By EA Adrian
“I get a lot of fruit from my trees, but there has been nothing this year. It’s as if they feel our sorrow.” Yousef stares at the fig trees in front of his home. “There is no future for us. I’ve worked hard all my life and now I’ve lost everything.” His wife Zara concurs: “It’s not fair. You build your home with your own money and they decide it’s no longer your house.” Zara’s face is proud and full of defiance, but the cracks show.
“There is no future for us. I’ve worked hard all my life and now I’ve lost everything.” His wife Zara concurs: “It’s not fair. You build your home with your own money and they decide it’s no longer your house.” Zara’s face is proud and full of defiance, but the cracks show.
The law states that you now have to prove ownership, but any documentation is hard to find.
Zara and Yousef live in the East Jerusalem suburb of Beit Hanina. The Israeli Supreme Court recently served an eviction notice for the family of seventeen from their property. Zara has six children of her own and five adopted children. Zara tells us that they bought the land from a Palestinian family prior to 2000 and built a house there. Their ownership was challenged under an old Jordanian law that the Oslo accords of 1994 decreed should be maintained in the occupied territory. Between 1948 and 1967 agreements were mainly verbal, so a large amount of Palestinian land remained unregistered. Israel state that Palestinians now have to prove ownership, but any documentation is hard to find. After many years of legal contestation over who owns the land, the court found in favour of an Israeli man who says he bought it in 1972. The court then ruled that her family pay eighteen years of rent retrospectively to him.
“If an Israeli has a house and some Palestinians produce papers saying it’s theirs they wouldn’t decide in favour of the Palestinians,” says Zara.
She opted to demolish her own home. She tells us this was partly in protest and also because she doesn’t want settlers to establish in the community. The Israeli who won the case works for the municipality in Jerusalem,and Zara is concerned this will be the first step in the creation of an illegal Israeli settlement in Beit Hanina. According to a report by the UN Human Rights Council, between November 2016 and October 2017 “settlement planning accelerated, with plans for almost 10,000 housing units advanced for construction in Area C and East Jerusalem – more than double the number during the previous reporting period”.
We witnessed the bulldozer’s dismantling of the house, room by room, as the family looked on with indignation and despair.
This was not a demolition conducted by the military (a practice common in greater Jerusalem and Area C) but the stress of this action is acute. Locals tell EAs that the three most important rites of passage in Palestinian culture are marriage, death and building one’s own home. We witnessed the bulldozer’s dismantling of the house, room by room, as the family looked on with indignation and despair.
The ground is strewn with rocks and stones and other hazards such as lines of rusted, metal cable poking up and lumps of concrete.
The next time we visited, the family was living in two canvas tents provided by the Palestinian Civil Defence (PCD) volunteers. The ground is strewn with rocks and stones, and other hazards such as lines of rusted, metal cable poking up, and lumps of concrete. They are desperately in need of mattresses and camping mats, as they only have rugs to put on the ground. The PCD said it couldn’t provide these. Another major concern is that the eldest daughter is six months pregnant. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), the occupying power must ensure sufficient hygiene and public health standards to the population under occupation.
EAs have been trying to secure short- and long-term financial assistance to the family, but so far without success. The imminent birth of a child, the onset of winter, and the family’s long term future, remain critical concerns.
a friend of Zara’s reminded us of ‘shuffaq’, the dim light of dusk and dawn, which for Palestinian poets symbolises faint but never extinguished hope
As we sat watching the sun set, a friend of Zara’s reminded us of shafaq, the dim light of dusk and dawn,which for Palestinian poets symbolises faint but never extinguished hope. The trees in front of their former home still looked forlorn.
Note: Zara and Yousef asked for their names to be changed and did not wish to be photographed
Learn more about the different laws governing Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem by visiting the website of Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organisation which supports Palestinians living under occupation to access legal counsel.