Following the demolition of the SUMOUD tent camp by Israeli municipal authorities on 31 March 1998, approximately 20 Palestinian families who have no other place to live in Jerusalem moved into a large unfinished school owned by the Islamic waqf in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The remaining number of families from the SUMOUD camp were able to find alternative housing and received compensation from the Orient House.
The 20 families living at the new SUMOUD site have suffered further deterioration in their living conditions. There is no electricity and no sanitation. The three month rental contract for the portable lavatories at the old tent site expired near the end of March and they were removed prior to the demolition of the site. According to camp residents, the Orient House has promised the families 6 portable lavatories, however, a week has passed since the families moved to the building and they remain without proper sanitation facilities. In the meantime, the mosque adjacent to the new SUMOUD site has allowed the families 24 hour access to its lavatory and has further provided the families with running water.
Inside the unfinished concrete shell of the school the families have constructed rough living quarters with wood, canvas and plastic salvaged from the old SUMOUD camp. The Orient House also provided some wood for the construction of living quarters. Approximately 60% of the camp’s construction material along with some personal belongings including a refrigerator and cupboards was destroyed during the demolition last week and hauled to the Jerusalem garbage dump.
There are some 100 children living at the new site. Many of the men from the camp were unable to work in the days leading up to the demolition of the old SUMOUD camp out of fear that they would be away when the Israeli police and bulldozers arrived to destroy their tents and shacks. The financial situation is especially difficult during the time of the Eid holiday.
The families decided to move to the empty, unfinished school owned by the waqf to avoid potential conflict with private property owners. If the families leave Jerusalem to find more affordable housing, they will lose their residency rights in the city as they will no longer be able to demonstrate that Jerusalem is their "center of life" - the central criterion used by the Israeli Interior Ministry to determine Palestinian residency rights in the city. The housing shortage in East Jerusalem, lack of town planning schemes, difficulties in getting building permits and their high cost are part of a well-documented Israeli policy of housing discrimination which aims to reduce the number of Palestinians in the city
Residents of the SUMOUD camp have expressed frustration regarding the lack of moral and material support for their situation. Representatives of the Orient House and local NGOs were not present at the old camp site during the demolition and thus far, representatives from the Orient House which established the camp in August 1997 have not visited them at the new site. An official from the waqf did visit the new site but residents expressed unhappiness at the treatment they were given.
In a previous meeting at the Orient House, camp residents pointed out that their presence at the old SUMOUD camp site assisted the Orient House in raising the issue of the confiscation of residency rights from Palestinians in Jerusalem and also benefited the waqf which received the go-ahead from the Israeli municipality for several projects on the site, including the construction of a center for the disabled by Elwyn, Inc., a US organization which currently runs a center in the Old City. Camp residents were told that the Orient House would not let them down, but they are still waiting for some assistance in resolving both their immediate needs and the larger issue of finding alternative housing in Jerusalem - their hometown.
Letters protesting the continued housing discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem and confiscation of ID cards from Jerusalemite families living outside of the city should be sent to: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fax. 972-2-566-4838; and Israeli Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, fax. 972-2-629-7997.