Since 1967, 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the Occupied Territories. Many were demolished in military operations, simply for being in the way or tanks or artillery fire (4000 homes were destroyed in the 2008 invasion of Gaza, almost all as “collateral damage”). Others are destroyed as acts of “deterrence,” collective punishment against families or whole communities (as in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002). Yet others, like the family’s whose story is told below, by the Civil Administration in the West Bank or by the Jerusalem Municipality and the Ministry of Interior in East Jerusalem, because the homes were built “illegally” without a permit. In virtually every case the demolition has nothing whatsoever to do with security: no one in the family had committed a security offense and no one was charged. Israel’s policy of house demolitions is perhaps the clearest example of a policy that is pro-active – a means of either pacifying a population under occupation or removing it from its lands – and not, as Israel tries to portray its actions in the Occupied Territories, as a reaction to terrorism.
This presentation of house demolitions, if integrated with the one on reframing, illustrates convincingly our claim that Israel’s occupation policies represent a pro-active claim to the entire country and not a response to security threats.
The Policy of House Demolitions as a Means of Confining Palestinians to Areas A and B
Slide 3: A key element in Israel’s Matrix of Control is to keep the Palestinian population confined to Areas A and B (the brown islands on the map of the West Bank). Today, 95% of the Palestinians are confined to less than 40% of the Occupied Territories – in others words, to less than 40% of 22% of their historic homeland. And then that 40% is fragmented into more than 70 enclaves, each surrounded by earthen barriers, more than 600 checkpoints, Israeli settlements, fenced-off Israeli highways and closed military zones. This leaves more than 60% (Area C, the gray areas plus the pink settlement blocs and East Jerusalem) free for Israeli expansion.
It is in this 60%, however, that most Palestinians own land. Confined to tiny and crowded enclaves, Palestinians find that the supply of land is extremely limited with land values far too high for an impoverished population to afford. Since their only resource is the land they own in Area C or East Jerusalem, Palestinians seeking adequate housing or wishing to provide a home for their children upon marriage have little choice but to apply to the Israeli authorities for building permits. And here is where they hit up against Israeli refusal to grant building permits. “Our policy is not to approve building in Area C,” an Israeli Army spokesperson said openly to Amnesty International delegates in 1999. “There are no more construction permits for Palestinians,” reiterated Colonel Shlomo Politus, legal advisor to the Civil Administration, to the Israeli Parliament on 13 July 2003 (Amnesty, Under the Rubble: House Demolition and Destruction of Land and Property, 2004:4). How are Palestinian denied building permits without Israel appearing to be discriminatory? Almost the entire West Bank has been zoned as “agricultural land,” and all the unbuilt upon areas of East Jerusalem as “open green space,” thus providing a legal façade for Israel to pursue its political agenda. When the Israeli authorities decide to build a settlement or road or other facility on the same land, it is a simple matter to use the various planning committees to rezone.
All this is patently illegal in international law. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” Article 64 forbids changes in the local legal system that, among other things, alienate the local population from its land and property, as Israel has done through massive land expropriations. And Article 3 prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," a routine element of Palestinian life under Israel's occupation.
How this system works, and how it impacts on the lives of Palestinians, is illustrated in the saga of the Shawamreh family’s struggle for a home of their own.
Slide 4: The Shawamreh Family at their home in Anata
Salim and Arabiya Sahwamreh and their seven children at the door of their home in Anata, northwest of Jerusalem but in Area C, before the first demolition of their home. Below Salim and Arabiya tell their story, and Jeff Halper, ICAHD’s Director, fills in the information about their resistance to demolition.
Salim: My family came from the village of Amishuaf near Beer Sheva(now the Israeli community of Misgav), one of the 530 villages destroyed in 1948 and after. After my grandfather’s death in 1943, my father moved us to the Old City of Jerusalem, where he ran a coffee shop. I was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 1956, one of 10 children.
After the war in 1967, my family, like many others living in the Old City, were forced to move to the Shuafat refugee camp, leaving our three-story home and the coffee shop. There we were given a room 3 meters by 6 meters for the entire family. I studied to be a construction supervisor in the UNRWA vocational school in Kalandia, and in 1978 I left to find employment in Saudi Arabia. I worked there as a construction supervisor for nine years, during which time I married my cousin Arabia, who grew up in Jordan, and began a family.
In 1987 we returned home with a nest egg and the expectation of beginning a decent life for us and our children. I came back to the camp from Saudi Arabia a “hero:” a local boy made good, coming home with money in his pocket. And because our family home in the camp was so small and overcrowded with my parents, my brothers and sisters and my brother’s families, I was the one who was expected to find another home for his family.
Arabiya: I am Salim’s cousin. My family came from Deir Asal in the West Bank and settled in Ramallah, where I was born in 1965. During the 1967 war, my family, remembering Deir Yassin and the destruction of the Palestinian villages by Israel in 1948, fled in fear to Jordan, where they still live. I finished the ninth grade there. At the age of 16 I married Salim and went to live with him in Saudi Arabia. When Salim wanted to return to Jerusalem, I was very scared. I had never lived in Israeli-controlled territory; I did not know the language. But I came, and was granted a Jerusalem ID.
Salim: I found a small plot of land on the periphery of the nearby town of Anata, just a few dozen meters into the West Bank. Why did I buy there, even if I might have a problem securing a building permit from the Civil Administration [Israel’s military government in the Occupied Territories,]? Well, getting a permit from the Civil Administration, is no more difficult than getting one from the Jerusalem municipality. And land just outside the municipal borders is much cheaper than inside.
I then applied to the Civil Administration for a building permit. Each application costs about $5000 in application fees, surveying, lawyers and the like. The permit was turned down because the land is zoned as ”agricultural land,” although it is far too rocky to ever have been farmed. I was told that if I applied for a special permit to build on agricultural land I might receive it, so I did. Another $5000 – and this time I was turned down because the “slope” was too steep. Jerusalem is built on mountains, and all mountains have slopes. From my land I can see the Hebrew University and French Hill, both built on slopes. These were only reasons given to frustrate my application. I was also told that my land was too close to a by-pass road – although the road was only begun years later. Of course, I had no knowledge of the plans and, besides, my house was far more than the maximum 150 meter “security margin.”
But the Civil Administration officials advised to apply once more. Another $5000, and another refusal, this time because they claimed I lacked two signatures of previous owners on the deed! Finally, my money running out and with nowhere to go with my growing family, I decided to build anyway. It was a cold calculation. There are thousands of Palestinian homes with demolition orders, but Israel only demolished a couple hundred a year – so I might buy a year or two, or maybe even “win” the lottery and not have my house demolished at all. And don’t forget, the “peace process” had by then begun and everyone was sure that house demolitions would stop and that we would become part of the Palestinian state.
So in 1994, after four years of trying to get a permit, we finally built our modest home on our own small plot of land. I invested about $35,000 in the house and I brought in twenty truckloads of soil and planted a garden of 52 trees of all different kinds. If there was anything “agricultural” about my land, it was what I made of it.
We moved in, and soon after the demolition order arrived. I immediately hired a lawyer and began legal proceedings to counter it. Together with a number of other families in the same situation we went all the way to the Supreme Court, but our appeal was turned down in 1995.
Despite the prospect of demolition hanging over our heads, Arabia, our family and I lived quietly in our house for four years. The order was present in our lives, a vague source of anxiety, but we managed to put it into the background. After all, the mid-1990s was the time of the “peace process,” the numbers of demolitions had dropped dramatically, and we hoped that the danger had passed, that our house had been saved by peace.
I couldn’t find work here as a construction engineer, so I did various things. I secured employment as the driver of Bashir Bargouti, editor of the al-Ataliya newspaper and later the Palestinian Minister of Industry. At night I worked for an Israeli catering business, perfecting my Hebrew and making a lot of Israeli friends.
Slide 5: The Civil Administration officials arrive to demolish the home (July 9, 1998)
Salim: After the election of Netanyahu in 1996 and the dramatic rise in house demolitions, we began to fear once more for our house. One day – the black day in my life which I don’t wish on anyone else in the world, July 9, 1998 – I was having lunch with my family when I heard some noise outside. I opened the door and saw my house surrounded by 200 soldiers. “Is this your house,” their commander Rami asked me. “”Yes, this is my house.” “No, it isn’t,” he replied. “This is our house now. You have fifteen minutes to get your family and belongings out of the home. We are going to demolish it.”
[The term “civil administration” was chosen by Israel to downplay the military character of the Occupation. Thus although officials such as Rami and Micha, the two officials, are technically civilian employees, they are armed and always accompanied by soldiers, the Border Police and the regular Israeli police. Another twist to the story: they are also settlers. Micha lives in the settlement adjacent to Anata, so in the Shawamreh case he is demolishing the home of his neighbors. At any rate, placing settlers in decision-making positions vis-à-vis the demolition of Palestinian homes represents a grotesque conflict of interest.]
Slide 6: Salim beaten and thrown out of his house
Salim: “What are you saying?!” I answered back to Rami and Micha, not knowing what to do or say. Rami approached me very closely, clutching his rifle, and when I tried to push him back soldiers jumped on me, beat me all over my body, handcuffed me and threw me out of the house.
Slide 7: Arabiya being carried unconscious from her home
Salim: My wife, panicking and not knowing what to do, closed the door and locked it to protect the house and our children inside. The soldiers starting kicking down the door. In order to force my wife and children out, they broke a window and threw a tear gas canister into the house. [Jeff Halper found the canister later. It was produced in the Federal Laboratories in Pennsylvania, the US, and had clearly written on the side: “For Outdoor Use Only.] My wife used the few minutes to frantically call for help on the phone [one of the calls was to ICAHD], but when the soldiers finally broke into the home they found my wife unconscious and the children screaming and crying. The kids ran through the open door and scattered in all directions.
Jeff: The demolition of Salim and Arabia’s house was a turning point for us. Israel has been systematically demolishing Palestinian houses for years, but this was the first time Israeli and media actually witnessed it. Because of the valiant struggle put up by the Shawamreh fsmily, we had time to bring dozens of protesters and reporters. It was the demolition of this house that put the entire issue of Israel’s house demolition policy on the political map.
In fact, our success in publicizing this demolition was due to a number of serendipitous circumstances. ICAHD, Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Palestinian Land Defense Committee, the Palestinian human rights organization LAW, Christian Peacemakers and other groups had planned a demonstration that very day opposite the Civil Administration headquarters. We happened to be nearby, then, when we got word that the Shawamreh house was about to be destroyed, and were able to divert a busload of protesters – including Knesset Member Naomi Chazan and some journalists – to the site in Anata. This was about one in the afternoon, and it was very unusual for the Civil Administration to demolish so late in the day. Usually demolitions happen at 6 AM when the men have left for work and outsiders are not present. That day they had already demolished five houses and apparently felt they could fit in one more before the day’s “work” was finished. After all, bringing out the army, the Border Police and a commercial wrecking crew is expensive. I guess they wanted to get their money’s worth.
Slide 8: Jeff Halper resisting
I managed to run through the troops surrounding the house – one soldier even asked to see my ID. Since this was the first demolition we had actually been to, the army wasn’t prepared for protesters. Apparently they thought I was a journalist.
I reached the house just as Salim and Arabia were being removed. It was a surrealistic experience. As foreign workers employed by the wrecking company removed the Shawamreh’s belongings from the house – tearing apart living room and bedroom sets and throwing everything in a pile outside – the Civil Administration inspector, Micha, who was overseeing the operation, began to explain to me why the house was being demolished. He showed me maps where the Shawamrehs could have built within Area B of Anata – not knowing or not caring that because Israel had drawn such tight boundaries around the Palestinian towns the price of land in them had skyrocketed, making it impossible for a family like Salim’s to afford to buy inside, where it is “safe” from demolitions.
Then, as the bulldozer approached, I was shunted aside. We had talked of resistance to the occupation before, but what that really meant was still vague. As the bulldozer approached the house, however, I just couldn’t stand by and watch. I ran in front to block it and was immediately jumped upon by soldiers. Passively resisting but holding onto soldier’s legs, rocks, whatever came to hand, I felt myself being pushed down the hill towards where Salim was lying. I tossed my pocket camera to another activist who continued to photograph. Sitting in the dust by Salim and his neighbors, I tried to comfort him. Words like “Don’t worry, it will be OK” sounded so hollow. I promised him we would turn this event into one of political significance. “This story will be told,” I said to him. I’m sure my words that day sounded pretty hollow to him.
As an Israeli Jew enjoying all the privileges that status carries, I have only been tried once, and received only a sentence of community service. By contrast, if Salim had done what I did that day he would have been shot. As Israelis we thus use our privilege to resist in ways that for Palestinians it would be dangerous.
Slides 9 and 10: The family’s belongings are thrown out of the house
Once the family has been removed by force and resistance quelled, the Civil Administration officials ordered foreign workers employed by the commercial wrecking company they hired to quickly remove the family’s belongings. The living room and bedroom sets were ripped out and the family’s papers and pictures, together with the kid’s toys and school books, were thrown outside. Imagine the feelings of humiliation, invasion and rage felt by the family members.
Arabiya: Your home is your most sacred, intimate space. Image strangers coming into your bedroom and going through all your clothing, jewelry, papers and all. The feelings of humiliation is inexpressible.
Slide 11: The home is demolished
The bulldozer then came and demolished the home. In a tragic and ironic twist, it turns out that the bulldozer driver, who happened to be employed by the contractor, was a Palestinian hailing from another village that had been demolished in 1948. And he knew Salim.
Salim: Some neighbors tried to intervene but were pushed, together with me, down the hill, away from the house. Then I saw the bulldozer coming up the hill, escorted by soldiers. After some time, it began to demolish the home. Imagine yourself lying helpless on the ground watching your house being demolished…. I was surrounded by neighbors trying to comfort me. I couldn’t see my wife or children and had no idea what happened to them. Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, who tried to block the bulldozer and who was kicked and pushed as we all were, came to me and held my hand as the house was being demolished. “They won’t get away with this,” he told me. “We’ll let the whole world know what has happened here.”
Jeff: And then, together in the dust, Salim and I watched as the house was demolished. There were certain poignant moments when the meaning of what was happening broke through – like when the TV antenna collapsed. At one point, when the house was half-demolished, the bulldozer began backing away. I saw Micha run over to the driver and yell at him to go back and finish. Only later did I find out that the bulldozer driver was himself Palestinian, coming from a village near Jerusalem that had itself been demolished by Israel in 1948. He had tried to leave after the initial demolition when some of the house remained standing, but as he worked for the wrecking company he had no choice but to continue. That is part of the tragedy within tragedy of our situation. Within an hour or so it was over. The bulldozer left, the soldiers dispersed. Arabia had been taken to the hospital and most of the kids were eventually found. Only little Mohammed remained missing. He was found that evening sleeping under a rock in a nearby field.
Arabiya: In that demolition I lost everything. I lost all the memories of my life – my wedding, our years in Saudi Arabia – plus pictures, documents, belongings from my childhood. Everything that meant something to me personally. We lost all our possessions – our furniture, appliances. All our savings from all those years of work were gone. I wasn’t even aware of what was happening to me after I was taken to the hospital. Salim sent me to Jordan to be near my family, but I couldn’t tell them what happened, I couldn’t speak of it all. I missed my children. All of a sudden I was completely alone in the world, with nowhere to go, no one to talk to. People tried to comfort me, but I couldn’t hear them. It was like mourning. I was sunk into myself, disconnected, preoccupied with what would happen to us, the kids, worried about our future. Where would we live? Where would we get money to rebuild our lives?
Slide 12: Salim watching as his home is demolished
Slide 13: The demolition as witnessed by Gila Svirsky of the Coalition of Women for Peace
By chance, the day Salim and Arabiya’s house was demolished we at ICAHD, together with other Israeli and Palestinian organizations, were organizing a demonstration against the policy of house demolitions in front of the Civil Administration in the West Bank Israeli settlement of Beit El. When we received the phone call from Arabiya and others, we diverted two busloads of demonstrators to Anata. They stood on the ridge above the home and watched the entire demolition as if in a Greek tragedy, unable to intervene. It was the first time Israelis had witnessed such a thing.
Gila Svirsky, a leader of the Coalition of Women for Peace, wrote the following account:
Yesterday was a day I won’t ever forget. Neither will Salim and Arabiyeh Shawamreh or their six children.
We had planned a joint Israeli-Palestinian protest against home demolitions. The idea was to set up a tent on the site of a demolition, a tent that would serve several purposes: protest, solidarity, documentation, and compassionate listening to the family members. We planned to move this tent from site to site, wherever the Israeli army used its bulldozers. Yesterday’s inauguration of the tent was planned for opposite the so-called “civil administration” headquarters — the nerve center of Israel’s control of the occupied territories — those who actually do the dirty work of demolishing people’s homes and other acts of oppression.
Our bus from Jerusalem held activists from several peace movements — Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, and Peace Now. We are all partners in a coalition called the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and our demonstration was to be held jointly with the Palestinian Land Defense General Committee.
Through the bus microphone, I listened to Meir Margalit explain the action and sketch one chilling scenario. “If the soldiers try to prevent us from holding the demonstration, proceed in an orderly manner to the planned alternative site. There must not be violence on our side, but if the army engages in violence, do not separate from the Palestinians. The army will be more brutal to the Palestinians if the soldiers manage to separate us.”
It was a sobering thought as we drove across the Green Line and toward the protest tent. Suddenly a call came across a mobile phone and Meir took the mike again. “We have just had word that a demolition is taking place at this very moment not far from here.” It’s a rare occurrence to catch a demolition in progress, no less with a group of peace activists; most demolitions take place with virtually no warning, and hence no time to protest.
With no further discussion, we turned toward Anata on the edge of Jerusalem, a town composed almost entirely of Palestinian refugees who had lived in the Old City of Jerusalem and fled in 1967. They thought they had found refuge in Anata.
After driving the narrow unpaved streets of Anata for what seemed an interminable time, we finally located the area and the bus parked as close as possible. We still had to walk for ten minutes down narrow, zig-zagging dirt roads between crowded homes until we came to the outskirts of Anata. There we practically ran toward the edge of the hill and looked below — a beautiful home set into the pastoral valley with one of its walls now crumpled into rubble by a roaring bulldozer; a family and neighbors sobbing nearby; and a unit of Israeli soldiers preventing anyone else from approaching the scene.
The scene was horrific. We surged down the hill in our small group until the soldiers blocked our progress with their guns and bodies. There were scuffles trying to get past them, but more soldiers joined the barricade. M.K. Naomi Chazan who was with us demanded to see the order proclaiming this a “closed military zone,” as the soldiers claimed, and after several long minutes the officer complied. Who knows if the order was genuine or invented at the last minute. But the guns were real.
So there we stood on the side of the hill and watched with an unbearable sense of helplessness as the “civil” administration’s bulldozer took the house apart wall by wall. He drove through the front garden with a profusion of flowers and a lemon tree and slammed the front door as if he were God Almighty. Backing away, he slammed again until the entire front was shattered and dangling from metal rods. Then he came from every side, slamming and crashing his shovel against the walls. Finally he lifted off the roof, barely suspended, and sent it crashing below. When that was done, he went around the back of the house and crashed through all the fruit trees, including a small olive stand. He saw a water tank on a platform and knocked that over, the tank tumbling down and a cascade of water drenching the trees now uprooted and broken. He saw two more tanks nearby and knocked those over as well. I have never seen anyone in the Middle East deliberately waste so much water. Then he noticed a shack in the corner of the yard and he churned over to that, his cleated treads grinding and squealing over the rubble he had to climb over. The shack was an easy swipe for his shovel, and we were surprised to see two doves fly out, one white and one black, frightened out of their wits. They flapped their wings briefly and landed not far from their former home.
All the while, a crowd of Palestinian neighbors and young men were gathering behind us on the mountain crest, cat-calling and jeering. From our Israeli group, many engaged the soldiers in challenges: “How can you sleep at night?”; “Is this what is meant by defending Israel?”; “Don’t you understand the immorality of this action?”, and the like. Every single soldier, from the high commander to the lowest GI responded the same way: “This is legal; we’re only following orders.” One woman tried to yell at the bulldozer driver every time there was a lull in the din. But nothing we could think to say stopped the roar of devastation.
By then I had managed to move down past the soldiers and was with the family outside their former home. One woman was sobbing and I put my arms around her. When I began to cry too, she put her arms around me. A weeping girl joined us and we both encircled her with our arms. I later learned that this was 14-year-old Lena and this house had once been hers.
Then suddenly, gunshots rang out. Some of the young Palestinian men had begun throwing stones — from a very great distance, I note — and Israeli soldiers retaliated by opening fire and running up the hill after them. The soldiers were shooting as they ran, setting off their guns like the Wild West. I saw the commander and told him that this was illegal, a clear violation of the “open fire regulations” of the Israeli army, which stipulate that a soldier’s life be in danger before he opens fire. I demanded repeatedly that he tell the soldiers to stop. The commander shrugged and didn’t bother answering. After ten minutes or so, the shooting stopped. Amazingly, no “stray” bullets had hit any of our group, although the Palestinians, as usual, were not as lucky. A man approached the crowd of neighbors, said a few words, and instantly two women let out piercing shrieks and tore up the hill, running at top speed. The son of one of them had been hit by a bullet. I don’t know his condition. Already in the hospital was Arabiyeh, the mother of the family, who had been violently struck by soldiers when she tried to prevent them from destroying her home.
By then there was nothing to do but sift through the rubble. I picked through the rocks and talked to Jeff Halper, who is organizing the program to “adopt” Palestinian families whose homes are slated for demolition. Jeff had sat in the living room of this home last week, now a pile of jagged concrete slabs, hearing Salim and Arabiyeh talk about the problem of Palestinians not being issued construction permits. “Just last night,” Salim had told Jeff during the demolition, “friends and family had sat in this home watching the World Cup soccer game.” Now there are six children without TV, toys, books, diapers, bottles, or a place to lay their heads. Instead, they remain with the trauma of the Israeli bulldozer turning their home and security into a bottomless pit of hatred for this occupation and the people who carry it out.
For the first time, I also noticed the scenery around us. On a nearby mountain — not a distant one, mind you — were the classrooms and amphitheater of the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University. Had they looked out their classroom window, the students studying ethics and justice could have had a clear view of the scene of brute power and the trampling of this family’s lives. And surrounding everything, on mountains and hilltops to our left, right, and center, were the bright orange rooftops of the settler homes in the Occupied Territories. The settlers have no problem whatsoever in getting construction permits. And no one would dare uproot their olive trees, waste their water, harm their homes, or turn their children out into the streets.
A lot of us picked up olive branches from the yard as we walked back to the buses. Most of the branches, like mine, were crushed by the treads of power run amuck.
Slide 14: The ruins of the home
Looking at the ruins of the Shawamreh home is their neighbor, Muhammad Dandis, who lived in the home just in the background. His home was demolished in 2005.
Slides 15-17: The first rebuilding of the home (see the tent was family was given at the right-hand side)
Salim: As soon as our home was destroyed, people from the Palestinian Land Defense Committee and ICAHD came to me with the suggestion that we rebuild it.
Slide 18: Issa Samander of the Palestinian Land Defense Committee at the rebuilding site
Slide 19: Arabiya working with two Israeli women to rebuild her home
Arabiya: When I came back to the Red Cross tent where Salim and the kids were living, I supported the idea of rebuilding the house, even though I was scared about going through the trauma of demolition again. When the Israeli peace people came and we started to rebuild I was there, rebuilding, with Israelis. In the rented apartment where we now live we are not really in home. We go back to home to visit the home sometimes, watering the plants that survived (2 olive trees and fig tree), building a stone fence.
Slide 20: The first time Palestinian kids meet Israelis who are not soldiers
Slide 21: Salim offering food to the rebuilding participants
Jeff: Rebuilding is such a significant activity on so many levels. It represents, of course, a political act of resistance to the Occupation, since it is illegal to rebuild a demolished home and we all risk arrest (though the risk of actual fines and imprisonment is far greater to the Palestinians than to us Israeli Jews). It is an important act of solidarity with families who are traumatized, scared, financially ruined, disoriented and homeless. It is therapeutic in that it gives these families something concrete to do to address their loss, and it is meaningful to Israelis who can translate their political support for Palestinian rights into actual, practical and needed action. It constitutes a genuine act of peace-making, since rebuilding can take weeks, during which Palestinians and Israelis truly come to know and trust each other – as well as exposing Israelis to the realities of the Occupation they would otherwise have no way of experiencing or understanding.
And rebuilding is a significant vehicle for advocacy carrying two seminal messages: Palestinians and Israelis are not enemies (indeed, a slogan of the Israeli peace movement is: We refuse to be enemies); and Israel’s policies such as house demolitions derive from an effort to confine the Palestinians to small enclaves or even drive them from the country altogether, a pro active policy of taking control of the country that has nothing to do with security.
Slide 22: Celebrating the completion of the shell of the new Shawamreh home (August 2, 1998)
When the concrete was poured on the new home, all the participants celebrated. Pictured here is Uri Avneri presenting to Salim, with Arabiya looking on, a framed parchment document that read: “The House of Peace. This house of peace was built by joint efforts of Israeli and Palestinian people of peace. The building was completed on August 2nd, s1998.” Also in the picture are, from the left, Gila Svirsky, Arabia, Salim, Uri Avneri, Issa Samandar, Teddy Katz (with the moustache), a resracher of the 1948 war, Latif Dori of the Israel Committee for Israeli-Palestinian Dialogue, Issam Arouri of the Palestinian Land Defense Committee and Ata Jabar from the Baka Valley near Hebron, whose home has been demolished twice and rebuilt each time by ICAHD.
Jeff: Despite the festive pouring of concrete for the roof, we all had the feeling that the Civil Administration would return to demolish the home. A number of us, including several members of the Christian Peacemaker Team, decided to sleep over. Sure enough…
(Slides 23-25): The second demolition (August 3, 1998)
Jeff: …at 4:40 AM the Civil Administration officials, accompanied by soldiers, arrived to demolish the house for the second time.
Slide 26: Salim’s face says it all
In this picture, Salim watches the demolition with a mixture of passivity, resignation but a seething anger. The blankets we slept in are still on the porch, and the morning coffee has not even been poured.
Jeff: The army descended on the site so quickly in the early hours of the morning and the demolition was completely so quickly – the cement, after all, was still wet, so the bulldozer had only to push over the structure – that we didn’t even have a chance to chain ourselves to the building.
Slides 27-30: Rebuilding the home for the second time
As peace activists we cannot let the Occupation win. And so ICAHD and other activists set out once more to rebuild the Shawamreh home as an act of political resistance. It makes little sense to rebuild homes that will be demolished as humanitarian gestures – and the Palestinians would not agree to building with Israelis if it was framed as “good Israelis” helping their Palestinian “victims,” a complete distortion of the situation. But ICAHD has initiated (and funded) the building of more than 165 homes in the years since the first demolition of the Shawamreh house. So even if homes are demolished and rebuilt 2, 3, 4, or more times, more than 165 joint acts of resistance by Israelis and Palestinians is significant.
Slide 31: The rebuilt home (April 3, 2001)
Finally, a new modest home arose upon the ruins of the old one, and the Shawamreh family moved in. (Notice the beginning of an Israeli by-pass highway on the opposite slope.)
Slide 32: No time lost
In the later afternoon, after having moved their belongings into their new homes, Salim, Arabiya and their children moved in – more quietly and apprehensively this time. By the early morning the Civil Administrations officials has showed up again to demolish the home. The sign in the window of the jeep to the left, Tsahal in Hebrew, the IDF, gives lie to the fiction that the Civil Administration is indeed “civil.”
Slides 33-38: The third demolition (April 4, 2001)
For the third time the process of demolition repeated itself: ICAHD activists resisted the demolition (Slide 33); Micha supervises the removal of the belongings (Slide 34); the family’s belongings are removed (this time by guest workers from West Africa) (Slides 35-36); and the home is demolished (Slides 37-38). This time, however, the Civil Administration brought in a pneumatic drill to destroy the home’s foundations so it could not be rebuilt again.
Slides 39-44: The demolition of a family
Salim (Slide 39): You know, the demolition of a house means the demolition of a family. Everything changes after that. Demolition is the violent violation of the very essence of a family and of every person in it. Do you know what a home is? Think about it. Even the word is one of the most intimate words we have, like “mother,” “father,” “family.” The law defines it as “a man’s castle,” a place of special sanctity and meaning. It is the place where your most intimate life is carried out – where you live safely with your family, where you create your own world through the pictures on the wall, the furniture, the garden, where your kids live and have their toys and their basic sense of security. It’s a place you can call your own, that you have built with the money you earned and where you provide for your family.
And my wife, Arabiya (Slide 40). For two months after the demolition she didn’t speak. I sent her to the hospital in Jordan, to be near her family. Until now, four years after the first demolition, she has not returned to herself. She has lost the joy of living, and sometimes I can see she is leaving me; she drifts off and becomes very silent.
Ashraf, my oldest son (Slide 41), had to leave school at the age of 16 to help support the family in its financial distress. He is now a casual laborer on the Israeli job market. During the Intifada, when Israeli tanks drove up to the rented apartment where the Shawamreh’s lived and pointed their turrets at our building, Lamia, my 14 year-old daughter (Slide 42), became terrified. So great was the trauma that she was struck blind. I rushed her to the hospital, where after two hours her sight returned. Imagine what is going on within a young girl to trigger such a reaction – and then, to grasp what Occupation does to Palestinian families, multiply it hundreds of thousands of times.
My fundamental human right of providing a shelter for my family was violated. But it goes much deeper than that. I have lost the role of protector of my children. We now live in a rented apartment in Kufr Aqab, the northernmost Jerusalem neighborhood bordering on Ramallah. When the Israeli warplanes and Apache helicopters flew low over our home to attack Ramallah, my kids became so scared they couldn’t stand on their legs, and their stomachs hurt. I said to them: “Don’t worry, I am here. I’ll protect you.” Do you know what my nine year-old daughter Wafa said to me (Slide 43)? “You can’t protect us. We saw what the soldiers did to you when they handcuffed you and threw you outside when they demolished our home. You can’t protect us.” [Tears come to Salim’s eyes.] Such words of a daughter to her father is like putting a knife in my heart.
My kids are now scared all the time. Mohammad (Slide 44) will not go to the bathroom in the night unless my wife comes and takes him by the hand. Before the demolition their grades in school were excellent. Now they get marks in the 50s, and they have trouble concentrating. The Israelis say they are demolishing only homes of terrorists, but that’s not true. They demolish homes of ordinary people.
Slide 45: Rebuilding yet again
Jeff: One consideration constantly in our minds as Israeli activists is the well-being of the Palestinian families with which we work. It’s difficult to convey the courage of families who choose to resist the Occupation. They face the threat of violence and intimidation, of fines and imprisonment, and above all the continued trauma of their children and the strains such a struggle would place on any family. When Salim says that the demolition of a home means the demolition of a family, he means it – especially when the family continues its struggle for a home through successive demolitions.
Families, then, are often torn over whether to continue or not. We try to be supportive – in fact Salim has become ICAHD’s main intermediary with families considering rebuilding – but the families’ well-being is obviously our first consideration. Thus, after the third demolition, we progressed very slowly on rebuilding the home for the fourth time. By this time the Shawamreh family had become very well known among the Israeli authorities. Since Salim and Arabiya have Jerusalem residence, a status that gives them access to Jerusalem and all of Israel for purposes of employment, prayer, a relatively normal daily life and child allowances (an important source of income for poor families), they are loath to endanger it. Moving into their home in Area C of the West Bank would mean just that. Like thousands of other Palestinian families they are faced with a draconian choice: have a home but no access to employment, or a job but access to a home. Their prominence as resisters meant that Arabiya and Salim could not live in their home without attracting attention. As a result, we at ICAHD have helped them rent an apartment within the Jerusalem city limits, meaning that the rebuilding could assume a more gradual pace.
Slide 46: Arabiya working on the construction of her home
Slide 47: The fourth demolition (April 3, 2003)
Even before the house was completed, the Civil Administration returned to demolish it.
Slide 48: Rabbi Arik Ascherman, head of the Israeli organization Rabbis for Human Rights, being arrested as he resisted the demolition of the home.
Slide 49: Once more Salim surveys the ruins of his home.
Slidea 50-55: Fourth rebuilding
In August 2003, ICAHD, together with the local authorities of Anata, initiated a work camp for the rebuilding of the Shawamreh home for the fourth time. Because of the trauma of demolition and its cost on the family’s mental health, the Shawamrehs decided to rebuild as an act of resistance, but to make the home a center for Palestinian-Israeli strategizing over ways to bring a just peace to the country.
Slide 56: Dedicating Beit Arabiya (August, 2003)
The peace and strategizing center was named Beit Arabiya, the House of Arabiya. At the dedication ceremony Mike Alewitz, an American labor muralist, unveiled a mural depicting a dead Caterpillar bulldozer used in demolitions sitting atop a pile of dead armaments and flanked by columns of workers – Arabs, Jews and internationals – marching against the occupations of Palestine and Iraq. Hovering over the scene are the figures of Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan, two women killed in Gaza during demolition operations (Nuha, a pregnant mother of 10, was killed in her bed at night when the army blew up a home next to hers), to whom Beit Arabiya is dedicated.
Slides 57-59: Celebrating the new home/Beit Arabiya
Many residents of the town of Anata came out for the dedication (Slide 57). A dance troupe from the nearby Shu’afat refugee camp performed (Slide 58) and olive trees were planted around the house (Slide 59: Salim and Jeff plant a tree).
(Slides 60-62): Beit Arabiya activities
Beit Arabiya is a place in which human rights activists from Palestine and Israel, as well as internationals, can meet in order to develop strategies, programs and materials crucial to the struggle for a just peace in the Middle East. The model for Beit Arabiya came out of the Scandinavian folk school movement (Folkhogskola), which also gave rise to the Highlander School in the US, one the most effective and influential sources of grassroots social change over the past 70 years. Beit Arabiya offers courses for activists, venues for meetings and opportunities for strategizing and for developing campaigns. It is also a place where internationals can interact with local activists, both Palestinians and Israelis.
Because most activist groups are voluntary in nature, small and under-resourced, they tend to be overwhelmed by events. They lack the energy, space and resources to analyze the political situation in depth and to develop required and effective strategies, programs and materials. Beit Arabiya helps fill this need. It provides support staff and resources, as well as a welcoming physical venue for meetings and activities. Beit Arabiya is supported by donations through ICAHD.
Slide 63: Still in the cross-hairs
On June 5, 2009, after a delay of more than two years, a three judge panel of the Israeli Supreme Court (Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Ayala Procaccia and David Cheshin) rejected the Shawamreh family’s second appeal to have the 17-year demolition order on their home rescinded. The Shawamrehs’ petition to the Court to issue them a building permit was also rejected. As of Sunday, June 7th, the Civil Administration is authorized to demolish their home for the fifth time. It is clear that the Shawamrehs cannot find justice in the Israeli court system. One of the family’s chief claims, rejected out of hand by the Court, argues that the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an Occupying Power from extending its law and administration into an occupied territory, rendering the very process of granting or denying permits to Palestinians patently illegal under international humanitarian law.
Slide 64: Let the word go forth: We refuse to be enemies!
While Beit Arabiya serves as venue for strategizing, networking, training and meeting in Palestine, Salim, Arabiya, Jeff and other ICAHD staff and activists go out into the world to conduct extensive campaigns of advocacy. They advise with government officials (many of whom have come on ICAHD tours of the Occupied Territories), lobby decision-makers, participate in conferences, cooperate with hundreds of civil society groups the world over and, while imparting information and analyses, also help formulae campaigns of action. Here are Salim and Jeff in Atlanta, where they just told the story of house demolitions in a 15 minute interview on prime time.
Slide 65: Beit Arabiya demolished for the fifth time (January 23, 2012)
Slide 66: Apartheid, warehousing or a genuine solution
Recent Israeli governments have been trying to institutionalize an apartheid system, based on a Palestinian Bantustan on the model of what apartheid-era South Africa established. It set up ten non-viable “homelands” for the black African majority on only 11% of the country’s land in order to supply South Africa with cheap labor while relieving it of its black population, thus making possible a European dominated “democracy.” This is precisely what Israel is intending – its Palestinian Bantustan encompassing around 15% of historic Palestine (map: Slide 65) – but with a crucial caveat: Palestinian workers will not be allowed into Israel. Having discovered a cheaper source of labor, some 300,000 foreign workers imported from China, the Philippines, Thailand, Rumania and West Africa, augmented by its own Arab, Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Russian and Eastern European citizens, Israel can afford to lock them out even while withholding from them a viable economy of their own with unfettered ties to the surrounding Arab countries. From every point of view, historically, culturally, politically and economically, the Palestinians have been defined as “surplus humanity;” nothing remains to do with them except warehousing, which the concerned international community appears willing to allow Israel to do.
All this leads to what has been called the “warehousing” of “surplus population” – poor people the world over, prisoners, “illegal” immigrants, political dissidents and millions of others. It represents the best, if bleakest, term for what Israel is constructing for the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. Since warehousing is a global phenomenon and Israel is pioneering a model for it, what is happening to the Palestinians should be of concern to everyone. It may constitute an entirely new crime against humanity, and as such should be subject to the universal jurisdiction of the world’s courts just as are other egregious violations of human rights. In this sense Israel’s “Occupation” has implications far beyond a localized conflict between two peoples. If Israel can package and export its layered Matrix of Control, a system of permanent repression that combines Kafkaesque administration, law and planning with overtly coercive forms of control over a defined population hemmed in by hostile gated communities (settlements in this case), walls and obstacles of various kinds to movement, then, as Naomi Klein writes starkly, every country will look like Israel/Palestine: “One part looks like Israel; the other part looks like Gaza.” In other words, a Global Palestine.