Grandma moves house

After their home has been demolished 5 times, a family in Khirbet Yarza decides to move and leave the location they’ve lived in for generations.

by Ken, Yanoun team

We must look a strange sight to the locals, travelling along the precipitous mountain tracks on our way to rescue those in need, in our canary-yellow coloured “German donkey” (VW Caravelle taxi) … like something out of a Monty Python sketch or a spoof spaghetti western.

But there’s nothing funny about the situation that we find in Khirbet Yarza.  Masadi’s sitting in the wreckage of what was her home until a couple of hours ago, before the 50 soldiers arrived and bulldozed everything flat. Once would be bad enough but this is the fifth time that this has happened to them!

In my entire life I’ve never seen anyone so distraught; grief is etched into her features but she can’t cry, she can’t even speak to us, and I realize that she’s suffering from post-traumatic shock syndrome. She gestures helplessly with her hands at the catastrophe around her and then retreats to a make-shift kitchen area she’s cleared from the rubble.

Sixteen persons, including 12 children, living in this extended family were made homeless. Fayas, the husband, explains that his family have lived as shepherds in this area for generations and have land title deeds going back to Ottoman times. It doesn’t matter: they’ve been punished for the cardinal sin of erecting a structure without a building permit. They thought the demolition order served on them had been suspended pending their legal challenge: they were obviously wrong.

The family is in a desperate ‘Catch 22’ situation as a building permit is next to impossible to obtain by a Palestinian and certainly not on land declared by the army to be a closed military zone.

What will they do now?

“What can we do but start again?” says Faisal stoically and starts constructing a wind- and waterproof shelter from borrowed materials.

Masadi scoops up some of the ruined food and animal fodder with her hands and shows it to us: “I don’t understand why this has been done to us. Why don’t they just kill us instead of destroying our lives?”

We call the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and soon humanitarian aid begins to arrive. Before going I say to Masadi “Allah yusalmik” [God protect you]. She nods resignedly in acknowledgement but I can’t help thinking that she wonders why God appears to have abandoned her.

Three weeks later it’s a case of déjà vu. We’re back in Khirbet Yarza. At 06.00 am roughly 40 soldiers arrived without warning and demolished everything again.  The family was not given time to remove the calf from one of the animal shelters; of course it died. Masadi sits forlornly amidst the rubble, contemplating the family’s future:

“This is not a life. Everyone is forced away from Palestine. Soon there will be no Palestinians left. What can we do now?”

Faisal has the answer: move. The Israeli army has finally won. Faisal’s had enough, the last straw being the confiscation of his tractor for having the temerity to disobey the army’s previous instruction to vacate the site.

Two of my colleagues sit patiently with Masadi, holding her hands and speaking softly to her in English, Arabic and Swedish to comfort her, like the two daughters that she may never have had. Meanwhile I and another EA help Fayas salvage what we can from the debris and load it onto a tractor and trailer to be taken to the family’s new home, a single-roomed stone structure further along the ridge.


It takes five trips to complete the move. Meanwhile the girls remain with Masadi at her new home but soon other women begin to arrive. Things are starting to look up but it’s cuddling her grandson that finally puts a smile back on Masadi’s face.  Everyone pitches in to make the new home habitable. I sweep out the room, someone else mops the floor, others bring in the meagre items of furniture, while Faisal and sons rig up the solar power installation.

We all help to rebuild the dry stone walled enclosure for the sheep and goats. Throughout all this a tired old donkey looks on; maybe he’s seen it all before. At last we’re finished. The Ritz it certainly isn’t, but at least it’s a roof over their heads. More importantly it’s a place out of the way of the threat of demolition. Inshallah! (God willing!)

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