By EA Alex H, Northern West Bank.
“The army arrived yesterday at midnight. There were seventy soldiers, a bus load of sixty workers and six different sized bulldozers. At 1.00 am they began the demolition”.
Munder spoke as he surveyed the wreckage of his car repair and car wash business in Ni’lin. But such is his spirit of defiance that he had already laid a new concrete garage forecourt. “If they destroy at night, we will build the next day”.
Ni’lin is close to the Separation Barrier that divides the occupied Palestinian West Bank from Israel and East Jerusalem. The International Court of Justice has ruled its route illegal as it confiscates Palestinian land. Agriculture is the main source of income for the village but land confiscations by the Israeli army make it almost impossible to sustain a livelihood.
The village has been cut in two by Route 446 which enables Israeli settlers to commute from their settlements in the west of the Occupied Territories to Tel Aviv. Munder’s business is in a small industrial zone cut off from the village by the road. He applied for a building permit 6 years ago but this was refused because Ni’lin is in Area C of the West Bank. 94% of all building permit applications in Area C are rejected by Israeli authorities. A year and a half ago, a demolition order was placed under a rock beside his workshop. He sought legal help and was under the impression demolition had been delayed for five years. Sadly, this was not the case.
Munder’s business was not the only casualty that night. Fifty metres away, Raja and a colleague were pulling a large tin drum from under the twisted metal of his demolished fibreglass business.Raja had received no stop work or demolition order from the Israeli authorities. He estimated that the demolition had cost him 70,000 shekels (c.£13,000) in lost produce. But the human cost will be far greater. Sixteen people are financially reliant on this business: Raja, his brother; his father; and their families. Mohammed stood close by amidst the ruins of his destroyed business. He cut a serene, noble figure, fingering his prayer beads as he described the impact of the demolition of his four furniture workshops and his fibreglass and window glass factory. He shares the business with his two brothers. In all, seventy workers will be affected by the demolition. “We will rebuild, we have no choice” said Mohammed. “They cannot evict us, they are illegal, we are not”. Mohammad is correct, these demolitions are illegal: Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”. Article 147 declares such destruction to be a “grave breach” of the Convention. Nonetheless, in the first six weeks of 2016, 293 Palestinian homes have been demolished (almost half the total in the whole of 2015). A white 4×4 was parked on the muddy track between the demolished businesses. The window rolled down, the driver sat smoking a cigarette, watching. He’s an Israeli. “There‘s a pain in my heart”, he said. His family had known and worked with the Palestinians in Ni’lin for forty years. He had asked the army to give the businesses twelve hours to enable them to remove as much as they could before the demolition but his request was ignored. As he spoke it was impossible to ignore his country’s flag flying from the top of the Israeli army watchtower overlooking the scene of utter destruction.