Young and old came from different parts of the world to the small
After being displaced from their land in the
The homes that are destroyed do not belong only to suicide bombers or their families. According to ICAHD, the large majority of the houses are demolished simply because they lack a building permit. Palestinians build without permits because it is virtually impossible for them to get this permission, either within
A demolition order is typically stuck on a house, which could result in its destruction the very next day. Since so many Palestinian houses have no permits, these families know that their homes could be demolished at any time, although they could stand for many years, adding to the anxiety and uncertainty. In addition to risking the loss of their homes, Palestinians also can be heavily fined to the tune of up to $25,000 for not having a permit. Sometimes they even have to pay for the demolition costs of their own home.
“The systematic demolition of Palestinian homes is an attack on an entire people, an attempt to make the Palestinians submit to a mini-state…under Israeli control,” ICAHD coordinator Jeff Halper says. ICAHD is a nonviolent, direct-action group originally established to oppose and resist Israeli demolition of Palestinian houses in the
A noble Tradition: Breaking an unjust Law
About 20 people of all ages from
“During this camp, we will strive to learn as much as possible about the various components of
The volunteers stood at the building site ready to do some serious work on the very first day of the camp. After all, they only had two weeks to rebuild the house. Together with the Palestinian workers, they carried heavy buckets of cement for the pillars of the house. Old and young, every one participated whether one was 20 or 70 years old.
Courtney Bailey, 25, from
One of Bailey’s countrymen at the building site was Richard Ward, a 57-year-old writer and former high school teacher from
Every one of the participants in the camp had been informed that they could be arrested by the Israeli police for participating in the building of a house without a permit. They underwent nonviolence training and role played in order to practice how to act if the Israeli police or military came to the camp to arrest them. Ward was aware that they were breaking the law, but he still thought their action was correct. “We are breaking the law but you know, even in the
Building Relationships through building a House
Building a house is also a vehicle to build new relationships and, in some cases, new perceptions and thoughts. Matt Robson was one of four members of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) helping to build the house. “Things in this region are very polarized,” Robson said. “Many Palestinians see Israelis as bad people and many Israelis see Palestinians as bad people. I like projects where every one works together and breaks down those barriers. On the building site it didn’t really matter who you were and where you were from. If you had a skill, you used your skill. If you didn’t, you just picked up a bucket and moved things around. I think it was a good example of cooperation.”
Sara Turra, a young Italian woman, has spent the last five months in
Building a house together is a challenge in many ways. At this camp, bridging the language and cultural barriers also complicated matters. Salome Phillmann, a 23-year-old American active in Iowans for a Free Palestine, experienced some of these challenges during the building process. “We were cleaning an area in the house until it was spotless,” Phillmann explained. “When we came back from lunch, the Palestinian workers had painted all the walls. They didn’t tell us they were going to paint the walls right after we cleaned the floor! We learned to be good-spirited about our mistakes and I am sure we made their work difficult at times.”
Before Phillmann began the building project, she was worried that the Palestinian views on gender roles would be a problem. Women don’t usually build houses in
Bill Christison, a retiree who used to work for the
Global Campaign to rebuild Palestinian Homes
ICAHD wants to be able to rebuild more homes and for this reason has started a program called “Right to a home…and a homeland. Global campaign to rebuild Palestinian Homes.” They hope to raise enough money to rebuild 20-30 homes and are encouraging people all over the world to have house parties to “raise consciousness about the Occupation and funds for rebuilding.” In Mohandas Gandhi’s nonviolent struggle against the British occupation of
How the perception of “the other” is built is an important part of the creation of and the resolution to any conflict. Another clear nonviolent feature of the building camp is the refusal to see “the other” as an enemy. “It is Israelis; it is Palestinians and internationals, all of us together telling our governments: ‘we refuse to be enemies,’” Halper said.
After two weeks it was done. The house that once was a pile of rubble stands again, risen like a
“All of a sudden 23 people see their house surrounded by bulldozers and they are thrown into the street,” said Abu Jamal, head of the Kabuah family. “We are only left with the option of choosing hatred. But when we see all these volunteers coming to help us, we realize that we are not alone. I want to thank the international community, Palestinians, and Israelis for coming to help us have a home again.”
Many people were invited to a house-warming ceremony with singing, speeches, dancing, tree-planting, and wonderful food. Salim Shawamreh, whose house has been destroyed four times, addressed the international volunteers who helped build the house. “I appreciate that you leave your families overseas, coming here to help Palestinians, not only by words, but with your hands,” he said. “I appreciate you coming here to bring back a family of 23 people. The Israeli Occupation sent them to the street. You are returning them back now to their home. This is a big thing.”
Martin Smedjeback is secretary for nonviolence in the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (www.swefor.org). During a prior visit to Israel and Palestine, he collected material for a book entitled Nonviolence in Israel and Palestine. He was working as an ecumenical accompanier in Jerusalem in the summer of 2004.