Destroying homes, destroying lives

 “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” (Article 53, Geneva Convention IV)

They came without warning at 9.00 o’clock on Wednesday 7thNovember. There were 200 soldiers, two bulldozers and 15 to 20 military vehicles. By the time they left at six hours later, two houses – one of them two dwellings, – had been demolished, 17 people had been hospitalised including six family members from the first house, 35 people had been treated for tear gas asphyxiation and minor injuries. The mother of the owner of the first house had her hand broken; two people had bullet wounds, one to the leg and one to the fingers.  Three people had been detained and released.

Tear gas and sound bomb cannisters

When we got the demolition alert for Haris, we were already in the seam zone investigating quite a different story.  It is not easy to get out of the seam zone at speed. We phoned the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS) who are based in the next village of Deir Istiya. They confirmed that some of them were already in the village but unable to get to the area of the demolitions. The Israeli army had sealed off the village and were not letting people in or out. IWPS promised to keep us in touch.

Haris is a village in the Northern West Bank and home to about 3,000 people. The village itself is in Area B but the outskirts and all of its agricultural land is in Area C, i.e. under full Israeli administration and control.  Thirty-five of its houses are under threat; demolition orders were issued three years ago and are at different stages in the litigation process. Area C constitutes 62% of the West Bank and planning permission for Palestinians is virtually impossible to obtain and the process lengthy and expensive. Most people build without it.

Brothers of owner sitting beside the ruins

We got to Haris just after the soldiers left. The brothers of the owner of the first house were sitting beside the ruins. The immediate family had been taken to hospital.  We were told that the owner had saved for 20 years to build this house for his family and ‘and now it has been destroyed in half an hour’.  The second house is further up the hill within the village.  A woman from the Palestinian Medical Relief Service told us that initially villagers and the family surrounded the second house to protect it. They were nonviolent and didn’t throw stones. The demolition was halted while lawyers went to the Israeli Civil Adminstration (ICA) in Bet El to try to get permission for the families to appeal. The ICA is run by the military.

The mayor received a fax apparently giving the court’s leave to appeal but after much heated discussion the army commander decided to go ahead. The house and surrounding area were then cleared by the army firing tear gas and sound bombs. People became confused and didn’t know what to do. During the ensuing fracas, three people were detained. The owner of the second house Ali Hussein was held with his hands tied for half an hour until they had finished demolishing his house. There had been some discussion between the soldiers as to whether to demolish the whole house or merely the new extension. They destroyed the extension and damaged the main house so as to make it uninhabitable.

Feeda

Walking up through the village I had the feeling I was attending a funeral or visiting the house of someone who had just died. People were standing around talking in muted tones. The grief was palpable. They had gathered together a collection of tear gas and sound bomb cannisters, rubber bullets and the occasional spent bullet. It was an impressive display. A villager asked us, ‘Why should we have a permit to build on our own land?  When a family have children, they need to have a house when they grow up and get married. Where are they supposed to do that?’

The extension on Ali Hussein’s house was being built for his son, Feeda, who was to be married before the end of the year. This is now impossible as the entire family is now living with relatives.  Feeda has nowhere to take his bride. I watched him sitting motionless on the ground next to his father. He looked in a state of shock.

Haris is situated just next to what is known as the ‘Ariel Finger’. This is a cluster of illegal Israeli settlements of which Ariel is the largest. The Ariel Finger is to be surrounded by the separation barrier which is currently in various stages of completion.  On the day before the house demolitions in Haris, the Israeli Ministry of Housing published tenders for the construction of 72 new housing units in the settlement of Ariel.

The number of demolitions and people displaced last week is over five times the weekly average since the beginning of 2012. From 31 October to 6 November the Israeli authorities demolished 81 structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, leading to the displacement of more than 120 people and undermining of the livelihoods of hundreds of others. Source: UNOCHA

For further information on Area C, see:

http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_Area_C_Fact_Sheet_July_2011.p

I work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness (QPSW) as an ecumenical accompanier serving on the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained in this email are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer (QPSW) or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting it on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the QPSW Programme Manager for I-oPt teresap@quaker.org.uk for permission. Thank you.

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