By Paul, EA in East Jerusalem.
I am not the only one to have witnessed multiple demolitions in my time as an EA. This is just a snapshot of recent demolitions we have attended.
The community of Palestinian Bedouin at Jabal Al-Baba, “The Pope’s Mountain”, live on a beautiful area of land in the occupied West Bank owned by the Vatican, who have entrusted the safety of it to the Bedouin. This land is also of great significance to the Israeli government who are continuing to support the expansion of the nearby Ma’ale Adumim settlement in Jabal Al-Baba as part of what is known as the E1 settlement plan. These settlements are illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its own population into the territory it occupies.
At 5.00 a.m. on 16 May, the Israeli military suddenly arrived at Jabal Al-Baba. An English actress staying there told us they gave the occupants of 10 homes a minute to leave, then either demolished the homes or confiscated humanitarian materials. The materials were part of an aid package for vulnerable Palestinian Bedouin provided by the UN earlier this year. A total of 49 people, including 22 children, were made homeless.
The UN Coordinator, Robert Piper, condemned this action, saying, “Despite the obligation on Israel under international law to facilitate rapid and unimpeded passage of relief to those who need it, humanitarian relief to vulnerable communities like Jabal Al-Baba is increasingly under attack. Once again, we call on Israel to respect the rights of these vulnerable communities and to leave these households in peace”. The actress told us how angry she felt when she saw Israeli soldiers joking around and taking ‘selfies’ while the demolitions were happening. Interestingly though, one soldier said, “These are very friendly people. I don’t like destroying their homes.”
Two days later, the Israeli military arrived at 5.30 a.m. to demolish a house in Shu’fat and give the family 5 minutes to remove their belongings. I asked Rajeh Hwareen, a paramedic, why the demolition happened. He showed me a new road being built to connect 2 Israeli settlements and says his home was in the way. Sat in the rubble, I am amazed when Rajeh’s family invite us to share their food and drink. “This is the face of the occupation,” he tells me. “It has many faces, but I hope your countries will see this one.”
On 24 May, we were invited to meet with Karama Ghanem whose home in Wadi Al-Joz was demolished the week before. She wanted to thank us for all the help given her. Again, among the rubble, we are invited to share food and drink. I ask Karama why her house was demolished and she tells me it is to make way for an Israeli nature park.
Four days later, we went to the home of Youness Tayeh in Silwan. A week before he had completed an extension, but now have a demolition order. They could neither afford the fine nor the charges for demolition (they are billed if the Israeli military do it), so they heartbreakingly chose to self-demolish. So why have so many of the people whose homes are demolished not obtained Israeli building permits? Simply because it is incredibly expensive and just over 95% of applications are rejected anyway.
Then, on 5th June, Ramadan began. It looked as if the Israeli military respected their long-standing tradition not to demolish homes during this religious period because we were not called to any house demolitions during this time. There was a great fear, however, that they would start up again soon after. These fears proved to be well-founded.
On 12th July, we went to Anata where we met Ahmad Helwe. The Israeli military had arrived at 2 a.m., told him and his family to leave (11 children) and then 3 bulldozers demolished his home. We move on to the Golany family who run a thriving garage business. The same Israeli military bulldozers had started demolishing their premises at 3 a.m.. The livelihood of 7 men who work for them is now in jeopardy and 5 customers’ cars were badly damaged. Ashref Golany tells me he will have to pay substantial compensation. Both these demolitions were carried out without demolition orders. Immediately we move on to the Bedouin community at Anata. Seven family homes and 4 animal pens were demolished here. They were very angry because, whilst demolition orders had existed, stop orders had also been issued 2 years ago and never rescinded.
The next day, we went to Jabal Al Mukabbir where we meet Amer Eweisat. He and his wife have just ploughed everything they had into building their dream home and were about to move in. Now it’s gone. He says: “It is the occupation, but we have to continue our lives.” Close by is a small house and a stables which have also been destroyed. None of these 3 properties had demolition orders on them.
I reflect on Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the destruction of personal property by an occupying power, except where it is absolutely necessary for military reasons. It is extremely difficult to see any possible military reasons where I have been present. I also think about what would happen back in the UK if, say, a road, a national park or a new building estate was being built. There would be a consultation period followed by a compulsory purchase and the payment of compensation. None of this happens under the occupation.
My mind goes back to a conversation I had with Attalah, the leader of the Bedouin community at Jabal Al-Baba. He tells me that they have already started to rebuild their demolished homes. He also tells me about some 12 year old children who are attending the community’s summer school. They were asked to share their dreams. I close with the words of one of them: “I dream to go to university and study law so I can build a house without it being destroyed by the occupation.”