Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Welcome To The Life Of Alaa Zorba

Imagine that you are living in a house that your family has owned for 80 years – you have the title to the property, as well as the structures. The papers show that it is yours, free and clear. Imagine also, that 5 years ago, the government allowed someone to start digging a huge hole under your house, without your knowledge, without your permission and without any compensation to you. Every day you hear the noise of the jackhammer and you can feel your house shaking. As you try to sleep at night, the noise and vibrations keep you awake. One day you open your front door and your porch is gone, replaced by a huge hole also dug without your knowledge or permission. Upsetting? Outrageous? Alarming? Welcome to the life of Alaa Zorba.

Alaa Zorba, along with his father, owns a grocery store in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City very near to the Western Wall. If you continue down the street toward the Wall, you come to a stairway on the left, just outside the security entrance. If you climb those stairs, you come to Alaa’s house. There is a synagogue within arm’s reach from Alaa’s house, built two years ago.

We first met Alaa in his store the evening of November 2, 2010 and we asked him to share his story with us. Alaa invited us to his home the next morning. On November 3rd we returned to his store and walked with him down the street toward his home. As we approached the steps to his home, Alaa pointed out an “archaeological” excavation on the left side of the street, directly underneath his home. Looking through the door, we saw a huge hole, which, according to Alaa, is over 45 feet deep and almost 100 feet long.

Alaa told us that the excavation has been going on for approximately 5 years, although the frequency of activity at the dig has increased over the last several months. Although unsure of what they hope to find in this pit underneath his house, Alaa is sure that the digging has adversely affected him and all of the family members living in his house. And, while there is no proof, there is a deep suspicion about the effect of this dig on the stability of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the second most holy place to Muslims.

As we climbed the stairs to Alaa’s home, he showed us the structural damage sustained by his home in the last five years from the digging. In the courtyard at the entry to the home, there are cracks in the walls of the house.

In the entry courtyard on the ground, we saw different colored stones. Alaa explained that the Israelis simply showed up in the courtyard one day and started digging. The family had to go to court and get a court order to stop the digging in the courtyard. When the police came to the house to stop the digging, Alaa spoke to the officers about the dig and the fact that he had to get a court order e had to get a court order to have it stopped. He was then arrested because he was “too noisy with the police.” When we entered the house and climbed the stairs we saw additional cracks in the walls.

As we sat in his living room talking and drinking tea, Alaa told us about his family history and the home they live in. His family has lived in this home for over 80 years, they have the Turkish document that proves that they are the legal owners of the home. His grandfather lived in the home, his father still lives there and now Alaa lives there with his family. As we sat in the living room talking, we heard a rumbling noise begin and the floor beneath our feet started to shake. The digging in the excavation had started. Alaa explained that the noise and the vibration occur during both the day and the night, making it difficult for him and his family to sleep. Alaa also showed us additional places in the home where there are cracks in the walls and the floors are uneven.

We went up to the roof so Alaa could show us just how close the synagogue was to his house. We were also able to see the numerous buildings in which settlements had been established; many had armed civilians sitting on the rooftops. Alaa asked us to keep our EAPPI vests on so that the police would know who we were. He told us that if anyone from his family goes on the roof, the police are immediately at his door and on their way to the roof

to find out what they are doing. In contrast, however, the armed Israeli settlers on the roofs are not questioned at all. And no protection is offered to Alaa's family when they are harassed by settlers or by people at the synagogue within arm's reach of his house. Alaa said the situation was almost funny, but he felt like crying at the same time.

The excavation has the approval of the Israeli Department of Antiquities. The dig apparently has some archaeological significance although if you ask the people working there they cannot or will not tell you what they are looking for. The dig will not be stopped even though families occupy the homes directly above the dig. It will not be stopped even though homes are damaged. There will be no compensation for the damage. There is no way to stop the dig. Upsetting? Outrageous? Alarming? Welcome to the life of Alaa Zorba.

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