From his home in Silwan, Jerusalem, Yacoub Rajabi—along with so many in the world—has been watching the news about the war between Russia and Ukraine. And, along with much of the world, he prays for peace.
But he also wonders why the world seems to disregard the situation in his own homeland.
“Today as I am watching the news and see the war in Ukraine, I feel we are in a similar situation whereby somebody invades someone's homeland, and the invader wants to homogenize everyone, and expel the indigenous population out of their homeland,” said Rajabi.
Rajabi, his wife, and five kids—the oldest of whom is 25—live under constant threat of eviction from their home and community.
“It makes me feel more persecuted than ever when I’m watching the news, and I see how the whole world and the UN are standing resolutely on the side of the Ukrainians—as they should!” he said. “But I see a double standard, and I see the world giving Israel a free hand to do whatever it wants to persecute us.”
In Silwan, where some 800 people are being threatened with eviction, many have been told to demolish their homes themselves—or face a demolition charge of $30,000 from the state.
Silwan is located in East Jerusalem, south of the Old City and Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is among the neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that have seen a systematic push by settler groups and the Israeli government to take over Palestinian homes. Many Silwan residents believe there is clear collusion between settler organizations and the Israeli judicial system.
“Israel claims to be a democracy but when I look at how Israel is treating the Palestinians—there is no democracy whatsoever,” he said. “My children live in fear.”
He and his family have already moved once, after the tragic death of his 10-year-old son when he reacted to a teargas attack from security forces. “The settlers are now chasing us,” he said. “We have Israeli ID cards but enjoy no rights and no privileges.”
In a public statement in November 2021, the World Council of Churches (WCC) executive committee expressed grave concern over recent developments in Palestine and Israel, which indicate “a deteriorating situation in the region, emblematic of the many ways in which the ongoing military occupation of the Palestinian territories obstructs achieving a just peace among the people of the Holy Land.”
For Rajabi, the concept of “just peace” means he should be able to live with human dignity. To him, “just peace” that means life should be sacred enough to never have lost his child to targeted violence.
Many other Palestinians threatened with eviction are from refugee families, he pointed out. “They’re families of people kicked out in 1948 from their original homes,” he said. “Now they are facing eviction for the second time.”
The family has tried to go to court, but little has changed, Rajabi said. “We feel that the court is prejudiced against us, and so are the police,” he said. “We don’t feel there is anybody who is willing to listen.”
At this point, his hope lies in his children, said Rajabi. “But they are beginning to develop psychological problems because of the fear,” he said. “We want our children to live in safety.”
Rajabi wants to share his story because he still believes change is possible in Israel and Palestine. “We believe that someday we will live our lives with no occupation,” he said. “We believe our children will live in peace—because the world can help bring an end to the suffering.”