Eye witness to Israeli abuse
Newport Eyes in Palestine
Lewis Turner an 18 year old Newport student is spending his gap year in Palestine. This is his latest eye witness report of the continuing tragedy.
Destruction Continues. Two more houses demolished. Eleven more people homeless. Eleven more lives ruined. Another village petrified. Another 50 households wondering when their turn will come. That's just the 31st of January.
Two more houses in the village Palestinian of al-Walaje, just outside
Bethlehem, were demolished by the Israeli Defence Forces, on 31st of
January, the Islamic New Year. (A new year's present, as one resident
of the village explained to me.) The bulldozers arrived at 12 noon, and were
all gone by 2pm. The bulldozers were accompanied by the Israeli Defence
Forces (IDF), Israeli Police from the municipality of Jerusalem and Israeli
Border Police, who all descended on the village.
The first house to be demolished didn't have a demolition order on it.
The inhabitants, Munther Salim, his wife Siham and their three children,
hired a lawyer because so many houses in their village had demolition orders on them. Their lawyer assured them just two weeks previously that he had received promises from the Israeli authorities that their house would not be touched.
Because of their difficult economic situation, they could not afford to
build a house on the land which Siham inherited from her father when he
died nearly 20 years ago. Despite this, four years ago, with both financial
and practical help from the community, a house was built for the family.
The family were both full of shock and questions as they sat on the remains
of their house in tears. 'We want to live in peace, but there is no peace
here, how can we live like this? Where shall I go? To a camp? To spend all of my life in a refugee camp?' Siham asked.
Siham's young niece asked me, 'What would happen if I went to Jerusalem
and demolished an Israeli house. The whole world would stand behind Israel and call us terrorists, wouldn't they? Why is it different for us? Who was this house hurting? How does this house harm the security of Israel?'
The second house, which was demolished immediately after the first,
belonged to Mohammad Faraj, and was inhabited by his relatives: an elderly
couple, their daughter and grandson, and two other relatives, one of whom is blind. The house was built in 1995, and was promptly declared illegal by the Israeli authorities because it didn't have a building permit.
(Palestinians simply do not receive building permits from Israel, so they are either forced to live in overcrowded areas, or become criminals, or of course
leave their homeland). The fine for building this 'illegal' house was 20,000
Shekels (£2,560) - more than an average family in Palestine earns in a
year. The fine was and still is being paid in monthly instalments, and the
fine still stands, and must be paid in full, despite the fact that the house
has been demolished.
The elderly inhabitants of their house have already had one home
demolished, in the same village, just a few years ago, and after that demolition they moved to this house. Their daughter also moved to this house after her previous house was demolished. She lived in Jenin with her husband, who was killed in the Jenin Massacre of 2002, and the next year her house was demolished, with all her possessions inside. Homeless and almost penniless she moved to al-Walaje to be with her parents. On the day of the demolition, she had been working in Bethlehem, and came home to find her possessions scattered on her yard and her house in pieces, again.
The owner of the house tapped me on the shoulder as we were assessing
the remains of his home, and pointed to West Jerusalem, which you can see
from the village, and pointed to the cranes building housing there. 'You see
these houses, they're building for Israelis all the time. Can I move
into one of those houses? No, because I'm a Palestinian. Can I build a house
on my own land? No, because I'm a Palestinian. Where are we meant to
The tragic story of the village does not end there, because not only
are the vast majority of the houses there 'illegal', but so are the people, in
the eyes of the Israeli state. Because of the proximity of the village to
the Green Line - the border between Israel and Palestine - when Israel
illegally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, it also illegally annexed half of
al-Walaje village. It did, however, seem to forget to inform the inhabitants that they were now living in 'Israel'. The inhabitants of al-Walaje had always paid their taxes to Bethlehem and received their municipal services to Bethlehem, but in 1985, Israeli authorities came to the village, demolished a house, declaring it illegal construction in Israel. It then informed the residents that they were illegally resident in Israel, and that if they wanted a Jerusalem / Israeli ID card then they had to prove that they lived there before 1967. Therefore, the residents of half of the village can be arrested simply for being in or stepping out of their houses, for being in
'Israel' without a permit from the Israeli authorities. Many have been arrested for this very reason. Out of the 100 houses in the annexed area, 75 were given demolition orders, and 25 of those have now been executed, plus one which didn't have a demolition order. 50 homes are still to be demolished.
The villagers of al-Walaje are waiting petrified, not knowing who will be
next, or when the bulldozers will next invade their village.War crimes, such as the demolition of civilian homes (the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids the demolition of civilian homes in areas under military occupation), as well as many others crimes, occur on a daily basis in occupied Palestine. Whilst the world reflects on the victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections, maybe everyone should be considering why people join or vote for Hamas.
What effect will the house demolitions have on the people of this
village, especially the young people?
Who will they grow up supporting?