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Palestine – The Demolitions Continue

December 30, 2011

This is the final report from Linda Baily, who has been working in Palestine for the past three months. I have posted her previous reports on aspects of life in occupied Palestine here:

Linda works for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained below are personal to her and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches.

One of the most heart-rending things I have witnessed during my three months in the occupied Palestinian territories has been the aftermath of demolitions.

I cannot imagine going out to work and receiving a telephone call from a neighbour informing me my house was being demolished. Yet this was the reality for three families in a small community outside Jericho. When I and another team member arrived it was all over. No soldiers or bulldozers, just enormous piles of rubble and traumatised people gathering. There was no one at home in any of the houses at the time and in only one did the soldiers enter and remove some of the contents. The others were demolished with all the families’ worldly goods inside. No written or verbal warnings were given to these families and all three houses were less than two years old, one family having moved in only six months ago.

These were the first house demolitions I had attended and as we sat in the yard, some of us on a three piece suite, others on plastic garden chairs I felt embarrassed by our intrusion into their misery. Saying how sorry you are just doesn’t feel adequate. Yet they wanted us to tell their story, as they know theirs is not the first and will not be the last house demolished by Israeli forces. All the home owners wanted to know was “Why my house? Why this house and not the one next door?” The Israeli press said they were demolished because they were close to archaeological remains yet there were others closer. One house was on a corner plot with others on both sides. The owner of the demolished house told us he had been taken in for questioning one month ago and twice while he was there he was told his home had been demolished. He was then asked if he would work with them and if he did any problems could be smoothed over. He refused, and as he left he was told they would meet again. He had previously lived in Jerusalem, but following two house demolitions he moved to Jericho. When I asked if he would rebuild his reply, like the others was, “Of course”.

In East Jerusalem a large house in the Silwan district was given notice of imminent demolition. It is next door to The City of David, a tourist site, which was handed over to “Elad”, a private organisation of extremist settlers despite opposition from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. I saw a photograph taken from the air of Silwan, home to 40,000 Palestinians. On the photograph was marked the houses not destined for demolition. There were two. All the rest are to be demolished to continue excavating and to make a park and car parks.

Israel is the occupying power and in article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention (1949) it states, “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property….. is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

In an isolated area of wild beauty between Nablus and the Jordan Valley the small community of Khirbet Tana continues in a life style that has changed little in the past century. Their homes have no running water or electricity and mobile networks are non-existent. However, life today is considerably harder for the farmers trying to make a living. They use to live in stone houses or caves with stone shelters added on, but in 2005 they suffered six demolitions. Most solid structures were destroyed and the entrance to the caves filled with rubble. Twice this year the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has carried out demolitions including the school, one of the few concrete buildings left, so now they are not destroying stone and concrete buildings, they are destroying tents and shacks of canvas, corrugated iron and bits of wood.

One farmer told us his family have been in Khirbet Tana for 100-120 years, others came in 1948 as refugees. Khirbet Tana is important to the Israeli’s for a number of reasons. It is preventing the illegal settlements of Itamar and Mikahar joining one another and also it has one of the few abundant water supplies in the area. This year the IDF removed ten of the villagers’ water tanks so now they carry the water in jerry cans. The villagers, however, are doing what they can to keep their community alive. An Italian NGO has supplied a bright yellow canvas school with the only flushing toilets in the area! They are involved in a court case so there is a halt to demolitions, at least until February 2012 and each summer the residents of Beit Furik, a nearby town, have a day in Khirbet Tana, picnicking and playing sports.

This week I visited two Bedouin communities who out of the blue had animal shelters demolished. Twelve vehicles, 36 soldiers and a bulldozer gave the family five minutes to move their animals out of a canvas shelter and pen before it was flattened. Another metal frame structure with a canvas roof was completed the day before. The farmer agreed to take it down himself rather than have it demolished, but he was told if he put a roof on again they would return and damage his home- a large tent. This family has the official papers of ownership and have been there for 60-70 years.

We sat outside drinking sweet tea while they told us their story, an extended family of fifteen people including six children have been affected by this mindless and random destruction. I watched a young mother in the background carrying a little girl of about one year old, who was obviously suffering from cerebral palsy, and I wondered what the future holds for her. Looking towards Jordan I could see the lush green from an illegal Israeli settlement and I think once again how unfair the world is in its treatment of this and countless other Palestinian families.

The assertion of illegality of the Israeli settlements is backed up not only by the Geneva Convention, but also by the International Court of Justice. The State of Israel argues to the contrary.

Whatever the arguments one way or another, it seems to be much easier for a group of settlers to establish a substantial town in occupied Palestine than for a Palestinian subsistence farmer unlucky to find his land in the Israeli-controlled areas of Zone C to provide shelter to his animals.

For further background on the situation in Silwan, visit the Wadi Hilweh Information Centre. And for those wishing to find out more about Khirbet Tana, in February of this year the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs published an informative fact sheet on the demolitions in the village.

I have reproduced Linda’s reports because they tell stories about real human beings suffering on the ground. The arguments of lawyers and politicians mean little to the people she writes about.

It is possible to write books about the suffering on both sides of the divide – land grabs and demolitions in Palestine and suicide bombings in Israel, for example. But until each side – and by this I do not just mean the political and religious leaders – recognises the reality of the other’s suffering at the basic human level and acknowledges its responsibility for it, this conflict will fester on. And voices from Palestine, encouraged by the awakening of political consciousness in the region, will grow louder, while Israel, no longer able to rely on a status quo in the region, will find it increasingly hard to rebut charges that it is just the latest in a long line of conquerors, heedless of the suffering of those who find themselves under its heel.

One of my dearest wishes for 2012 is that the political leaders of Israel and Palestine find the determination and imagination to cut the gordian knot that prevents a just and lasting settlement. As each year goes past, the stakes are getting higher.

From → Middle East, Politics

One Comment
  1. These acts of violence by the Israeli Army should be condemned and individuals belonging to Human Rights should take action against it.

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