A tale of a house with walls the colour of the sky

By the Jerusalem team, 

Once upon a time, there was a house. Its outsides were red, the colour of bricks, and its inside walls were blue and white like the sky.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, bricks of the wall of the house, Photo EAPPI, Agustina G..jpg

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, blue bricks of the wall of the house, Photo EAPPI/Agustina G.

A family of six lived in this house. Mahmoud* his wife and their four children. One of the daughters Nahla* has a physical disability, she can’t walk, and goes to the hospital frequently for treatments. On this particular day, Nahla, was in hospital with her mother and siblings. Mahmoud was at his job, working to provide for his family and for the cute house with walls the colour of the sky.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, doll in front of demolished house and kids, Photo EAPPI, Agustina G.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, Children play next to demolished house, doll in foreground. Photo EAPPI/Agustina G.

Except on this day, while the family was away, the Israeli Civil Administration (a branch of the Israeli Military) came and demolished their house.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, owner showing demolition of his house, Photo EAPPI, Agustina G.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, owner shows visitor the rubble of his demolished house, Photo EAPPI/Agustina G.

Israeli authorities demolish Palestinian residential buildings on an almost weekly basis in East Jerusalem. On the same day that Mahmoud and Nahla lost their home, at least thirty seven of their neighbours lost theirs as well. [1]

26.10.16, Silwan, bulldozer starting to demolish a house, Mohammad Jaafra.

26.10.16, East Jerusalem, Silwan, bulldozer starting to demolish a house, Photo Mohammad Jaafra.

At 1am Israeli soldiers stormed into a residential building in Silwan, in East Jerusalem, ordering the families to quickly remove their furniture and personal belongings because the four houses inside the building were going to be demolished that same night.

26.10.16, Silwan, bulldozers demolishing a house, Mohammad Jaafra.

26.10.16, Silwan, bulldozers demolishing a house, Photo Mohammad Jaafra.

The Israeli authorities demolished these houses on the grounds that they were built illegally without Israel issued building permits.

Israel’s Civil administration (ICA ) has complete control over all planning and zoning of Palestinian communities in Area C (62% of the West Bank) and East Jerusalem. While the ICA aids the construction and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in area C, it almost never grants building permits to Palestinians.[2] [3] And even when a Palestinian family can legally demonstrate their private ownership of the land, the ICA rarely grants them permits to build, expand or even remodel their own houses.

26.10.16, Silwan, the remains of the 4 apartments demolished, Photo EAPPI.

26.10.16, Silwan, the remains of the 4 apartments demolished, Photo EAPPI.

On the 26th of October, the owners of the houses in Silwan were allowed to remove their belongings – at least a few them – before they were demolished. But it’s not always the case. Mahmoud and his family have a different story to tell, they simply were not there when the demolition started. While soldiers claimed that the furniture and belongings were removed, little care was taken. The families personal items still lie under the rubble, their television set lies broken outside the house.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, furniture outside demolished house, Photo EAPPI, Agustina G.

25.10.16, Beit Hanina, furniture outside demolished house, Photo EAPPI/Agustina G.

According to UNOCHA, up until the end of September 2016, 125 Palestinian structures were demolished in East Jerusalem for lack of Israeli-issued building permits. Across the whole of the West Bank there have been 878 demolitions and confiscations this year. [4] [5]

26.10.16, Silwan, the women's grief after the demolition of their house, Photo EAPPI, M.Moret.

26.10.16, Silwan, the women’s grief after the demolition of their house, Photo EAPPI/M. Moret.

The Jerusalem municipality reports that it would be necessary to build 1500 new housing units per year to accommodate the natural growth of the Palestinian population in the city, but between 1967 and 2015 only 14.000 permits were approved, which means that only 291 houses were built each year – only 20% of what they need. [6] The procedure to get a permit is a complicated and expensive one, and only a few applicants succeed. A huge amount of families don’t have any other option but to build without Israel issued building permits. And when the demolition order comes, they are given two choices: to pay the occupying power for the soldiers and the bulldozers that they will employ to destroy their home, or to demolish it themselves.

What would you choose?

25.10.16, Silwan, the grief of the family after their house was demolished, Photo EAPPI, M.Moret.

25.10.16, Silwan, A family after their house was demolished. Photo EAPPI/M.Moret.

*The names of the individuals in this blog have been changed.


Take action box 2

Please take action today to halt the systematic destruction of Palestinian homes. As the occupying power, Israel is bound by International Humanitarian Law to protect the Palestinian civilian population and to administer the territory for their benefit. International law prohibits the destruction of private property and the forced transfer or displacement of civilians.

Contact your elected representatives and your foreign minister and ask them to:

  • urge the Government of Israel to immediately stop demolishing Palestinian structures and to grant Palestinians access to a fair and representative planning system as well as full authority over the planning of their communities in Area C and East Jerusalem.

More information:

For the latest updates on the communities facing demolitions and expulsion see B’Tselems blog here.

Caabu: Demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures in the West Bank

UNOCHA oPt: Protection of Civilians Weekly Report | 4 – 17 October 2016

B’Tselem: Planning and construction policy for Palestinians in Area C

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