Hammad, a teacher and a mother of four children—the oldest 16 and the youngest 10—has spent this Saturday doing some work and, after taking two of her children to soccer practice, is now visiting her parents, who live in the house in which she grew up. She and her family live a few miles away.
Walking past her parents’ carefully planted flower garden, where pink blooms are juxtaposed with the iron gates and concrete barriers at either end of the street, Hammad said this home holds a lot of memories for her.
“It’s devastating to think that my parents might be forcibly evicted from this house,” she said. Lately—after tensions in the neighborhood between Palestinians and Israeli settlers sparked violent clashes in May—the street has been calm, and Hammad worries that the lull in media attention and fewer intentional reports will lead to the false conclusion that the risk of eviction has lessened.
It has not, Hammad insisted. “It’s very worrisome and it keeps me really worried all the time—any time I get a phone call late at night I expect this terrible news that maybe the settlers have invaded,” she said. “It always keeps us on our toes in a very bad way.”
The effect on children
Bearing the cruelest brunt of the anxiety – the children, her own and those who live in Sheikh Jarrah. “My children can’t imagine not being able to visit their grandparents at their home in Sheikh Jarrah,” she said. “We are still waiting for the court to approve the appeal that we raised.”
As they wait, they haven’t been given a time frame. “Do the courts think we will just forget? It’s frustrating,” said Hammad, who said that the trauma from the clashes in May is still with her every day. “When I’m not here, it’s even worse, worrying about my parents. I’m watching Instagram. I’m watching people on Facebook. It’s just hectic. I can hear the sirens and see them coming but I can’t see anything else. It has caused a lot of psychological pain for me and my kids.”
Her brother and his five children live in a unit in Sheikh Jarrah adjacent to her parents. His oldest child is 15, the youngest 2. “They’ve gone through a lot,” said Hammad. “For a while, the children weren’t able to sleep. Even today, my two-year-old niece, when she hears the word ‘police,’ runs to a corner, shaking and scared.”
Walking down the street, Hammad recalls the frightening times a few months ago when, to scatter the demonstrators, police would spray “skunk water” on the houses and the people. “Skunk water has harsh chemicals,” she said. “It smells so, so bad. It’s very hard to get rid of—even if you take a hundred showers a day! My dad has COPD (chronic pulmonary obstructive disease) and he has suffered from the smell. My nieces have suffered from skin irritation.”
Skunk water, Hammad said, is simply horrid. “It’s such an inhumane way to scatter the demonstrators,” she said. “They are unarmed.”
For now, weekly demonstrations have been able to continue without further incident, she said, adding that people in the neighborhood appreciate the international organizations and the people from Israel who attend demonstrations and stand in solidarity with the people of Sheikh Jarrah.
“At some point, people shouldn’t even look at the political part,” Hammad said. “They should look at the families like ours who have real people—real children—living here, and those children should have the basic rights of any human being: to live with security and have your family under one roof.
“We deserve not to be forcibly vacated. We deserve not to be ethnically cleansed,” she said.
Her parents give her courage, Hammad said. “When I see how they are standing steadfast and not giving up, and not being powerless, even though they have nothing, and they are not armed, they give us energy to keep going,” she said, adding that her parents have been, in one way or another, fighting eviction since a decade before she was even born.
Her grandfather, her father, her own generation and now her children have been living with this uncertainty, she noted. “One thing that I remember, growing up in Sheikh Jarrah, is that my dad used to have meetings in the house about the threat of eviction of our neighbors,” she said. “He used to type up invitations to the neighborhood, and he would give us the chore of distributing them around the neighborhood.”
Hammad doesn’t think she had what could be called a normal childhood—but she wants the next generations in Sheikh Jarrah to have a chance at one. “The children in this neighborhood are not living the childhood they deserve like any other child,” she said.
She has reached the end of the street, and is nearly ready to pick up two of her boys from soccer practice. “I’ll bring them here,” she said. “Because of the barricades, the street is blocked from both ends, so they can play in the street with no cars coming—children use that to their advantage, and take their bikes and roller skates and scooters.”
She passes two tents set up near the barricade. “This is where people sit in solidarity,” she said, nodding to two men quietly sitting there. Their quiet is part of the quiet of Sheikh Jarrah right now, Hammad said, but that does not mean the resolve of her parents, their family and their neighbors has lessened one bit.
“We don’t want our younger generation to face what we have faced and what our parents have faced,” she said. ““Forget politics—it’s just humanity.”