Bethlehem: ‘The greatest pain I have ever felt’

By EA Paul

Wafat’s grandfather-in-law gave her and her husband a precious piece of land in the village of Battir near Bethlehem.

In 1998, they started to build their family house on it. It took four years but, towards the end of 2002, all was finished.

In the meantime, Wafat’s mother fell ill and was admitted to hospital in Jerusalem. On New Year’s Eve, just one month after moving into her new home, Wafat went to visit her.

While there, she had a call from her sister to say: “Two bulldozers are destroying your home!”

Home Demolitions in Battir

Wafat got back as fast as she could. There was no demolition order, but Israeli soldiers stopped her getting to the house.

She was not allowed to save anything; it was all destroyed.

“It felt like the end of the world. All my dreams gone. The most pain I have ever felt in my life!” – Wafat

Wafat’s family had to move in with her husband’s parents and for years she refused to go back to her demolished home.

House

Wafat’s home in Battir. Photo EAPPI. EA Paul

She spoke of the “dinosaur” that is the occupation

“…haunting us in every corner of life…I realised then that dinosaurs aren’t extinct yet. I saw them as in fiction; breaking, destroying, scattering all beautiful things…Why should I go back.”

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that, “any destruction by an Occupying Power of real or personal property of a person/s or organisation is prohibited, except where the destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”.

The Israeli government says it carries out these demolitions because people are building without permits. However, according to Israeli Civil Administration data, only 1.5% of requests by Palestinians for building permits between 2010-2014 were approved. None were approved in 2015.

Rebuilding Wafat’s Home

Eventually, however, in 2013, she was persuaded to return when a UK based human rights charity, the Amos Trust, alongside a Palestinian organisation, the Holy Land Trust, offered to rebuild it.

First she saw a different kind of bulldozer removing the rubble and preparing foundations, followed by building materials piling up and then a team of Palestinian builders; finally a group of helpers arrived from the UK.

Inside

The interior of Wafat’s home. Photo EAPPI. EA Paul

I was one of those helpers.

While the builders did all the skilled work, we formed human chains to carry bricks and buckets of sand and water down from the road; we hand-mixed cement; and, we did anything and everything else asked of us. After two weeks, the walls were up, the roof was on and, we were glad to celebrate Wafat’s new house.

Wafat told me that, during this time, she did something amazing. She said that, because she felt so guilty at not visiting her land for all those years, she asked the land to forgive her!

Returning to Battir

Over a year has passed and now I’m back visiting Wafat from the UK, only to discover that within one month of moving into their new home, they received an order from the Israeli authorities that it had to be demolished.

Since then, they have been fighting in the Israeli courts to stop it. The Israeli Civil Administration claim the area is farm land, but it is residential and the houses here fall inside the boundary of Battir.

With Father

Wafat with her husband, Abed. Photo EAPPI. EA Paul

Now, despite them only owning one dunam of land (a quarter of an acre), the family are being required to prepare a detailed plan covering 51 dunams (thirteen acres). This is virtually impossible for them and prohibitively expensive.

At the moment, they do not know where to go from here and must seek further legal advice.

The Pain of Occupation

The consequences of such uncertainty is that the family live in constant fear that the bulldozers will return to demolish their home for a second time.

She says: “This pain, this fear, this misery is called occupation…an occupier of my joy, my land and my wishes.”

Wafat says that they feel caught in a never ending legal spiral where there seems to be no end, but they will keep on fighting:

“We are not free, but are trying to create freedom. The big dream is that the occupation will be gone.”

Take Action

Read about the issues regarding the demolition of property in the West Bank

Share this blog post with your contacts and ask them to write to their local MPs, TDs, MLAs or MEPs.

Find out more about the Society of Saint Yves who have been providing legal representation to Wafat and her family.