Samira Dajani’s family moved into their first real home in 1956. They had spent years as refugees. Dajani’s father planted trees in the garden and named them for each of his six children. Today, two towering pines named for Mousa and Daoud stand watch over the entrance to the garden where they all played as children. Now the Dajanis and several other families may lose their homes . . . because they are Palestinians living in Israel-controlled Jerusalem.
Samira Dajani’s parents fled their west Jerusalem home during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The war’s outcome created the modern nation of Israel.
After several years as refugees, the Dajanis found a home in east Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Israel had occupied the area before the war. But Jordan controlled it in the 1950s.
Tensions flared after Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Mideast War.
These areas are at the center of the Israel-Palestine conflict: The Palestinians insist on possessing all three territories for their future state. And Israel won’t give them up. Neither nation recognizes the other as a lawful country.
Israel has reclaimed the land, including the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, under Israeli law. The Dajanis and 35 other former refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah and two other neighborhoods have been fighting a legal battle since 1972.
These Palestinians have lived there for decades. But they do not have equal rights of ownership. They face eviction by August 1, 2021.
Jewish settlers (Jewish people who occupy land for religious reasons or to help claim territory for Israel) want full use of the land they believe is rightfully theirs.
Israel’s government plans to move the Palestinian families following the decades-long legal battle. Forced removals of Palestinians have sparked intense clashes between protesters and Israeli police. Some say the evictions are meant to push Palestinians permanently out of Jerusalem.
“I have beautiful memories from this house,” says 70-year-old Dajani. She recalls how she played with other children in the close-knit neighborhood, where several other Palestinian refugee families had settled.
Both the United States and the European Union are concerned about the situation in Sheikh Jarrah. The evictions are happening during the worst Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel in decades. (See Calls for Cease-Fire.)
While waiting, Samira Dajani planted spring flowers in pots that could travel with her if she must leave home. The trees named for her and her siblings will have to stay. “The Samira tree has no leaves,” she says, pointing to the cypress that bears her name. “But the roots are strong.”
The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein. — Psalm 24:1