More than one hundred Israeli soldiers turned up at Nureddin Amro’s home at 5:30 in the morning last Tuesday, accompanied by bulldozers and dogs. It quickly became clear that the soldiers had one item on their agenda: demolition.
Nureddin tried to reason with the soldiers, only to be told “you cannot negotiate with us,” he said.
“We tried to oppose it [the demolition], but they pushed all of us inside the house and started to hit the kids and the women,” he added. “They started to beat us and to point their weapons at us.”
They included Nureddin and his brother, Sharif, both of whom are blind, their wives and seven children, all under fourteen years old. When the family did not immediately leave the house, a soldier threatened them and said he would demolish the house while they were still inside, Nureddin said.
The military also cut the Internet, phone and water connections.
“They beat him so bad”
Yahya Totah, a neighbor of the Amros, recalled how one soldier “kept saying, tear it down, tear it down.”
“I asked him: ‘do you have a permit or a court order to come here and do what you do to us?,’” Totah told The Electronic Intifada. “He looked me in the eye and said they didn’t have a permit to demolish. In my personal opinion, they have no rules.”
“My brother came back from work when he heard [about the soldiers’ arrival],” Totah added. “And they wouldn’t let him come down the street. They beat him so bad.”
The Israeli authorities also demolished parts of other houses along the road.
Totah said that Israeli soldiers knocked down a small room where children played, as well as horse stalls. They even destroyed a year’s supply of horse feed belonging to the Totah family, with soldiers stepping on and soiling it on purpose, he said.
The Amro family has lived here for seventy years, they say.
For the time being, they plan to stay in what remains of their house. Two of its rooms were spared during the demolition. But if these rooms are later destroyed, they will have to move in with other relatives.
Nureddin has expressed the need for legal support in order to stay further demolition. In addition, the sewage system is currently damaged and poses a health risk to the family.
The family has long felt threatened by Israel’s efforts to force Palestinians out of Jerusalem. “We are afraid they will remove all the houses, and in ten years’ time, there will be a [Jewish-only] settlement here,” said Nureddin, a founder of the Siraj al-Quds school for the blind.
Across the street from the Amro home is a large, empty field which belonged to Palestinian families and served as a playground for kids from the neighborhood for a long time. Approximately five years ago, the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality enclosed the field with a high fence. Today, Palestinian residents are forbidden from entering.
The municipality will not officially state what it intends to build on the land. But in the past twenty years residents have heard everything from an American consulate to a hotel, a religious school and a national park.
The street along which the Amro family’s house sits is a main thoroughfare that residents of Wadi al-Joz and nearby neighborhoods like Silwan use to reach the Old City. It connects outer parts of East Jerusalem to the city’s center.
But the road is not maintained by the municipality. When it rains, the road frequently becomes flooded.
Meir Margalit, a councilor in the Jerusalem Municipality, said that it was impossible to demolish houses without an official demolition order. Yet the authorities have demolished houses in East Jerusalem without the documentation they theoretically require on many occasions.
The Israeli police refused to respond to queries about the demolition of the Amro family’s home.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, has calculated that 47 Palestinian housing units were demolished in East Jerusalem during 2014. Some 167 persons, including 77 children, were left homeless as a result.
In total, 545 housing units were demolished in East Jerusalem between 2004 and last year, according to B’Tselem, leaving 2,115 Palestinians homeless.
The Jerusalem municipality recently demanded that Palestinians clean up outside their homes on the street where the Amros live.
This drew a bitter response from Nureddin Amro. Pointing to a tree which Israeli forces destroyed with a bulldozer, he said: “Look how they [the Israeli authorities] clean, look how they cut trees, look how they cut smiles from our kids.”
Jesse Rubin is an intern at the Palestine-Israel Journal and a freelance reporter and activist living in Jerusalem. Twitter: @JesseJDRubin.