Self-demolition is an increasing trend in East Jerusalem. This phenomena receives little international attention as it is difficult to track, both in numbers of those affected and its psychological impact.
by Emmi & Zoë, Jerusalem team
One and a half rooms is what is left of the Haq family’s house in the Ras al-Amud neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. For the family of seven, this means living shoulder to shoulder.
“It is especially difficult for the older children to share,” Huda Haq, the mother, regrets.
In addition to an 18-year old son and a 16-year old daughter, she has boys aged 12 and 9 and a baby girl aged 4. Since three months ago, all of the children have been living in one room.
Last October, Ameen Abdel Haq was forced to demolish half of his house, an extension that the growing family built in 2009 . The court ordered the two rooms to be demolished because they were built without a permit. To avoid the demolition fine, a minimum of 20,000 NIS, the family was forced to deconstruct two rooms which were used as the children’s bedrooms.
For Palestinians living in East Jerusalem it is next to impossible to acquire a building permit. The same goes for other Palestinian areas under full control of Israel, namely Area C in the West Bank. According to an Israeli peace group ICAHD, more than 94% of all Palestinian permit applications have been rejected in recent years.
“In most countries, you need a permit to build because the local municipality needs to make sure that your plans match up with theirs,” says Ruth Edmonds from ICAHD. “The problem is that in Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem there is no development planning in place.”
Waiting forever for a permit is not an option with an ever-growing population, so people build without them.
Israel frequently demolishes Palestinian homes. Last year, the United Nations reported the demolition of 406 structures in the West Bank and 48 in East Jerusalem.
The number of self-demolitions is a figure that is more difficult to track. There is no comprehensive information on self-demolition in official government data, which makes international attention more difficult to foster. However, according to ICAHD the self-demolition of personal property is an increasing trend.
Two of the major reasons that families self-demolish are to avoid unnecessary attention and to dodge high demolition fines, Ruth Edmonds says.
According to ICAHD, some families also self-demolish in order to avoid the psychological burden, particularly for children, of waiting for a bulldozer to show up at their door.
The Haq family in Ras al-Amud was given one month to demolish the newer part of their home.
“We discussed the reasons with the children why we need to do this. I think it made it easier for them to accept the situation. They have not been angry,” Huda Haq explains.
The family undertook the demolition together.
“It took three to four months to build the rooms, demolishing them only two days,” the mother sighs.
The oldest son of the family, Mohamed Haq, describes the mentality needed to carry on under the adversity caused by the occupation.
“If you want to be able to live in this country, you have to feel nothing.”
*Learn more about the people affected by Demolitions & Evictions.