By EA Alex H, Northern West Bank.
Spring time in Palestine. The scarlet poppies that now blaze across the fields are starkly beautiful to the eye. They stand too as a poignant symbol of the ongoing suffering experienced by the people here.Demolitions of homes, schools, playgrounds and businesses continue unabated. The United Nations send out alert text messages to Ecumenical Accompaniers and others when demolitions occur. This Spring the alert messages have been depressingly frequent with 24 sent to us in the 23 days from March 16 alone. You can view all of the alerts – along with photographs of some of the demolitions – at the end of this blog.
The alerts sent to us are only the latest from the huge surge in demolitions that has been taking place across Palestine since the beginning of the year. In February, the UN confirmed that the number of donor-funded structures destroyed or confiscated by the Israeli authorities in the first six weeks of 2016 had already exceeded the equivalent number for all of 2015.Early April was a particularly dark period for Palestinians. On April 7, the community of Khirbet Tana in the northern West Bank, which sits just over the hill from where we are living, suffered their fourth demolition of 2016. That day, the United Nations published a flash update for Khirbet Tana and other communities: “Multiple demolitions across Area C in the West Bank; 124 people displaced. In total, 54 structures (including 18 donor-funded structures) were demolished in nine different communities, displacing 124 people, including 60 children. A further 293 people, including 98 children, were otherwise affected”.
These demolitions are a grave violation of Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which 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 organisations is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”.
The UN has repeatedly warned that the demolitions place Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer, in grave violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Robert Piper, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Palestine, said recently that, “It’s hard to see how demolitions like the one in Khirbet Tana are about anything other than pushing vulnerable Palestinians out of parts of the West Bank”.
“What Happened at This Once-idyllic West Bank Spot Embodies the Israeli Occupation’s Evils” ran the headline of an article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the demolitions in Khirbet Tana. The Israeli army has successively destroyed three schools here. The children are now taught in the old mosque, a 300-year-old building that is the sole survivor of the frequent demolitions. There is no electricity, no running water and no toilets for pupils or staff. This video includes an interview with one of the school children.
“Why are they [Palestinians] still trying to build there?,” asked an Israeli I had met in Haifa. This question is perhaps best answered by 71-year-old Yusera Hanini, a long time resident of Khirbet Tana. We were sitting outside the cave where she and her family live.
“Our life is here,” she said. “I was born here in 1945. Our grandparents were here before us. They want us to move to Beit Furik [the nearby town], but we are shepherds, we can’t feed our sheep in the town. Last week, when the soldiers came, they tried to take our car. I pleaded with them. I said it was only worth 1000 shekels [£186]. I told them I have blood pressure problems and I need to get to the hospital. They didn’t listen. They drove the car away, but then it broke down so they abandoned it!”. She fell silent, then began to cry, burying her head in her hands.
Wassif Hanini, his piercing blue eyes matching the clear sky above, took up the story: “When they came last week, I said to the soldiers, ‘Your job is to demolish, so demolish and go!'”.“What message should I give to people when I return to Scotland,” I asked Wassif before we leave. His reply was instant: “Tell people in your country what you see here, not what you read, but what you see.”
Demolition alerts received by EAs from the United Nations (March 16-April 7)
ALERT 16 March 09.47: Israeli forces demolished an agricultural room in Wadi Rahal and newly constructed house into which the family was ready to move in Batir near Bethlehem.ALERT 17 March 09.12: Israeli authorities demolished 7 structures in the farmers market in Beita (Nablus).
ALERT 21 March 08.05: Ongoing demolition of an under-construction house in Jabal al Mukabbir area of East Jerusalem.
ALERT 21 March 13.50: Israeli forces demolished an under-construction house in Ras al ‘amud area of East Jerusalem.
ALERT 22 March 09.11: Israeli authorities demolished a commercial structure in Jabal al Mukabbir area of East Jerusalem
ALERT 22 March 10.29: Israeli authorities demolished a residential caravan in Beit Hanina area of East Jerusalem.
ALERT 22 Mar 11.09: Ongoing demolition is taking place now in Khirbet Jinba in Masasfer Yatta.
ALERT 23 March 08.13: Ongoing demolition by Israeli authorities in Khirbet Tana community (Nablus).ALERT 28 March 12.45: Israeli authorities demolished agricultural/animal related structures near Gil/300 CP.
ALERT 29 March 06.48: Israeli authorities demolished a children’s playground and an animal related structure in Silwan area of East Jerusalem.
ALERT 29 March 11.04: Ongoing demolition near Rammun village/ Ramallah.ALERT 31 March 07.10: Israeli authorities conducted punitive demolition of residential house at Jabt Alshaeef area of Hebron city.
ALERT 4 April 07.58: Israeli authorities conducted punitive demolition this morning of 3 houses in Qabatiya (Jenin).
ALERT 4 April 08.13: Israeli forces demolished an under construction house in Surif north west of Hebron.
ALERT 4 April 08.29: Israeli authorities demolished a house in Jabal al Muikabbir area of East Jeruslaem.
ALERT 4 April 08.43: Ongoing demolition in ‘Ein al Qilt in Jericho.
ALERT 4 April 09.00: Ongoing demolition in Khirbet al Marajem community (Nablus) of residential structures.
ALERT 4 April 09.25: Demolition is taking place now on road 60 near Beit Ummar.
ALERT 5 April 08.36: Israeli forces demolished an animal slaughtering building in Beit Sahur.
ALERT 6 April 07.18: Israeli forces demolished number of residential structures in Um Alkhair south of Hebron.
ALERT 6 April 11.39: A Palestinian family forced to self demolish part of their house in Beit Hanena area, East Jerusalem.
ALERT 7 April 07.11: Ongoing demolition by Israeli authorities in Khirbet Tana (Nablus).
ALERT 7 April 08.58: Ongoing demolition in Khan al Ahmar and Bir al Maskoub area.
ALERT 7 April 08.59: Demolition of two commercial structures in Ni’lin village.
ALERT 7 April 14.29: Israeli forces demolished a water cistern and bulldozed agricultural lands in al Khadar near Neve Daniel settlement.