In the first hours of dawn, Nader Elayan was woken by a call from a neighbour warning him to hurry to the house he had almost finished building. By the time he arrived, it was too late: a bulldozer was tearing down the walls. More than 100 Israeli security guards held back local residents.
The demolition, carried out four years ago, has left Mr Elayan, his wife, Fidaa, who is now pregnant, and their two young children with nowhere to live but a single room in his brother’s cramped home. It is the only land he owns and he had invested all his savings in building the now destroyed house.
Over the past few years, the Elayans’ fate has been shared by two dozen other families in the Palestinian
The problem of house demolitions affects Palestinians throughout the occupied territories. But according to Hatem Abdelkader, an adviser to Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, the situation is particularly acute in the
He noted that
“Illegal building is simply a pretext for destroying Palestinian families’ homes and lives,” said Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
“The demolitions are part of a policy to stop the natural expansion of Palestinian communities in and around
In an act of defiance, Mr Halper’s organisation and 40 international volunteers helped the Elayans to rebuild their home this week in an attempt to highlight what the committee calls the “quiet ethnic cleansing” of
“This is the first time a government has supported the rebuilding of an ‘illegal’ Palestinian home demolished by the Israeli authorities,” Mr Halper said.
The issue of house demolitions is back in the spotlight now after two separate incidents in July in which Palestinians, both of whom were residents of
Such punitive destruction of homes was stopped in 2005, under the threat of legal challenge, but not before some 270 homes were razed on security grounds in the first years of the intifada.
According to Mr Halper, however, the use of demolitions against Palestinians accused of illegal building is a far more significant problem. “We estimate that there have been at least 18,000 homes destroyed during the four decades of occupation.”
In fact, Mr Halper said, he believes the true number of demolitions is likely to be double the official figure. Many razings are unrecorded, carried out by Palestinians themselves fearing a heavy fine if the Israeli army enforces the demolition order.
“Most demolitions are of multi-storey buildings that are home to several families, meaning that well in excess of 100,000 Palestinians may have been made homeless by Israeli administrative policies,” he said.
Since its founding a decade ago, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has rebuilt 150 Palestinian homes as part of its campaign to bring the issue of demolitions to the attention of Israeli Jews and the international community. It has been an uphill struggle, Mr Halper said. The European Union, which recently upgraded its relations with
But this year’s work camp may make the continuing demolition of homes in Anata a little harder, Mr Halper said. “It’s one thing to destroy a home supposedly built illegally by a Palestinian, but another to destroy one built with money provided by the Spanish government.”
Mr Halper also believes that, by exposing such groups as the summer camp volunteers to the Palestinians’ plight, public perceptions may begin to change.
Alonso Santos, a 21-year-old architecture student from
“It was an eye-opener to realise that the principles of urban planning we are taught at the university are being used by the Israelis, but for exactly the opposite purpose from the one usually intended. The planning rules here are designed not to improve the Palestinians’ lives but to make them more miserable.”
The volunteers were hosted at a peace centre in Anata erected on the site of Salim Shawamreh’s home, which was demolished four times by Israeli authorities. Known as Arabiya House, after Mr Shawamreh’s wife, the building is decorated on one side with a mural depicting the death of Rachel Corrie, a
“Imagine your children leaving in the morning for school and returning later in the day to find their home, their whole world, has disappeared while they were gone,” Mr Shawamreh said. “It’s happened to my children four times. It’s cruelty beyond words.”
Mr Shawamreh, whose family were refugees from the northern
The peace centre is also close both to the snaking route of Israel’s separation wall and to a new bypass road – part of what critics call an apartheid road system – being built to ensure that Jewish settlers can drive separately from Palestinians across the West Bank.
Arabiya House is under a temporary reprieve from demolition while Israeli courts determine its status.
Mr Halper said the judges have been reluctant to confirm the destruction order because his group has threatened to take the case to the International Court of Justice if the ruling goes against it.
Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth,
This article originally appeared in The National (http://www.thenational.ae), published in