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A Palestinian takes cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces during protests against Israel's occupation and its air campaign on the Gaza strip, in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of east Jerusalem, on May 18, 2021.EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Rasha Budeiri is an Ottawa-based writer who was born and raised in Jerusalem.

In 1948, my maternal grandparents, Fouad and Badria Dajani, were forcibly displaced by the occupying Israeli forces from their house in Al-Baq’aa, a neighbourhood south of Jerusalem. As was the case for many Palestinian refugees, they moved to Jordan, then Syria, and then back to Jerusalem, where they lived in a series of rental homes.

In 1956 – through an agreement between the Jordanian government and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – they, along with 27 other Palestinian refugee families, were offered housing units in Karm Al-Jaouni, in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. In exchange, the UNRWA revoked their refugee status and benefits. After war broke out again in 1967, however, my grandparents found themselves once more living in Israeli-occupied territory.

Nevertheless, Fouad and Badria raised their six kids, including my mother, in that house in Sheikh Jarrah; they were living there when my grandfather died in 1977 and when my grandmother died in 1992. Their legacy and love for the place was passed down to my uncles and aunts, and to us grandchildren. My grandparents also passed down the strength and steadfastness to fight a lengthy, exhaustive and colonial threat intent on forcibly expelling the residents of Sheikh Jarrah and replacing them with Jewish settlers – a plan made explicit in a submission to the Israeli Ministry of Interior to build 250 illegal settler units in the neighbourhood.

When it comes to the Mideast conflict, it is important to know the difference between criticism of policy and criticism of people

Videos and images of attacks against residents of the neighbourhood are neither new nor old. The latest flare is part of the continuing Nakba – or “great catastrophe,” in Arabic – of Israel’s apartheid of indigenous Palestinians. Identical scenes of settler colonialism are widespread across Palestine; they are unfortunately not exclusive to this neighbourhood. And despite an announced ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, these scenes will only persist – embroiling people like my own parents, who live in my grandparents’ house today and are among the families who were served displacement notices about 10 years ago – as long as Israel insists on being built on the bloody rubble of Palestinian families’ dreams and memories.

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Rasha Budeiri’s parents Samira Dajani, left, and Adel Budeiri.Courtesy of Rasha Budeiri

My parents have made a life there, spending their days gardening and taking care of the place. My mom gives Arabic classes to non-Arabic speakers and cooks delicious Palestinian food for friends and relatives. “I feel great when I have people over. Their visits mean a lot, especially during these times,” she told me. “I hope I will still be able to have friends and family here.” For my mother, leaving is “not an option.” Somewhere in the background, I hear my father chiming in by echoing her words: “Not an option, and a war crime.”

As unrest continues to escalate, I’ve been asked how I’m holding up, given that my parents are in the eye of the proverbial storm. I admit I feel a cocktail of emotions: I feel anger for the possibility that history would repeat itself, with my parents (and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians) facing a displacement similar to the one their parents faced before them. I feel heartache over the ongoing killing of my people. But I also feel energized and hopeful, as I witness an “awakening” in regards to Palestinians’ resistance and resilience.

My efforts to bring attention to what is happening to my parents and 27 other families living in Sheikh Jarrah have introduced me to many great people, human-rights advocates and grassroots groups, specifically within Canadian media and civil society circles. I have also connected with Palestinian poet and writer Mohammed El-Kurd, who also lives in Sheikh Jarrah and is the dynamo behind the #SaveSheikhJarrah campaign. Today, I stand in awe of the size and momentum of this campaign, and the shift in how people are addressing and approaching the Palestinian cause. I see genuine attempts to ask questions, listen to the Palestinian narrative and, above all, speak out against Israel as it is being investigated by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes against Palestinians – against seniors, women, children, doctors, paramedics, teachers and even journalists. As a result, I see a global movement pushing back against decades of misinformation, disinformation and canned accusations of antisemitism against anyone who so much as criticizes Israel.

Mark my parents’ words: Leaving is not an option, nor is it acceptable. Their story is not that different from the other Sheikh Jarrah refugee families currently facing the threat of ethnic cleansing and forcible displacement. And until Canadians speak out and demand an end to the federal government’s complicity in Israel’s campaign of occupation and colonialism – by ceasing Canada’s military funding and diplomatic cover for Israel and endorsing Palestinian rights – these scenes will play out over and over again. We must save Sheikh Jarrah, now.

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