Standing Firm amid the Ruins: Blind Brothers Fight for Justice in JeruslaemApr 9 2015 / 4:10 pm
By Dr. Bill Dienst
Wadi Joz neighbourhood (immediately Northeast of the Old City of Jerusalem) – Nureddin Amro and his brother Sharif Amro are humble men. Both were born with retinitis pigmentosa, a congenital (genetic) condition, which has left them blind since birth. They are both married, Nureddin has three young children, Sharif has four; all of the children are under 14. They all live with their 79 year old grandmother in a home just south of the main road which connects Hebrew University on Mount Scopus (Palestinian land which was confiscated by Israel in 1967) with West Jerusalem. This road is bisected diagonally by another road which connects the center of Wadi Joz to the upper Kidron Valley. For millennia, this has been the main road connecting the community of Wadi Joz, the Mount of Olives and other communities to the Northeast with the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Christian sites in the Old City and the Garden of Gesthamine. The Amro brothers live in the first house immediately on the southeast corner of this intersection. At 5:30 am on March 31, 2015, their home became ground zero in the latest efforts to Judaize the land.
The Amros have received threats before, though not recently. 25 years ago, soldiers came to their home and said, “one day you will leave this place.” They gave various explanations about what Israel would do with the land: a hotel, a park, a US consulate, etc. 5 years ago, this main road to the Old City in front of their house was divided and the 30 dunums of land across the road was put off limits for any further development by Palestinians. The Israeli authorities then built a fence through the middle of the road. This road, a major thoroughfare since the millennia, is now a bumpy backroad full of potholes.
Nurredin is the founder and principal of the Siraj al-Quds School for visually impaired children in Jerusalem. He is a Synergos Institute Social Innovator and was recognized by the British Council for his leadership working for positive change and social development for people with special needs. His school also partners with Israeli organizations caring for blind Israeli children. This collaboration is called “Dialogue in the Dark.”
They were planning to have a picnic together with their Israeli visually impaired colleagues in Tel Aviv on March 31. Nurredin’s children went to bed the night before dreaming of this picnic. The following morning they were startled by an extremely rude awakening.
At 5:30 am, about 100 Israeli soldiers surrounded the house. There were 6 policemen on mounted horses, 6 attack dogs, 4 armoured vehicles and about 20 SUV’s. In this way, the 12 members of the Amro family were evacuated from their home under force, and then the bulldozers when to work. The upper and lower portions of the old part of the house were leveled as was their garden. Chickens, rabbits and the children’s pets were all killed. Now only 2 of their chickens remain. A 70 year old tree which shaded the home was uprooted. The bulldozers tried their best to bury all the evidence of their destruction under large piles of rubble, but the 70 year old tree was too large to hide, according to Nurredin.
When the destruction started, Nurredin quickly called and put out a massive appeal to internationals. About 50 internationals, mostly Germans, arrived. Video and photos were taken, and the Israeli soldiers then tried to confiscate the footage and destroy the evidence. Soon afterward, the Israeli authorities cut the phone lines, electricity and internet. The septic system to the house was also damaged. But because of this quick action, the new portion of the Amro house is still standing- for now. But when the soldiers left, they warned that they will be back to finish the home demolition. The Amro family now waits in fear. The children have had nightmares every night since. They fear that the army will return immediately after the Passover holiday to finish they destruction of their home.
There was no demolition order given in advance before the destruction of the Amro household. A neighbor, Obada Abdeen, also had his horse stable completely destroyed. He estimates that it will cost $40,000 to repair. A third neighbor has since received a demolition order on his home.
The Amro’s and their neighbor went to the Jerusalem municipality to find out the reasons for the destruction of their home. The municipality denied having issued the demolition order and claimed that they didn’t know. But Nurradin knows otherwise. His family and his neighborhood a just pawns in a longstanding master Israeli plan for Jerusalem: to completely surround the Old City with a buffer of Jewish control. Previously, and presently, the community of Silwan has suffered many home demolitions, as the Israeli authorities have built a girls religious school and a park (The City of David) on confiscated land and destroyed homes.
Now this master plan will try and link Hebrew University Mt. Scopus from the East to the Israeli fire station at the top of the hill to the West and then further on to the Rockefeller Museum just outside the walls of the Old City across from Herod’s Gate. In this way, the Amro’s fear that their home and the homes of their neighbors will be lost.
They are asking for international support, tools, iron tents and witnesses to help them stand firm.
(For more information, contact: Nurredin Amro at +972-(0)52-527-1587 or +970(0)598-627-816.)
– Dr. Bill Dienst is a family and Emergency Room Physician practicing in North Central Washington State. He has been a Palestinian rights activist for 30 years and has made 10 trips to the region. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.