A further report by a member of ICAHD UK who is currently on the West Bank with the Christian Peacemakers Team.
Ten days have now passed since the agonising house demolitions in East Jerusalem. Hundreds of Israeli troops and border police stormed the Wadi al-Hummus area of Sur Bahir in the early hours of July 22nd and began forcibly evicting Palestinian families from their homes in preparation for the demolition of 11 buildings in the area. I have watched several videos of the event and talked with four British activists injured by border police during that morning. I have agonised over the story of Ishmael and his family, told by an Israeli activist as she watched the demolitions at ﬁrst hand and stood in close solidarity with Ishmael and his family. His sense of shock and disbelief as he waited for it to happen; his repeated whispers of hope that it wouldn’t happen after all. He and the family had chosen the colours of the decor so carefully - the bright pink kitchen cabinets; all had been so clearly done with love and care and with bright hope for the future, as is the case for any of us, looking forward to moving into a beautiful new home. In the worst picture I saw of this event, soldiers were laughing and clapping each other on the back, as they watched the building they had just dynamited collapse. Many other onlookers stood around clapping too.
The work of CPT is conﬁned to Hebron and the nearby villages, but our partners, ISM, were present and suffered considerably from the violence of the army and the border police. Four of them had chained themselves together in the bathroom of Ishmael’s new home and waited with the family. When the border police arrived, they were beaten mercilessly, resulting in some quite bad injuries. 12 Palestinians and 4 of the British members of ISM were hospitalised at Makassed Hospital in East Jerusalem after Israeli forces kicked them in the back and some down ﬂights of stairs. Two Palestinians were reportedly shot at close range with rubber-coated steel bullets. B., one of the the ISM members, was back at work in Hebron last Friday and showed me her broken ﬁngers and bound up arm, all delivered by, what Israel calls, “the most moral army in the world.” We are very proud of them - ISM that is, not the Israeli military!
And all of this violence and misery comes about because the Separation Barrier, built long after the land had been purchased and the permit had been obtained for these new houses, from the Palestinian Authority (under whose control this segment of land lies) was now deemed to be “too close” to the Barrier for security. I remember the same story a few years back when I was part of a house building project with Icahd. In that instance, the Israelis had sited a military outpost next door to a family home which had now become a “security risk”. The family were forced to demolish their home of many years standing themselves. As Jonathan Cook points out: “Western states have not only turned a blind eye to Israel's outrages, but are actively assisting in silencing anyone who dares to speak out, leaving Israel to luxuriate in its impunity.” (Blog, dated July 28th, 2019).
Nearer to us in Hebron, I went to interview a family who had had their home-to-be demolished a month ago. The house belonged to Bara’ Al- Rajabi and his brother Lafe and was due to house 30 people from four families in four separate apartments. After they had completed it, the Israeli Civil Administration arrived and told them to stop building! They gave the family a paper and said it was from the Israeli courts. This happened 20 days before Ramadan began, which did not give enough time for the Palestinian family to ﬁnish the necessary paperwork.
On the morning of the demolition, the Israeli military surprised the family with bulldozers at 7:00am. The commander said that they were instructed by the court to come and demolish the house. In fact, the Israeli forces did not have a demolition order to give to the family. After the initial stop order, the family had not undertaken any further work on the house, believing that they were going through the proper legal process to enable the building to be preserved. But it was demolished.
I wanted to ﬁnd out how the family was feeling now; how were they coping and what were their plans for the immediate future? I sat down with Bara and Lafe in the home that still was theirs. Bara and Lafe are dairy farmers. Bara brought iced lemon juice and fruit for my translator and myself to enjoy. As always in these situations, I was struck by the calm resignation of the two brothers “We have been here before” they explained - one of their large dairy farms had been destroyed by the Israeli military 17 years ago. This time they had experienced three tragedies close to one another. Since December they had suffered the death of one of their number, the wife of their cousin and this was soon followed by the loss of a large number of their cattle to a virus infection. The demolition of their new home
into which the four families had sunk all their savings seemed a lesser tragedy by comparison. The brothers also commented on their good fortune compared with many who face demolition - at least they still had their original home to live in, overcrowded though it was. They were not homeless and they still had each other. They have been presented with a bill for the demolition of their house, but they have no money left to pay it.
The injustice of all these actions screams at us for redress. The loss of home in this brutal manner is such a common occurrence here - yet I ﬁnd it very hard to get my mind round it. Nor should I. Home is so fundamental to our well being, so deeply part of what enables us to be a human being. To have it wrenched away for no reason at all should not be tolerated by any of us. I returned from the visit angry and depressed.
I was grateful to my dear next door neighbour Zelder for bringing me the homely comfort of food - a steaming plateful of rice and vegetables - when she heard me return. Zelder had been entertaining 70 people to lunch today - the women’s section of the Ramallah Chamber of Commerce. They had been up on the roof, eating a leisurely lunch, screened off by a tarpaulin and hoping the military next door would leave them in peace.