Yunis Sbeih, his wife and eight children had lived in their home for four years in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Anata. This morning while Mr. Sbeih was consulting with his lawyer about a home demolition order he received four days ago, his wife called to say that bulldozers had arrived at his home. A call was put in to The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), that in turn, sent out a notice on the organization’s SMS activist alert system. Before long a core cadre of ICAHD was on the way to Anata.
By the time the activists arrived, the police and Israeli Army had cordoned off the house, giving the family just half an hour to remove their belongings. Then the giant jackhammer attached to the bulldozer began its ugly work, systematically destroying the fruit of decades of Sbeih family savings. It wasn’t enough for the machine of destruction to make the house uninhabitable by collapsing the roof and walls. They also burrowed deep into the rubble and tore into the concrete slab floor of the house. Then the bulldozer went meticulously around the edges of the slab, digging deep into the ground to the foundations buried several meters in the ground. Once the house had been completely destroyed the jackhammer turned its attention to the surrounding trees, and the recently poured concrete slab that was intended for an addition to the original home.
While all this was happening the hapless family was forced to sit nearby, surrounded by soldiers and police, and watch their whole life collapse. Was this a terrorist family? Had a family member committed a heinous crime? No. The Sbeih family story is similar to thousands of other families in the Jerusalem area who are trying to build lives for themselves and their children.
Through the politicized and cynical manipulation of municipal planning and zoning regulations, the government has made it all but impossible for Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents to obtain building permits. However the government is more than happy to ask thousands of dollars for permit applications that are invariably refused. The Sbeih family applied for a permit five years ago. It was a reasonable request. They own the small plot of land on the edge of the village and merely wanted to build a modest 100-meter (900 sq. ft.) home. They were willing to pay for the permit and to comply with all relevant building codes. However, like virtually all applications it was refused, and the family went ahead and built their home.
During the demolition ICAHD activists engaged some of the Israeli soldiers in conversation, who fell generally into two categories. Some were quite bored with the proceedings and talked amongst themselves about girlfriends and weekend activities. A few averted their eyes when asked how they felt about participating in the demolition. One soldier, a Druze from a village in the north, denied any responsibility. “I’m just doing my job”, he said, “Those people from the Jerusalem municipality are responsible for the demolition, not me.” When asked how he would feel if a home in his village was demolished, the soldier replied, “They demolish Druze homes too”. The Druze are a religious sect situated in northern Israel, south Lebanon, and southwest Syria, originating as an offshoot of Islam. They refer to themselves as Ahl al-Tawid (People of Unity) or al-Muwahhidün (Unitarians). Like all minorities in Israel, they are kept largely confined to their villages with most of the surrounding land zoned agricultural. Denied building permits like the East Jerusalem Palestinians, they often build ‘illegally’ and have homes demolished. However virtually all Druze men serve in the Israeli army or police as part of a ‘deal’ made with the Israeli authorities after the founding of the state in 1948. It’s ironic that they are themselves subject to repression; yet profess loyalty to the state.
This loyalty extends to the protection of the municipal officials, private contractors and their workers, who are violating international law and human rights conventions through the destruction of civilian homes in Occupied Territory. Although the village of Anata was ‘annexed’ by Israel and is considered part of Jerusalem under Israeli law, it receives almost no municipal services, and has a checkpoint at its entrance where Palestinians are harassed and humiliated daily.
Anata, situated on the northeastern fringe of Jerusalem dates from antiquity, and is reputed to have been a Canaanite village in biblical times. Village lore claims that Anata residents originated from the same ancestor, Sheikh Abed Asalam Mohammed Al Rifai Who established a school of thought, Al Rifai Sufi-school, which is a famous school in the Arab world. During the Crusader wars, the Muslim leader, Salah Eddin Aiyoubi, situated his administration in the village before he proceeded towards Jerusalem. Today Anata is administered in part by the Jerusalem Municipality, and partly by the Israeli ‘Civil Administration’ which is responsible for the eastern edge of the village, part of Area ‘C’ of the West Bank.