Israel forces Palestinians to demolish their own homes

Palestinian women from Lyd sit on top of the rubble of their home after it was destroyed by Israel, December 2010. (Oren Ziv/ActiveStills)


More than 100 Palestinian protesters and their supporters blocked a main street in the city of Lyd on 28 December, demonstrating against the recent demolition of Palestinian homes and what residents say is a rise in racism and police brutality.

On 13 December, officials with the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), the government agency that manages and leases state land, entered the Palestinian section of the segregated city flanked by bulldozers and hundreds of municipal, riot squad and border police forces. The bulldozers then demolished seven homes all belonging to the Abu Eid family in Lyd.

The demolition, which took several hours, subsequently displaced 67 members of the entire family, including dozens of children, during one of the worst rainstorms of the season. Dozens of other Palestinian homes have been demolished over the years in Lyd, which is a few miles east of Tel Aviv inside the state of Israel.

Lyd is a so-called “mixed city,” as is the neighboring city of Ramle, with significant Palestinian minority communities living alongside the Jewish majority. Palestinian residents of these communities have been chronically discriminated against and brutalized by police.

Oren Ziv, a photojournalist with Israeli-based photography collective ActiveStills, witnessed the demolitions of the Abu Eid homes and told The Electronic Intifada that the family knew that the ILA had issued demolition orders against their homes, but they were given no notice of exactly when the destruction would take place.

“During the destruction, I climbed onto the roof of a neighboring house and I saw several bulldozers demolishing the fourth house,” Ziv said. “Many neighbors and a few activists were watching it all happen. I’ve been documenting [home demolitions] for seven years and this was one of the biggest demolitions I’ve ever seen.”

Ziv added that when the bulldozers finished demolishing the seventh house, children were starting to come back from school only to find their homes reduced to rubble.

“People were trying to salvage their papers and belongings from underneath the destroyed homes,” he said. “It was hard to find a solution for the family, especially during the terrible weather. They built a protest tent and a tent camp.”

Ma’an News Agency reported that the homes were among more than 100 in the city “under immediate demolition orders” following a decision in the Israeli parliament to destroy an estimated 4,000 “illegal” housing structures “in a plan said to cost millions of shekels” (“Family takes stock after mass Lod demolition,” 13 December 2010).

The ILA claims that the homes and structures that were demolished, or are facing demolition, were built in an “agricultural” zone, and have therefore denied retroactive building permits to residents of Lyd.

Members of the Abu Eid family told Ma’an that they had “paid rent for decades to a state-owned company to use the land, but [were] only allowed to build up to 100 square meter homes since it was zoned as agricultural … As the family grew, it requested but was declined approval to expand their houses.” After they lost a series of appeals, the family was told by the local court to expect demolitions.

Ziv said that after the destruction, the Abu Eid family placed a banner alongside the tents declaring it the “Abu Eid refugee camp.”

He added that the presence of the Israeli border police, usually designated to areas along checkpoints and during demonstrations in the occupied West Bank, was a stark indication of how the Israeli government views Palestinian communities — whether inside Israel or in the West Bank and Gaza strip.

“In the last few years, Israel has been bringing in the border police to deal with Palestinian communities, or poor communities [in Israel],” he said. “I think it shows where the real borders are inside Israeli society — they’re not where you would expect. Israel brings them to guard the borders between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, and within communities in Lyd.”

Ziv added that Israeli police returned to the area a week later, with the clear intention of destroying the Abu Eid family’s tent camp, but residents and solidarity activists blocked the police forces and prevented the destruction.

Following the 28 December protest, residents and activists in Lyd vowed to stage similar demonstrations on a weekly basis.

Arafat Ismayil, a leader of the popular committee in Dhammash, a Palestinian village beside Lyd that is under constant threat of home demolitions, told EI that the recent activism has strengthened solidarity between his community, Lyd and Ramle.

“What happened in Lyd is the same as what will happen in Dhammash,” Ismayil said. “We feel that the homes that were demolished in Lyd were our homes, and the Abu Eid family are our family too. If we are together in solidarity, hopefully the Israeli government won’t demolish another home. We’re hoping to inspire more activism within our communities.”

Meanwhile, home demolitions continued in the Negev region, and in numerous places around the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Negev

On 29 December, Israeli forces bulldozed several homes belonging to one family in the “unrecognized” Bedouin village of al-Sadir, according to Ma’an News Agency (“Israel continues Negev home demolitions,” 29 December 2010).

More than 80,000 indigenous Palestinian Bedouins live in dozens of so-called “unrecognized villages” in the Negev region, communities that the Israeli government refuses to acknowledge despite the fact that they have existed before the state’s establishment in 1948. People living in such villages are denied social services, including running water and electricity, and face regular home demolitions.

Less than a week earlier, the Bedouin village of al-Araqib was destroyed for the eighth time since July 2010. Arab News reported that Israeli bulldozers returned to al-Araqib on the morning of 23 December, flanked by dozens of police officers who “acted violently” towards villagers who attempted to prevent the destruction of their homes (“Israeli Bedouin village razed for the 8th time,” 24 December 2010).

Police declared the area a “closed military zone” and prevented access to journalists. Afterwards, residents and solidarity activists working with the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, a political representative body for Palestinian citizens of Israel, once again helped rebuild the homes and structures that were destroyed, Arab News reported.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), an Israeli land institution, has been a driving force behind the destruction of al-Araqib and many other Bedouin communities in the Negev.

The JNF plans to build a forest on the village land, continuing a historic policy of cutting off indigenous populations from their land since Israel’s establishment in 1948.

As The Electronic Intifada has reported, international human rights organizations have openly condemned the repeated destruction of al-Araqib and Israel’s policies of violent dispossession of indigenous populations.

Occupied West Bank

Jerusalem

The Palestine News Network (PNN) reported that Israeli forces destroyed an agricultural storehouse, a gas station and other industrial structures in the village of Hazma, near Jerusalem, on 29 December (“Israel Demolishes Industrial Buildings North of Jerusalem, Settlers Uproot 30 Olive Trees,” 29 December 2010). PNN added that at the same time, Israeli bulldozers razed sections of land in the Sheikh Anbar district near the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem.

In the at-Tur neighborhood, also on 29 December, Ma’an News Agency reported that several structures were demolished by Jerusalem municipality police as bulldozers uprooted dozens of olive trees ([Arabic only], 29 December 2010.)

Several days earlier, two Palestinian families were forced to demolish their own homes in Sur Bahir village. The families had received demolition orders from Jerusalem Municipality officials three days before, citing “illegal construction” (“Two Palestinian families demolish own homes under municipal orders in Sur Bahir,” SILWANIC, 25 December 2010).

Maryam Iraqi, a member of one of the families, told the Wadi Hilweh Information Center (SILWANIC) that they were forced to destroy the homes themselves, or would face a huge bill if the municipality demolished it. “When they would come to demolish [our home],” Iraqi added, “we would not be able to take the furniture out. The municipality gave us a one-week period in which to destroy our home ourselves.”

SILWANIC added, “The Israeli state does not provide alternative housing or financial compensation to Palestinian families whose homes are ordered to be demolished, going so far as to actually charge families for demolition costs.”

According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are faced with discriminatory housing and building policies, forcing residents to build homes without obtaining building permits — thereby designating the homes as “illegal” and subject to demolition (“East Jerusalem: Policy of discrimination in planning, building and land expropriation”).

In Ras al-Amoud, 13 Palestinians were left homeless after being forced to demolish their own home on 21 December, following a demolition order posted on their door by Israeli police. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) reported that the families were faced with the decision either to demolish their own home and pay a fine of 60,000 shekels (approximately $17,000 US) “or refuse, and watch as soldiers demolish their house and punish them with a fine of 120,000 shekels ($34,000),” ISM stated. “Soldiers showed up outside with a bulldozer. Finally, on 21 December, they tore down their own house” (“13 homeless after home demolition in Ras al Amoud,” 24 December 2010).

After their home was razed to the ground, the family constructed a few tents with their possessions stacked to one side.

United Nations officials visited areas of occupied East Jerusalem last week, and condemned Israel’s ongoing policies of home demolitions in the city, according to Agence-France Presse (“UN envoys criticize Israel home demolitions,” 23 December 2010). Barbara Shenstone, a field worker with the UN Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), which oversees services for Palestinian refugees, admonished Israel’s policies as “cruel and distressing.”

“While children around the world are enjoying the holiday season in their homes, these children have suffered the trauma and indignity of watching their homes destroyed in the presence of their parents,” Shenstone added.

The day before, Maxwell Gaylard, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, said that “The government of Israel must take immediate steps to cease demolitions and evictions in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem.”

The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) released a report documenting the destruction of 49 homes and structures over a one-week period in the West Bank’s “Area C,” which includes East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, encompassing nearly 60 percent of the West Bank (“Report: Protection of Civilians,” December 8-14, 2010 [PDF]).

Under the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the mid-1990s, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were carved up into areas A, B and C, the latter of which indicates full Israeli control. Under the Oslo regulations, Area C, which includes East Jerusalem, is administered and controlled by the Israeli government and its military. Approximately 40,000 Palestinians live in Area C.

In its report, UNOCHA said that between 8 and 14 December, 29 buildings, including homes, animal structures and an elementary school, were demolished in Khirbet Tana, near Nablus in the northern West Bank. The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 61 Palestinians, including 13 children. “This is the third time this community has suffered extensive demolitions since 2005,” UNOCHA stated.

The report added that 14 water cisterns were destroyed in the Bedouin communities of Umm ad Daraj, Khashem ad Daraj, both near Hebron, and eight trees were uprooted as four vegetable stalls were destroyed in one area of the Jordan Valley.

In addition, UNRWA released a similar report on 23 December stating that there has been an increase in demolitions in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

In all of 2010, states the report, “396 Palestinian structures were demolished in East Jerusalem and other areas under full Israeli control in the West Bank. This compares to 275 in the previous year — an increase of almost 45 percent. As a result this year, 561 people have been displaced, including 280 children, and the livelihoods of over 3,000 people have also been affected” (“The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, condemns Jerusalem home demolitions and assists affected families,” 23 December 2010).

Days earlier, leading international human rights advocacy organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 166-page report documenting the effects of Israeli policies of dispossession and discrimination, and called on Israel “in addition to abiding by its international legal obligation to withdraw the settlements, to end these violations of Palestinians’ rights (“Israel/West Bank: Separate and Unequal,” 19 December 2010).”

HRW stated in its press release on the report that it “looked at both Area C and East Jerusalem and found that the two-tier system in effect in both areas provides generous financial benefits and infrastructure support to promote life in Jewish settlements, while deliberately withholding basic services, punishing growth, and imposing harsh conditions on Palestinian communities.”

“Such different treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin that is not narrowly tailored to legitimate goals violates the fundamental prohibition against discrimination under human rights law,” HRW reported.

Al-Baqaa

East of Hebron in the southern West Bank, four commercial structures were destroyed in the of al-Baqaa valley on 20 December, according to the Alternative Information Center (AIC) (“Israel Demolishes 2 East Jerusalem Homes, 4 Hebron District Commercial Centers,” 21 December 2010). Al-Baqaa is near the illegal Israeli settlement colony of Kiryat Arba in Hebron.

In the same report, the AIC stated that Israeli forces destroyed a home in the Numan village, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, on 21 December.

Settlements expand

As the US-brokered peace talks remain dead in the water, illegal Israeli settlement colonies continue to expand in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on 15 December that construction began in a new settlement near the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem (“E. Jerusalem apartment construction begins,” 15 December 2010). Twenty four housing units are being built for students attending a nearby orthodox Jewish yeshiva named after American millionaire Irving Moskowitz, who has bankrolled numerous right-wing settler movements and financed settlements in and around Jerusalem.

In a front-page article in the New York Times, Hagit Ofran of the Israeli settlement watchdog group Peace Now stated that there are 2,000 new housing units currently under construction since the ten-month settlement moratorium officially ended at the end of September, while an additional 13,000 are “in the pipeline” that do not require special government-issued building permits (“After freeze, settlement building booms in the West Bank,” 22 December 2010).

The Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas, drafted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council, demanding that the international body formally declare Israeli settlements to be illegal and call for a halt in construction and expansion, according to the Associated Press (“Palestinians target Israeli settlements in UN resolution,” 29 December 2010).

The PA called the settlements an obstacle to peace, but did not demand sanctions be placed on the Israeli state for its violations of international law. The Associated Press added that the United States, for its part, “has already balked at the resolution and might veto it.”