For Palestinian activist and filmmaker Samer Abu Eisheh, walking in the narrow alleys of Jerusalem’s Old City is like being embraced by his mother.
It was in Jerusalem where he fell in love for the first time and where he met his wife and partner in struggle, Rawan Abu Ghosh. It was in Jerusalem where he has led protests against the occupation with roaring chants and where he was chased on numerous occasions by the Israeli police.
Few things give him more pleasure and warmth than drinking a cup of tea on the steps of Damascus Gate during a cold morning. He wasn’t prepared to relinquish that warmth voluntarily.
On Dec. 21, 2015, Israeli occupation authorities handed Samer Abu Eisheh a military order banishing him from the city of his birth and residence for five months. No specific explanation was given other than the vague assertion that Abu Eisheh constitutes a “threat to public safety and security.” While Palestinians can technically appeal those orders in Israeli courts, they are automatically rejected without even being subjected to any kind of judicial review. This is yet another indication of how Israel’s judiciary functions to support Israel’s security apparatus and legitimizes a practice that is explicitly prohibited under article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The deportation order against Abu Eisheh came on the heels of a lengthy house arrest. Last August, Abu Eisheh was arrested following his return from Beirut where he participated in a conference for Palestinian youth. After about 40 days of detention and interrogation on charges of visiting an “enemy state” (Lebanon), Abu Eisheh was released to house arrest. He was issued the deportation order on the conclusion of his 80-day house arrest, but his response was single-minded: “I am not leaving.”
His mother Latifa Idris, a member of the Old City’s African-Palestinian community, explains that several friends in the occupied West Bank offered Abu Eisheh and his wife Rawan a place to stay in for five months.
“But it’s not about finding another house. For him, the very idea of being exiled from Jerusalem is rejected,” she says.
Hussam Abu Eisheh, a popular stand-up comedian and Samer’s father, is fully aware to the risks his son is taking by refusing to comply with the order, but is equally proud of his determination to remain defiant. “Disobedience has a hefty price but it is the only way they can challenge Israeli policies in general, and the deportation policy in particular,” he says. Eisheh is no stranger to Israeli repression himself. He was imprisoned by Israeli occupation forces for three years during the early 1980s for his activism with the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
“It looks like our kids have learned a thing or two from us,” says Latifa Idris. “They love and resist with the same ferocity and will never accept being uprooted from their city.”
Samer Abu Eisheh was not alone in refusing to comply with Israel’s arbitrary deportation orders. 33-year-old Hijazi Abu Sbeih, a father of three and a resident of the Old City, was arrested earlier in December and handed a six-month deportation order. While he was initially forced to leave Jerusalem for two weeks, he was emboldened by Abu Eisheh’s decision to disobey the order.
“They say that I constitute a threat to the security of their state when all I do is work day and night to raise my children and support my family,” says Abu Sbeih, whose oldest daughter Sarah is just five years old.
To make matters worse, his wife Tahani is also under threat of deportation. Originally from the occupied West Bank, Tahani lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children by virtue of a residency permit that she has to renew annually. When she went to the Israeli Interior Ministry to renew her permit just after her husband’s expulsion, her request was rejected, jeopardizing her already-vulnerable status in Jerusalem.
Despite the immense risk looming over his head, Abu Sbeih decided to stay in Jerusalem. On December 25, the two young men took refuge in the offices of the International Committee for the Red Cross in the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. They began an open-ended sit-in in which they declared their vehement refusal to leave.
The popular support they have received has been massive.
Local youth have helped them set up a tent where they could sleep and provided them with food, water, warm drinks, heaters, and most importantly overwhelming solidarity. The Red Cross made it clear to the two protesters that it can do nothing if Israeli police raids the building to arrest them. On 30 December, Israeli police met with representatives of the Red Cross and informed them of the intention to arrest both Abu Eisheh and Abu Sbeih. Later on the same day, the two received phone calls from Israeli intelligence summoning them for interrogation for the following day. Not only did the two insist on staying, they also decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the protest tent.
“It was the best New Year’s Eve ever and definitely the most rebellious one,” said Yazan Abu Eisheh, Samer’s 22-year-old-brother. Despite heavy rain and freezing cold, the protest tent was filled with Palestinians who sang revolutionary Arab and Palestinian songs and chanted “I am not leaving,” a statement that has become the rallying cry for this disobedience campaign.
The New Year’s Eve concert was one of the several activities organized in an attempt to keep the protest tent lively and transform it into a space for continuous protest and action.
Several public seminars were held around a variety of topics, including the grassroots Palestinian struggle and its achievements; the culture of civil disobedience in Palestine; Israel’s deportation policy; and the current uprising engulfing the occupied territories. The tent has also been a site of discussion among Palestinians of various political and social backgrounds. Feeling the heat, Israeli occupation forces finally raided the protest tent on the morning of January 6. Undercover Israeli police arrested both Abu Eisheh and Abu Sbeih as well as three activists who stayed over night to support them. While the three solidarity activists were later released, Abu Eisheh and Abu Sbeih are still detained in the Israeli police center commonly known as the Russian Compound.
Despite the expected arrest of Abu Eisheh and Abu Sbeih, their refusal to comply with the deportation orders is part of the growing Palestinian resistance to Israeli oppression.
Jerusalem’s Palestinian community is facing arguably the worst Israeli crackdown since the second Intifada. Israel’s repressive measures have included mass arrests (a total of 2260 Palestinian have been arrested in Jerusalem during 2015, more than half of whom arrested in the last three months alone); summary executions, house arrests, administrative detention orders without charges or trial as well as punitive home demolitions and ongoing refusal to hand over bodies of 11 Palestinians killed since October.
Deportation orders have joined this series of repressive tactics: of the five expulsion orders issued against Jerusalem’s Palestinians since October, four came in December alone.
Although the refusal of Abu Eisheh and Abu Sbeih to succumb to this policy has resulted in their arrest, they are convinced that the sit-in, as well as the popular support it has received, sends a strong message to the Israeli occupation.
“We will continue to say no to these policies even if we end up behind bars,” Abu Eisheh insisted shortly before his arrest.
Budour Youssef Hassan is a Palestinian writer and law graduate based in occupied Jerusalem. Blog: budourhassan.wordpress.com. Twitter: @Budour48