercover men who came to my house at night. Since then, I have cameras at home that record what is happening and it has helped us several times already when they tried to blame the family for acts they did not do.
During the First Intifada, I was more active in resisting the occupation regime. I was arrested several times. After a while, I decided to work for the neighborhood instead.
In 2015, eviction orders were received for 87 homes in the neighborhood, claiming that the land on which the houses were built on, belonged to the Jewish Benbenisty Trust. We had a neighborhood gathering and it was decided that I would be the spokesperson of the neighborhood, along with five other residents, to be in contact with journalists, lawyers and whatever was necessary. We went through a lot of sentences to the Supreme Court. We contacted the Administrator General and asked why you never contacted us to explain us that we live on land not ours? Why didn't you require us to pay rent? Why didn't you allow us to buy the land? Their only answer was they did not think about it. Therefore, today we are planning to sue "Ateret Cohanim" and the Benbenisty Trust. Demanding them to prove that they have a taboo on the land. "Ateret Cohanim" is a non-profit organization that purchases Palestinian homes in order to enable Jews to live in them. Palestinians have been living here since the early 1950s (of the last century). Jewish Yemenites lived in the neighborhood during the Ottoman period, when they were not accepted in the Jewish society due to their skin color. Good neighborly relations and proximity was held between the Muslims and the Jews in the neighborhood. In 1938, the British warned the Jews that they should leave the neighborhood, and many of them sold the houses to the Palestinians.
Here in the neighborhood, in Batten El Hawa, 7,000 people live. There is a synagogue here in which the government invested 4.5 million shekels to turn it into a center. We are residents of Jerusalem, paying municipal taxes, but our public buildings or access roads are not being renovated. 23 settlers' families live in the neighborhood, about 100 people. Silwan is home for about 66,000 people. In all the neighborhoods here there are about 400 families of Jewish settlers. Due to the proximity to the Temple Mount, the neighborhood and the desire for Jewish domination of the entire area are important.
I guide tours in the neighborhood explaining our situation and the history of the place.
In 2016, I established an activity center here for children aged 6-15 so they are not hanging around in the streets. A large building with lots of rooms for activities. We have a computer room, courses helping with schoolwork, mental aid and enrichment. During the summer and winter vacations, camps are held. Throughout the year, after-school activities take place. Sometimes special events are also held, in the evenings youth activities are possible. We renovated the building on our own. We received help from donations for the establishment of the place.
In the past, I worked as a cook for a nursing home. In 2017, I participated in a TV article on Channel 10 about the neighborhood. I told them about the ways in which we were taken out of our homes. The manager of the nursing home, a right-wing settler, told me that she watched the article, and two weeks later I was fired from my job. Since then, I have only worked here for the neighborhood, a spokesperson and a contact person for the residents regarding the eviction orders for our homes, the director of the center and anything that can help the residents. I have contact with Jews, together we are trying to solve the problem.
Here is where I was born, I got married, I had children, I had grandchildren, this is where I stay. If the families who live here cannot return to the homes that were theirs in the past, we will not give our homes to the Jews.