Living under threat of demolition

By EA Kate, Jerusalem.

On March 31, 2015, Nureddin Amro’s whole family planned to go on a picnic to Tel Aviv. The children were very excited and looking forward to it. The household consists of Nureddin, his 80-year-old mother Zoubeidah, his wife Nabeha, and their three children. Also living with them is his brother Sharif with his wife and four children. Nureddin, Sharif and Zoubeidah are all blind.

At 5.30 that morning, they were woken by a large number of soldiers who announced that they were going to demolish part of the house. They didn’t say which part. Nureddin challenged them and said there had been no warning or paperwork. The soldier gave him a piece of paper. Nureddin, being blind, passed it to his wife to read. She was puzzled and said, “This paper is blank”.  The soldier snatched it back.

Nureddin asked for time till sunrise so that they could prepare but the soldiers ignored the request and gave the go-ahead to the demolition crew. The children were frightened and crying as they watched the bulldozers demolish their kitchen which was the room where they watched television and did their homework. The crew also destroyed two outhouses which housed their chickens and their rabbits. In the process, the bulldozers damaged the sewage pipes, electricity cables and their garden, knocking down the perimeter wall which protected their house from the road. Nureddin described it as a criminal act.

Nureddin, Nabeha and their children. {Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

Nureddin, Nabeha and their children outside their demolished home [Photo: EAPPI/K.Cargin]

The children are still very nervous and cry at night when they hear noises. They think it is the bulldozers again, coming back to destroy the rest of their home. For two months they were reluctant to go to school in case the house wouldn’t be there when they came back.

The Amro family are not the only ones in this position. All the houses along this piece of land are likely to be demolished to make way for a nature park as part of the Israeli government’s master plan for Jerusalem. Some have already received demolition papers, others not. For some of them, the given reason is that they have been built without planning permission. All houses built since the Israeli occupation started in 1967 need planning permission – though this, for Palestinians, is almost impossible to get. However, Nureddin’s house does not have a demolition order because the house was built before 1967 and they have lived in it for forty years as protected tenants of the Waqf, a Muslim trust. To date, seven months later his lawyer has not received an explanation for why this partial demolition took place. All such demolition is against international law relating to occupied territory which clearly forbids destruction of property except for military necessity.

Since 1967 Israel has demolished 2,000 Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, 500 of these since August 2004. Though the ostensible reason, in this area, is to beautify the city for the benefit of all its inhabitants, these demolitions serve government policy to reduce the ratio of Palestinians to Jewish-Israelis living in East Jerusalem. This is specifically against Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which forbids forcible transfer of protected persons, and violates UN Resolution 465 on changing the demography of occupied East Jerusalem .

Nureddin is the breadwinner for all the family. He is headmaster of the Siraj al-Quds school for blind and partially sighted children in East Jerusalem, about 15 minutes’ walk from their home. He is passionate about the opportunities it offers for the poorest and most disadvantaged children in the city.

So what will happen to Nureddin and his family? Palestinians who have their houses demolished are not rehoused. It is unlikely that he will be able to rent anywhere else in Jerusalem. The restrictions on houses available to Palestinians have made housing in Jerusalem prohibitively expensive. It would be almost impossible to find somewhere for an extended family of twelve. If he leaves Jerusalem he will lose his job and the family will be destitute. When I pose this question to Nureddin, he replies he has nowhere to go. He says he will rebuild his house or live in a tent where his house now stands.