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Affidavit No. 5563/2010

Sworn Statement

After having been warned to tell the truth and nothing but the truth or else I shall be subjected to penal action, I, the undersigned, Mazen Kamal Mustafa Qirresh, of Palestinian nationality, holder of ID No. 080082050, born in 1957, unemployed, and a resident of al-Sa’diyya neighbourhood, the old city of Jerusalem, Jerusalem governorate, would like to declare the following:

My house, which is located in al-Sa’diyya neighbourhood in the old city of Jerusalem, used to belong to Suleiman Jiryes Handhal, a resident of Bethlehem city. In 1936, my grandfather, Mustafa Qirresh, rented the house from Suleiman Handhal for residence purposes. According to the papers we possess and, as I was told by my father, my father signed a new tenancy agreement with Suleiman Handhal, the owner of the house, shortly before my grandfather died in 1963. The contract was intended to preserve our family’s right to continue to live in the house. My grandfather’s grandchildren grew up and married in this house. Some of them left the house as the place grew more crowded. Of my grandfather’s children, my father Kamal and uncle Harbi continued to live in the house. In addition to my uncle Harbi’s sons Salah and ‘Adli, my father’s children, including Majed, Naser, Majdi, Munther, Muhammad, ‘Ala’ and me, continued to live in the house. It is a two-storey house, including five flats on the ground floor and four others on the second. Each flat comprises a room or two along with a kitchen and toilet. The house also contains a yard and balconies.

Throughout this period, my family paid rent to Suleiman Handhal. After he left for the United States of America, the family paid the rent to a relative of Handhal’s, who he had allocated to receive it. We were always careful to ensure we obtained receipts for the rent paid. In 1987, Ateret Cohanim, a settlement organisation which seeks to Judaise occupied Jerusalem, sent a notice to my father through a lawyer, stating that it had purchased the house from Suleiman Handhal’s four children, who were living in the USA. In 1988, Ateret Cohanim filed a case against the tenants with the Israeli Magistrate Court for our eviction from the house. At this point in time, my father and uncle were still alive. The settlers lost the case because we were protected by laws, which were already in force when we started to rent the house; i.e. prior to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967. Thereafter, my father paid the rent to the Ateret Cohanim organisation through a lawyer he had retained for this purpose. The rent remained as it was, namely –40 Jordanian Dinars per year. However, to this amount supplements were imposed by the Israeli government, in the form of annual increases, bringing the total rent up to 800 NIS a year. My father and uncle were careful to pay the rent regularly, so that the settlers would not have an excuse to take over the house and evict us from it.

According to the lawyer, the settler organisation refused to accept the rent on several occasions in order to use this as evidence of our failure to pay the rent. Therefore, our lawyer lodged the sum of money for the rent with the court so that they would not be able to evict us.

After they lost the legal case, the settler organisation tried other techniques to evict the family from the house. On one occasion, they offered a blank cheque to my father, so he could fill in the amount he wanted in consideration for leaving the house, but he rejected this. The settler organisation repeated this attempt many times through brokers, some of whom were Arabs. In additional, the settlers organisation’s lawyer dispatched several eviction notices  to our house.

In 1996, my father Kamal Qirresh died. Two years later, settler organisation lodged a new eviction suit against  us before the Israeli Magistrate Court. They claimed that the tenancy had passed through three generations (namely, my grandfather, father and uncle and my brothers and I), and that this meant that had the have the right to reclaim occupancy of the house. I believe that there is such a provision under Jordanian Law for this.

However, the settler organisation lost the case because the tenancy was registered in my father’s name.  Accordingly my brothers and I were the second, not the third, generation to accede the right to live in the house, so we continued to live in the house. Our families grew larger so as to comprise approximately 50 members, including 20 children under 18 years of age. Of these, 10 children were under 10 years. From time to time, the settler organisation and their lawyer used to come and check on the house in coordination with the lawyer, whom my father had retained. Our lawyer used to call us to arrange the appointment. As such, my family were careful not to add any structures to the house and thereby enable the settler organisation to claim we had changed the features of the house and use this as a pretext to evict us.

This state of affairs continued until 29 July 2010. At around 1:00 am on that day, approximately 30 settlers raided the house. I knew they were settlers from their appearance and clothes. Some of the settlers had long beards and sideburns and others had on small round caps and loose clothes. They were accompanied by about 30 Israeli Border Guard officers. My brothers, two cousins and their families were out, attending a wedding party of a relative of ours. I was in the house along with my wife and four children (aged 20, 18, 13, and 9 years respectively). The settlers and Border Guard officers entered the house through the main door, which was unlocked because our other family members were due back soon. I noticed that the settlers carried hammers, nails, levers and large scissors. Immediately after they entered the house, they started to destroy and replace door locks. Some of the settlers climbed to the roof and erected a barbed wire fence between our house and our neighbours’ as the roofs are adjacent. As I stood by the door to my apartment on the second floor, other settlers tried to enter the flat.

“You will enter the house over my dead body.” I shouted at them and they retreated . A number of young residents of the neighbourhood gathered around after hearing the noise in the house. After I called them, my brothers arrived. However, they could not do anything because armed soldiers were surrounding the house. Furthermore, they were not able to enter the house because the settlers had locked the outer door with barriers
from the inside. The situation continued as it was: My family and I were inside the house together with the settlers and my brothers and cousins were outside.

At first, the Israeli occupying police did not intervene. However, after I filed a complaint with the police at dawn on 29 July 2010, a number of Israeli Police officers arrived and took position near the entrance to the house. Although they allowed my children and I to enter and exit the house through the main door, they denied access to other members of my family. As my children told me, and I later observed, the settlers moved pieces of furniture from rooms during the day, and gathered them in one area. I also saw them perform prayers inside the house and heard the sound of sledgehammers. I believe that the settlers demolished the internal walls, which separated the rooms and flats from one another. Other members of my family spent the night on the street, but some of them had to take their small children to sleep at our relatives’ houses. In the morning, the majority of the family, including the children, were assembled on the street in front of the house, waiting to see what would happen. My brothers and I instructed a lawyer to evict the settlers from the house and the Palestinian Authority also instructed another.

My brothers, cousins and I kept discussing the case by phone until both our lawyers arrived at the Israeli Magistrate Court at around 11:00 am on 29 July 2010 and filed a petition to evict the settlers from the house. At around 5:00 pm on the same day, the lawyers telephoned us and said that the court passed a decision to evict the settlers.

Nonetheless, the Police took no action and did not evict them. The lawyers also informed us that the settlers had filed an appeal with the Magistrate Court, but it was rejected. Subsequently, our lawyers went to the Israeli Central Court in an attempt to obtain a decision, which would expedite the eviction of the settlers. Instead of giving us justice, the Court adjourned the case until next Sunday when the Magistrate Court will convene and adjudicate it.

Now, my children and I remain in our house. We do not leave it for fear that the settlers will raid it. My relatives are outside, sitting on plastic chairs provided by our neighbours, waiting to return to their flats. Whilst our children are on the street, settlers occupy our flats. From time to time, groups of settlers come and deliver food to their counterparts inside the house. The Israeli judiciary and police are racist. If it were a Palestinian who had seized an Israeli Jewish person’s house, the police would have taken action and evicted him. In our case, because we are Palestinians and the aggressors are Israeli settlers, the police are reluctant to take any action. My relatives and I are afraid that the problem will last longer. Then, we will have no choice, but to erect tents and sleep on the street near our house, which we will never give up.

Affidavit Details

  • Affidavit Number: 5563/2010
  • Field researcher: Omarn Resheq
  • Affidavit Date: 30 July 2010
  • Name: Mazen Kamal Mustafa Qirresh