Last week, I had the opportunity to spend the day with one of the leaders at Holy Land Trust (HLT) who has been involved in building houses for Palestinian families who have lost their homes because of house demolitions. According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) there have been at least 24,813 homes demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza since 1967. During the 2009 Gaza bombing, more than 4,000 homes were destroyed (UN). The question is often asked, “Why are Palestinian homes being destroyed?” Most of the time, the Israeli government sites “administrative reasons” for the destruction of these house – the most common reason being that the houses are built without a permit. However, according to ICAHD, “permits are almost impossible to obtain by Palestinians living under occupation.”
One of the families I met in the West Bank are living in a community called Al-Walaja. This small community outside of Beit Jala and Bethlehem has almost been entirely surrounded by the wall. The community is not only isolated from Israel but also from East Jerusalem and other West Bank towns that are within walking distance. Residents of Al-Walaja have one entrance and exit point by which they may enter their community. The family with whom we met are now living in a new home that was built jointly by Holy Land Trust and a British advocacy organization called Amos Trust. A few years ago, they received a notice from the Israeli government indicating that their home would be demolished because the wall was going to be built on their property. Often Palestinian families are given less than an hour’s notice for these demolitions so they do not have the opportunity to remove personal items, household good, and valuables from their homes before it is destroyed. Even when an demolition order is issued there is often a lack of clarity of when it might occur – so families live in trepidation of when the order might be executed. This family’s home was destroyed shortly after having received the notice. They then learned that the demolition was unnecessary because the wall was rerouted – thus it did not go through their property as had been intended. Over a period of a couple of years from the first demolition and the support of the community the family’s home was rebuilt. It was less than a year later when the family received a second notice that their home would be destroyed. I did not get the details of the reason for the second demolition order, but I saw the evidence – the crumbled up stones, wires, and ruined foundation – that the order had been carried out. For a second time, this family had lost their home. This is when Holy Land Trust and Amos Trust became involved. In an act of peaceful non-violent resistance Palestinian families and communities are standing firm while being surrounded by oppressive circumstances. According to the 4th Geneva Convention, occupying powers are prohibited from destroying Palestinian property or employing collective punishment. According to ICAHD, “under this provision the practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is banned” – and yet, it continues to persist. We experienced the hospitality of the Palestinians as we drank Arabic coffee and tea and were told of their dilemma these past several years in Al-Walaja. The family is now living in a simple home that has been built for the third time as they attempt to piece their lives back together again. However, just last week they received a third order from the district of Jerusalem that their home is on the list of homes to be demolished in the future.
Here is Marwan Fararjeh from Holy Land Trust telling another story of a family in Al-Walaja with similar circumstances: