Saturday, October 31, 2020

Christmas Eve demolitions leave more than 60 homeless

Juicebox Gallery

By Mike J.C. - December 31, 2013
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Life under Occupation]
Tags: [House Demolition] [European Union] [UN]

Photography by Gabriel R.


Early on Christmas Eve, Israeli wrecking crews flattened a Palestinian Bedouin community on a beautiful hilltop in the Ramallah Governorate of the occupied West Bank, demolishing more than a dozen homes and leaving 15 families in temporary tents. Days later, despite the hardship, the residents are proud, hospitable, and determined to hold their land. 

The community sits atop a large hill in the scenic valley region between the towns of Ras Karkar and Deir 'Ammar, just up the slope from a small village called Ein Ayoub, about ten kilometers northwest of Ramallah. The Bedouin, who belong to the Jahalin tribe, obtained the prominent plateau in 1980 through an arrangement with land’s owner from Deir 'Ammar. Previous to that, they had roamed between the area and the South Hebron Hills, since being expelled from their ancestral home in the Negev Desert, now inside Israel, when the Jewish state was founded in 1948. 

In their thirty-plus years on the site—which has no formal name, though their community is often nominally linked with Ein Ayoub—the Bedouin had built up a modest infrastructure of homes and animal barracks constructed with cinder blocks, sheet metal, wood, and canvas. Until Christmas Eve, the Ein Ayoub Bedouin had never experienced an Israeli demolition.

Without warning, at about 9:30 in the morning on 24 December, three bulldozers accompanied by numerous army vehicles rumbled into the small village. By early afternoon it was over. Of the 61 people made homeless, more than half are children.

The Palestine Monitor visited the site on Saturday, 28 December. We were welcomed warmly with tea and homegrown tobacco, and led from one pile of rubble to another. Looming heaps of twisted metal and shattered concrete were all that remained, and we spoke with family members from four of the demolished homes. 

Abdullah Jahalin, a young man and father of two boys and a baby girl, showed us video on his smartphone of the bulldozer tearing his house apart. Amidst the jackhammer beat of the heavy machinery, and the groaning, creaking and snapping of walls and rooftop, there is a frenetic despair, figures dashing about, and women and children shouting and screaming—a scene difficult to bear even through a small cracked screen, shaky footage, and tinny sound.

Asked what his family will do now, and if they can rebuild or if they will leave the shattered community, Abdullah responds that he cannot rebuild and he will not leave. “There is no material, no one to help, and nowhere to go,” he says through an interpreter. “But this is home.”

There is no material, no one to help, and nowhere to go.

Meters away, Khalid’s home of six, including his wife and four children, looks every bit the trash pile as Abdullah’s. One of Khalid’s children is Rahma, a six-year old disabled girl confined to a wheelchair. 

Rahma’s grandmother, Fatma, is determined to speak with us. She is strikingly dignified, impeccably dressed in traditional garb, hair covered, face exposed, and stands taller than her height with perfect square posture. She asks rhetorically, “What [did] we do to the soldiers? And what [did] the soldiers do to us?” Her eyes are dark and penetrating. “The world will not help us.”

Yet the residents were quick to express gratitude that in the aftermath of the destruction, the governor of Ramallah, Laila Ghannam, and aid workers from the Red Crescent Society, came bearing relief supplies, including food, water, and tents—one tent per family. But there has been no construction material, and no help to rebuild.

And the tents, we are told, do not even keep their occupants dry when it rains. Gesturing at the seams of the canvas, Abdullah shows us where water comes in. “We are without anything,” he says. “We are between the ground and the sky.” Some residents have taken to sleeping with the sheep in the still-standing animal barracks.

There was no advance warning when the destruction crews arrived on Tuesday morning. Families were simply told that their buildings had been constructed without permits, and, as per the standing demolition order, which had been delivered in writing two years earlier, the buildings were to come down. 

Reporters were given the same banal explanation. “The structures at hand were illegal,” an Israeli spokesman told Ma'an News Agency. “They had been built without a building permit.” 

Many thousands of Palestinian homes and buildings in the occupied territories exist under standing demolition orders, some for decades, issued by Israeli authorities. Under the occupation regime, it is illegal for Palestinians in the large majority of the West Bank (known as Area C since the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995) to build new structures or add on to existing ones without first obtaining permits that are notoriously elusive and rarely granted—for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israeli settlement outposts, which mushroom across the same area, even when they are illegal under Israeli law, are rarely obstructed, and almost always allowed to 'naturalize’ into 'legal’ settlements by virtue of becoming 'facts on the ground.’ 

According to international law, all Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal.

And from the vast pool of standing demolition orders against Palestinians, Israel applies selective enforcement, almost always targeting homes and communities in the immediate vicinity of (expanding) settlements. 

Forty-year old Sayya Jahalin, head of a family of eight, gestures with disdain across the valley toward the Israeli settlements. Terraced white buildings with red-tiled roofs, guard towers, and looming radio antennae are visible on the distant hilltops. 

“You see me?” Sayya asks me, striking his chest. He is tall and commanding but measured and respectful. “I am from here. I am from the ground.” He gestures again across the valley. “See the settlements there? From France, from Russia, from Britain.” He is referring to the fact that the majority of the Jewish community in Israel and the West Bank settlements are of immediate European descent, yet Palestinians, with unbroken ties to the land, have no comparable rights.

I am from here. I am from the ground.

But the Palestinians’ problem is not with the Jewish people; rather they repeatedly stress that the occupation and the Israeli military are their enemies. 

Through our translator’s broken English, Sayya declares, “The soldiers are the terrorists, not us the terrorists.” And our translator wants to make sure that I understand that the choice of the word 'terrorist,’ irhabi, was quite deliberate, alluding to predominant Western stereotypes about Palestinians. 

In recent years, home demolitions have become increasingly common. Most often the victims are from Bedouin or other remote communities of Area C, but very often the targets are in large towns or urban centers. For example, according to Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem, 66 homes were demolished in East Jerusalem in the first eleven months of 2013, displacing almost 300 people, while an additional 143 where demolished across the rest of the West Bank over the same period, leaving close to 400 homeless (the figures do not include hundreds of other property demolitions, such as sheds, animal housings, schools, etc.). 

In late October, Israeli authorities issued an unprecedented wave of hundreds of new demolition orders in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ras Khamis and Ras Shahada, impacting—and threatening to displace—up to 15,000 local residents.

The increased demolition activity reflects Palestinians’ determination to remain on their land, refusing to be replaced by an ethnically defined Jewish citizenry. Despite growing international alarm, nothing is being done on the ground to slow the pace of the destruction, undoubtedly sowing the seeds of the conflict for years to come, even as the parties are supposed to be negotiating in good faith under the US-brokered “peace talks.”

The Christmas Eve demolitions in Ein Ayoub represent one small instance of the ongoing destruction of Palestinian lives, but it has become a microcosm of the larger Palestinian struggle for freedom and justice. 

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