By EA Helen
Piles of furniture and toys lie beside the rubble of a house, an all-too-familiar scene in Al-Walaja, a small Palestinian village just outside of Bethlehem. The land belongs to Ilham, a Palestinian woman whose home was destroyed by Israeli soldiers in the early hours of the morning.
Ilham’s family was issued with a house demolition order from the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) a month before. She paid ₪30,000 (around £6,500) to postpone the demolition for just a few weeks. Soldiers arrived at 4am to begin demolishing Ilham’s home. The family began moving possessions out of the house during the night, and then watched as three bulldozers tore down their year-old home. Ilham’s cousin, Mysa’a, tried to persuade Ilham’s three children (aged three, four and seven) to come into her house next door, away from the demolition, but they refused to leave their mother’s side. Mysa’a says her seven-year-old niece was in tears as her bedroom was destroyed.
The cousins’ houses are visible from one another, and they live among family in a tight-knit community. “The children play together,” Mysa’a says, “they haven’t just destroyed a house, they’ve destroyed a family.”
Ilham’s story is one of many in the villages around Bethlehem. Surrounding the famous city, which is visited by thousands of tourists each year, are Palestinian villages under constant threat as Israeli settlements continue to grow. Ilham’s house was the first of four demolished in the village in one day, displacing 35 people, including 18 children.
These villages are in Area C, which covers 60 per cent of the West Bank. It is almost impossible to get building permits there because Israel, which controls local planning, has designated much of this land as nature reserves or military zones, or to expand Israeli settlements. This leads many families to build homes without permits, leaving them at risk of demolition.
Al-Walaja sits between two Israeli settlements. While building permission is heavily restricted for Palestinians, these settlements have expanded considerably, and taken a significant amount of the village’s land. With the planned expansion of the nearby Har Gilo settlement and the continued construction of the separation barrier, Al-Walaja is at risk of being cut off, surrounded on all sides and accessible to Palestinians only though an Israeli checkpoint. This is made even more complicated for residents originally from outside of the village, for example those from nearby Beit Jala, who, as they weren’t born there, may need permits to access the village. This system requires all Palestinians to apply for permits to enter Israel, East Jerusalem and even move around some parts of the West Bank.
Under international law, settlements like Har Gilo are illegal. Since the 1967 war when Israeli forces captured the West bank, it has been considered occupied territory by the international community (UN Security Council Resolution 42, S/RES/242 1967). Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that extensive destruction and appropriation of property “is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”.
According to UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), since 2010 there have been 5,332 demolitions in the West Bank, displacing 8,221 people (UN OCHA West Bank: Demolition and Displacement Trend Analysis  Data: Demolitions and Displacement, www.ochaopt.org). As Mysa’a says, “There is no future, there is no next steps, just rebuilding; in Palestine you can’t have dreams.”
Read more about planning permission for Palestinians, compared to Israelis, in the West Bank at www.btselem.org/planning_and_building.
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