Becoming homeless in East Jerusalem

By EA Isabel, Southern West Bank.

The home of the Risheq family was a pleasant house in the suburbs of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. Its three stories provided shelter for thirty members of the extended family, its shady courtyard and garden was a space to entertain and a playground for the younger children.

This was all shattered at 7:30am on 27 January when the Israeli police arrived. “My children were so frightened, they were woken when the police came into the house with their big dogs,” Samoud, one of the young women of the family, explained.

The Risheqs were ordered out of their home and not permitted to take their belongings. Instead, some were placed in sacks by officials. Freezer contents ended up stacked with children’s toys and bedding.

Worldly goods 2

The Risheq family’s worldly goods piled up outside their house [EAPPI/I.Morgan]

Once the house was emptied of people and guarded by baton-carrying police, a Hyundai demolition excavator arrived – a bright yellow articulated arm ending in a heavy metal point. When EAs arrived this was pounding through roofs, windows, floors and walls, reducing all to rubble. Trees and plants were uprooted in the garden until only half a single rose bush survived. The demolition work took over an hour.

Destroying the house

The Hyundai excavator demolishing the house [EAPPI/I.Morgan]

A crowd of dignified, silent people gathered; the only sound was the relentless, rhythmical boom of the demolition machine. To keep out of the bitter cold, family members were taken to a neighbouring house to be offered tea and a little comfort. A UN official took notes, a Red Crescent medical team stood by and two women introduced themselves to the EAs. Kafar, who is a member of the photographers’ collective Humans of Jerusalem, explained that the demolition order had been issued so that a road – connecting one illegal settlement with another – could be built. In her opinion, there was no practical reason why the road could not avoid the row of houses. Her companion, Samira, reminded us that gaining a building permit in occupied Palestine is virtually impossible and, in any case, costs a prohibitive amount of money. She pointed out her own nearby home: “the permit cost us 200000 shekels,” she explained. “More than the cost of the building.”

EAs in attendance

EAs attending the scene [EAPPI/I.Morgan]

Once the “work” was finished the peaceful crowd was suddenly pushed by the Israeli police into the neighbour’s house and pepper spray was used on them. There seemed to be no reason for this; the onlookers had offered no physical violence, not even a voice raised in protest. A Red Crescent worker, his own eyes streaming from the spray, estimated that eight people were injured – either by the chemical (which caused red eyes and coughing), or blows to the head from police batons. One 12-year-old girl was particularly badly affected by being pushed into the house. As her mother explained, the child is disabled and walks slowly. Too slowly for the policeman who encouraged her to hurry by hitting her over the head.

Distressed child mentioned in article

The 12-year-old girl clearly in distress after being hit over the head by an Israeli policeman [EAPPI/I.Morgan]

Once the machinery and the police had disappeared the men of the family began silently clambering over the remains of their home, looks of disbelief on their faces.

Members of the family assessing the damage

Members of the Risheq family assessing the damage [EAPPI/I.Morgan]

Nearby, Samoud’s young children clung to her, whimpering. “They just want to live there,” she told us, nodding at the pile of rubble.