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Life in a broken home

An outsider’s view of Palestinian house demolitions

Published: September 11, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.


Beit Hanina, Ashkaria village, July 13th 2009, 9.30 am.

A woman, wearing a navy blue djelaba, and a purple headscarf, extends her hands to the sky crying “Hasbiallah aleikum, al rahman, al rahim.” Photographers, Palestinian and Western European, tell her to lean this or that way, to speak louder, to look at the sky… She ignores them all and continues shouting in Arabic at the top of her lungs, while clutching her wrist. Another woman, holding a curly haired boy is crying, yelling, pointing out parts of the house to the 70 or so spectators, “We did not have time to take milk for the children, the beds and toys they were all destroyed”. She stands in the middle of the rubble of her demolished house, three children clutching her dress, the backyard overflowing with her furniture, pillows, toys, lamps, fridge, washing machine, all lying pell-mell, hastily thrown out of the house. She is about four or five months pregnant.

The mother of the landlord attempted to defend the house, when the police came to evacuate her family early that morning. Ten police men pushed her to ground and beat her up, breaking her arm. After praying over the ruins of her house in front of the cameras and journalists from around the world, she gets picked up by an ambulance and brought to the hospital. The brother of the landlord is also beat up, and carried away in a police car. “They took away our phone, it was forbidden to call for help.” The neighbors in the end were those who warned the press, and ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition).

When we finally found the house, it was already almost completely destroyed; the bulldozer was still there, striking relentlessly the thin plaster walls. The house overlooked the valley, supposedly East Jerusalem. The sound of the demolition in Beit Hanina, was accompanied by construction sounds on a hill opposite to Beit Hanina; one of the illegitimate settlements separating East Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Silwan, July 13th 2009, 11.30 am

Dalia, 11 years old, stands next to me crying while a huge bright yellow bulldozer creeps toward her small house. She is a beautiful girl, dressed all in black, with deep brown eyes. She lives with ten other children in about 20 square meters. “We are going to destroy a terrorist’s house, we are going to push all the Arabs into the sea,” say the Israeli soldiers, while trying to block our way onto the road. Sdura, the commander, and his company of about 10 brigadiers laugh at Liza and me for being so ignorant. He gives us cold water from a cooler, and tells us, “this is not the French police force, or the Boston Police force, we have to deal with real terrorists.” He attempts to prevent me from climbing the hill overlooking the house, but when I insist he retreats, and I scramble up amongst the gravel and thorns until I get a good view over the house and its residents. The father is being held back by the police. There are at least 50 Palestinian onlookers, neighbors, friends, squinting from the sun, clinging to each other.

The bulldozer unfolds its long metallic paw, and starts hitting the walls of the house, which crumble offering no resistance whatsoever.

When the bulldozer, drove by an old Palestinian man, has finished it’s job, it retreats, squeaking as it goes, followed by the army of Israeli police men and IDF soldiers (at least a 100 for a family of 5) looking back, making sure the job had been done appropriately. They do not clean away the ruble. The Silwan villagers, who were forced to stand some 20 meters away from the house during the demolition, all flock to the pile of ruble, searching in vain for a remnant of the house. Once again journalists and photographers from Europe and Palestine ask the family to stand in front of the demolished house, take pictures, and interview the mother in broken Arabic. Somebody is explaining that the family had no permit for the house but that it had been built in the 1970’s. There was no terrorist living in this house. Yet for the Israeli soldiers all house demolitions are houses of Palestinian terrorists.