Don’t Kick a Man When He’s Down!
The First Demolition Site
Today was a beautiful, blue sky summer day. My teammates and I had just finished a meeting with one of the analysts at the UNOCHA offices in Ramallah about all the humanitarian issues that we track together. As we boarded the bus back to Jerusalem, I thought to myself: “Gee, we haven’t been to any house demolitions lately, isn’t that weird?” Predictably, that’s when our phones began flashing an emergency text: Ongoing demolition of a house and under-construction structure in Al ‘Isawiya.
A quick call from our driver confirmed that there were two houses in this small village that had been demolished by the civil administration at 5 am in the morning. We made plans to respond that afternoon. Our role is to speak with the people who have been directly affected, document the incident by taking photos, briefly interview the family and try to connect them with NGO’s that can provide the help they need.
Chatting with neighborhood kids
At our first stop we found nothing but a pile of rubble. The owner did not yet live in the structure, and was not onsite to be interviewed. Children from the neighborhood confirmed that the bulldozers arrived at 5 am to knock the new house down. We took pictures, chatted with them and went to the second demolition on the other side of the village.
At the second site, we received better details from the homeowner’s cousin Hamzi, who lives next door. He confirmed that bulldozers and a contingent of security personnel arrived at 5am to knock down his cousin’s newly constructed two story home. The owner, Saleh, is 65 years old, and lives on a very small monthly disability check from the government which he uses to support his wife and seven children. He received a demolition order for the non-permitted construction two days ago, and the stress of the impending destruction caused his heart condition to flare up so he is now in the hospital receiving treatment.
In order to build his home, Saleh took out loans from his families and friends for building materials. The land belongs to his father, who passed away two weeks ago. At one time the extended family owned 80 dunums of land, but the municipality confiscated it to build a school. There is no village master plan, which means that there are no building permits issued. They are surrounded by an army base on one side and a national park on the other. At one time they were given notices offering to buy their land. Out of principal, no one sold.
The sky was as blue as the marble
Hamzi told us “When people are sick, they should be helped by the government, not have their home demolished. Would they do that to an Israeli? We pay taxes (to Jerusalem) and get no services. If you are in your village, on your land and can’t do anything, what kind of peace is this? The peace of Israel is for Jewish citizens only – they don’t care about Palestinians.”
In East Jerusalem there are approximately 25,000 housing units constructed without permits. The building permit process is incredibly slow and expensive. One case we heard about today has taken 30 years to settle! Of the over 3,000 requests that were submitted to the civil administration in 2016, only 32 were approved. For Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem to meet the housing needs of natural population growth they have no choice but to build without a permit. In recent years, large numbers of civilian properties have been subject to demolition or confiscation as part of the Israeli-imposed planning and zoning regime in Area C and East Jerusalem. The destruction of property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law, unless absolutely necessary for military operations. Although the humanitarian response to such practices includes the delivery of shelters, these tend to attract attention and are often subject to demolition or confiscation at greater rates than standard construction.
I served on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) as an Ecumenical Accompanier. Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the WCC. Please do not forward or use any part of this communication without permission. Thank you.