This is the face of the occupation

By EA Johanna, Jerusalem team.

When we arrive at Areef Tootanji’s house in Wad al-Joz, at 5 in the morning the bulldozers are still tearing through his house. Areef is beside himself shouting at the military who are blocking both the family and us from getting to the house. For a moment we are at a loss for words, what can you say to someone who’s house is being demolished in front of us? What can you say to someone who was woken up at 4AM in the morning by soldiers, who with no prior warning, and given five minutes to leave their house? Areef points at his slippers and tell us he didn’t even have time to put on his shoes. Later we find the family’s ID cards in the rubble of what was once their home.

18.05.16 Wadi Joz. Areef Tootanji in front of remains of his house. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind

18.05.16 Wadi Joz. Areef Tootanji in front of remains of his house. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind

According to UNOCHA, 613 Palestinian houses have been demolished so far in 2016, and 887 people have been displaced due to house demolitions. This is already more than in total 2015 when there was 531 demolitions and 688 people were displaced. In Jerusalem alone we’ve had 72 demolitions, with an average of 3 demolitions per week. [1] When EAs arrive at the scene the soldiers and police surrounding Areef’s house won’t let us close enough to see the house. We can just see the top part of the bulldozer eating through the house. The soldiers don’t want to talk to us, and all seem quite uncomfortable with the situation. The day before we were at a demolition Jabal al-Baba Bedouin community in East Jerusalem, which left 49 people including 22  children homeless. During the demolition an Israeli soldier told my colleague Mauricio: “I don’t like doing this. I don’t like destroying people’s homes”.

Areef’s young sons take me to a spot at the neighbour’s house where they climb on a roof to try and take pictures of what is happening to their house. They then take me down to the other house which has been demolished. There I meet Karama Ghanem, who is worried that her son’s diabetes medicine is lost in the rubble. The soldiers pointed their guns at us and told us to leave” she told us “I was sleeping when suddenly there were soldiers with guns outside our window”.

17.05.16 Wadi Joz. Karama Ghanem in front of her belongings. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind

17.05.16 Wadi al Joz. Karama Ghanem in front of her families belongings. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind

Most of the houses demolished are demolished because they lack Israeli issued building permits. Receiving building permits is extremely difficult for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. It is estimated that during the last four years only 7% of the applications for permits have been granted for Palestinian neighbourhoods, even though they make up 40% of the city’s population. [2] These extremely low rates of permits does not match the growth of the Palestinian population, and therefore make development or expansion of Palestinian neighbourhoods impossible. House demolitions also violates the right to housing, which is especially vital to the rights of children. [3]

To be able to house growing families, people often build without permits, since permits are considered almost impossible to get. When the Israeli authorities find out about new houses or new extensions, these are given stop work or  demolition orders. There is then no way of knowing if your house will be demolished within days or years. Like the families in Wad al-Joz, the demolition team usually comes without a warning, and you are given very little time to leave the house. The demolitions which the Government of Israel is carrying out are illegal according to international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention states that occupying powers are prohibited from destroying property. [4]

18.05.16 Wadi Joz. Remains of Areef Tootanjis house. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind.JPG

18.05.16 Wadi Joz. Remains of Areef Tootanjis house. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind.

House demolitions kill memories                                                                                We recently met with psychologist Musa Najib who works for an organisation called al-Marfa. [5] Among other projects, they work with traumatised children, from for example demolitions. House demolitions kills memories” he tell us “watching your house being demolished is experiencing a huge loss. We create emotional ties to things and especially our homes.” After the bulldozers and soldiers have left we stand in the rubble of killed memories and concrete. Silently we watch a cat desperately searching through the rubble for her kittens. No one says anything, but we all know she won’t find any kittens in there. Her loud meows makes my eyes tear up and I can’t help but feel so useless. No less then I can bring the kittens back to life, can I can’t make the mother stop crying, make the military stop coming at four in the morning or make the kids un-see what they’ve just seen. All I can do is blink away my tears and wonder what I’m doing here?

18.05.16 Shufat. Rajeh Hwareen in remains of his house. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind

18.05.16 Shufat. Rajeh Hwareen in remains of his house. Photo EAPPI/ J. Svanelind

The following day I get my answer. We visit the remains of Rajeh Hwareen’s house. The Hwareen family’s house had been demolished to make way for a road connecting two nearby settlements that same morning. Rajeh works as a paramedic at the Red Crescent and is still in his working uniform when we get there. The soldiers arrived in the morning when he was still at work, he didn’t have time to make it back before the demolition had begun. “I didn’t want my son to see his house demolished so I sent him to school early” Rajeh explains. “This is the face of the occupation” says Rajeh “it has many faces, but I hope your countries will see this one”. And then I know why I’m there. To tell everyone I know about why this occupation has to end.

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