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!)

What is E1 and why are the bedouin facing displacement in the Jerusalem periphery?

We’ve written a lot about the E1 area in Jerusalem in the past week, (here and here) and even last fall (here).

Bedouin homes with canvas roofs lie in the foreground, while in the distance red tiled settlement houses lie in neat tiers. Unpaved dirt roads serve the Bedouin communities of the Jerusalem periphery as the Israeli authorities refuse to recognise their camps and provide them with necessary infrastructure and services. However, the surrounding settlements, recognised as illegal under international law by the international community, enjoy developed infrastructure, access to medical, electricity and water services, paved roads and funded schooling. The juxtaposition is quite stark. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

An Israeli settlement overlooks the Az Za’ayyem bedouin village in the Jerusalem periphery. Photo EAPPI/K. Ranta.

What is the E1 area?

E1, or “East 1” is a plan, formed in the early 1990s, to build a new Israeli neighborhood near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. Construction of E1 would cut off the narrow land corridor east of Jerusalem, which offers a connection between the northern and southern West Bank. If E1 were to be implemented, it would prove to cut the West Bank into two parts ending the possibility for a contiguous Palestinian state and sever access to East Jerusalem for Palestinians in the West Bank. As a result, construction of E1 would jeopardize the hopes of a two-state solution.

Although the E1 plan has not been implemented, the issue again came to the forefront at the end of 2012. Following the UN vote to grant Palestine observer status, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his intention to go ahead with the E1 plan.

The prospect of E1 and the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement have severe humanitarian implications to the 2,300 bedouin living in the area, who face demolition, displacement, and the inability to access basic resources.

Need more information? Here’s our roundup of the best resources on E1 and the humanitarian situation of the bedouin in the Jerusalem periphery:

PHOTOS: Settlement expansion leaves whole communities homeless and threatens their way of life

by Jenn, Jayyus team

Cranes dot the skyline of an East Jerusalem that is growing. It is growing upwards and it is growing outwards. For some. For others, their boundaries are set, and they are shrinking. It is a simple formula, settlement expansion for the Israeli population is equal to demolitions and displacement of the Palestinian population. In no place is this formula more stark than in the E1 one area and the space surrounding the illegal Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim located in the Jerusalem periphery.

The E1 area is located  North-East of Jerusalem and to the west of Ma’ale Adumim. Ma’ale Adumim is the third largest settlement in the West Bank and is home to almost 40,000 Israeli settlers. There are currently about 27,000 Bedouin refugees in the Jerusalem Area. 3,000 of which live in the Ma’ale Adumim area and 1,700 of these which lie in the E1 area. The expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and the plan for future Israeli construction in E1 threatens existing populations in the surrounding areas, but none more so than the Jahalin Bedouin community.

The year 2013, saw the rise of a new trend: that of demolishing whole communities and thus, displacing all their inhabits.  Last year, four whole communities were entirely demolished: Bir Nabala/Tel al Adassa, Az Za’ayyem, Makhul, and Ein Ayoub.  In total, 189 people were left without access to land.

This photo essay will focus on the Jahalin of Az Za’ayyem. Az Za’ayyem is home to ten Jahalin Bedouin families and is located in the E1 area.  In September of 2013, 8 homes in Az Za’ayyem were demolished as well as several kitchen units, sanitary units and animal shelters. 47 people were displaced, 20 of whom were children. Now, 4 months later, the town has yet to rebuild. Heaps of rubble, that were once homes, are piled around the wooden and sheet metal structures that are now the remaining homes of the Jahalin of Az Za’ayyem.

Unfortunately, whole communities facing displacement, demolitions and forced evictions is not a unique situation in Palestine. But in this case the very way of life of the Jahalin is threatened. Semi-Nomadic  herders, the Bedouin require open spaces and adequate pasture land for their flocks to flourish. The Jahalin are a people that value freedom and movement.  As it stands many have been forced to sell their animals and resort to work in nearby settlements in order to feed their families and maintain a living. Any suggested compensation for the displacement by the Israeli authorities, amounting to a small patch of land and minimal infrastructure in the Jericho region, is nothing more than an affront to their way of life.

“We must always remember that settlement expansion is a problem, but not just in itself, but  because expansion comes at the expense of the people, the families and entire communities that are displaced or made homeless.” ~Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, Israeli human rights activist

In the case of the Jahalin and other Bedouin communities, continued expansion of Israeli settlements not only leave them homeless, but also threatens their livelihood and their very way of life.


Responding to tragedy with smiles and sweet tea

by Amanda and Liv, Yanoun team

The Daraghmi family after their home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

The Daraghmi family after their home was demolished. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

We arrive three hours after the home of Nimer Hassan Hussein Daraghmi and his family in Al Farisiya has been demolished. We are strangers, yet they gather their plastic chairs and some boxes to sit on, and bring us tea. Black tea with loads of sugar and maramia – sage. Patiently they tell us the numbers of people in the household, time of the demolition, when they received the demolition order, how many bulldozers and soldiers were there. The four of us take notes and ask more questions.

We are in Palestine at a time when many house demolitions occur, and it always feels awkward to meet families who have just lost their homes. They are experiencing a disaster and we want facts and photos for our reports. Still they thank us for being there, for telling their stories to the world. And say that we are welcome not only today but also tomorrow and whenever we want.

The reason for this demolition is that the family lives in Area C of the West Bank, which means they are not allowed to build any structures without a permit from the Israeli authorities. It is almost impossible for Palestinians to get these permits. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), 70% of Area C is designated for Israeli settlements (illegal according to article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention), construction is heavily restricted in 29%, and only 1% is planned for Palestinian development. Therefore this family, and many others, are forced to build illegally and their homes face the risk of being demolished by the Israeli authorities.

The demolished home stands in a pile of rubble. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

The demolished home stands in a pile of rubble. Photo EAPPI/A. Batista.

On our way home, after a long day of documenting house demolitions from the southern and the northern part of the Jordan Valley, we are tired, but we can’t help thinking about all the contradictory feelings in our minds. It was such a sad day, probably one of the worst days for the Daraghmi family, but they could still smile, show all their hospitality and prove the strength to rebuild and start again in spite of the chaos they were in.

For how long will we be able to witness such peaceful response? The other day, after visiting two other communities that are daily suffering from the occupation, our guide, translator and driver Ghassan said:

“Israel should seize the moment while Palestinians still struggle for peace. At some point they will get tired and start trying to take their rights by hand. The younger generation is not as patient as we are. They’ve seen the peace negotiations fail again and again, and non-violent methods haven’t brought any peace for them yet.”

We drank their tea. We took our notes and wrote our reports. It doesn’t feel like much, but our contribution to bring peace to this family and this people will be to tell the world what we saw. Insh’Allah – God willing – it will make a difference while peace is still an option.

Can they at least have a shelter above their heads?

Israeli authorities confiscate humanitarian aid to demolished houses in Mak-hul

On September 16, the Israeli authorities demolished the structures of 12 households in Mak-hul, a village in the northern Jordan valley in the Tubas governorate. On September 20, humanitarian organizations attempted to provide humanitarian assistance for the affected families.  The Israeli authorities, however, confiscated one truck and its humanitarian assistance materials, mainly shelters and tents. In addition, a French diplomat was held at the scene, 3 Palestinians arrested and 2 injured.

Addressing an Israeli officer one international asked: “Can they [the families] have a bare minimum of existence and a shelter above their heads?” The officer replied: “No.”

EAPPI was on the scene and reports in photos.

For more information, read:

Israel ‘to act’ over West Bank diplomats scuffle

Civil Administration demolish all homes of Khallet Makhul community in Jordan Valley



“Alert: Imminent demolition in Az Za’ayyem Bedouins. Demolition team on site.”

by Helga, Ar Ram team

The message arrives at 10am this morning. We are attending a Diakonia seminar on house demolitions and land grab when the lecture suddenly becomes reality.

The village under threat is Az Za’ayyem, home of 10 families from the large Jahalin Bedouin tribe. Their camp is situated in the E1 area, just outside of Jerusalem. Although the Israeli authorities frequently demolish houses & structures, this is the first encounter with house demolitions for the EAPPI team from Ar Ram.

The UNOCHA (The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) hotline tells us that the demolition is still in progress. Military bulldozers arrived at 8 am and 8 houses are in danger.

Time is of the essence, so we call our driver Firas to pick us up.  Firas knows everyone in the West Bank it seems, and is a reliable source of information as well as being our team translator. On our way to Az Za’ayyem, Firas tells us this is the 2nd time in 2 years the Israeli military demolishes houses in this village. This time the demolition order states that the houses were built without a permit.

Nowhere to build

The lack of an appropriate planning and zoning system in Area C means that most Palestinians cannot obtain permits for construction or rehabilitation of homes, animal shelters, or essential infrastructure, which forces them to build illegally. The Israeli authorities routinely demolish structures, including homes, built without permits and evict families forcibly. Although the Israeli settlements surrounding the Bedouin villages are illegal according to International law, Israelis obtain permits from the Israeli building committees.

Rubble at Az Za'ayyem demolition. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

Rubble at Az Za’ayyem demolition. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

Hospitality even in crisis

At 11:30 we park our car on the outskirts of the town of Az za’ayyem where the village is situated. The bulldozers have just left the site, leaving piles of rubble and twisted aluminium sheets. We are the first internationals to arrive, and we are offered a glass of tea – demolitions have no effect on Palestinian hospitality. “Ahlan wa sahlan,” you are welcome. Firas introduces us to Mohammad El Asead M’sa, one of ten brothers whose house was demolished today.

An EA listens to Mohammad's story. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

An EA listens to Mohammad’s story. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

The Israeli military tore down 8 homes, as well as several kitchen units, sanitary units and animal sheds. In total 47 people were displaced, around 20 of them children.

The village is planning a wedding this weekend. We ask Mohammad if the wedding is still going ahead. “For sure!” he answers. Because of the wedding,  the Israeli authorities left two buildings standing. For now. The bulldozers are coming back for them on Sunday or one of the following days; such a nice wedding gift.

The Jahalin Bedouin, crucial to the future of a Palestinian State

These demolitions are part of Israel’s scheme for the E1 area, which aims to transfer over 2,300 Jahalin Bedouins from the area east of Jerusalem, in order develop housing for the settlement of Ma’ale Adummim. The development of this area, annexed in the 1990s for Ma’ale Adummim’s municipal boundaries, would cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and effectively separate the northern part of the West Bank from the southern part. Following the latter, it is easy to see that this development endangers the chances for a viable future Palestinian state and peace in the region.

Moreover, the relocation scheme and its ongoing implementation are a flagrant breach of international humanitarian law and human rights law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly prohibits individual or mass forcible transfer and deportation of civilians under occupation. This conduct is considered a war crime and a possible crime against humanity.

Meanwhile, the Jahalin communities face several other obstacles such as lack of access to water, electricity, healthcare and education. According to Diakonia (2011) approximately 80% of the Jahalin are refugees and over two-thirds are children.  More than half of the Bedouin communities in Area C of the West Bank are food insecure regardless of humanitarian assistance.

The abnormal becomes normal

We are still drinking our tea as some of the children come home from school. What they see startles them. They run to the far end of the rubble that used to be their homes and start rummaging through the piles.

Boys rummage through rubble in search of their toys. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

Boys rummage through rubble in search of their toys. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

After a while they find some of their toys and seem strangely unaffected by the events. Then again, it is not long ago since this happened before – too often the abnormal becomes normal to these children.

A boy finds his teddy bear. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

A boy finds his teddy bear. Photo EAPPI/J. Kaprio

An Urgent Issue

The Jahalin situation calls for the international community to take resolute action – by refraining from any actions that support this development and by demanding Israel to fulfill its obligations under international law. Actions such as the EU’s recently published guidelines that refuse EU funding for entities in the Israeli settlements, are an opening to the right direction.

For the Al Za’ayyem community the situation remains more urgent. When we ask Mohammad where he will go now, he replies

“We have nowhere left to go, we will build our houses again.”

Al Walaja – Displacement past and future

by Bethlehem Team, Summer 2013

On Monday, 5 May 2013, the Israeli army closed one of the two entrances to Al Walaja, a Palestinian village located west of Bethlehem.  With a gate and two concrete blocks, the Israeli forces blocked the road which connects the village to the neighbouring Cremisan Valley and Bethlehem. Not only does this gate violate the residents’ right to freedom of movement, but it is also the latest event in a series of attempts to isolate the village from the city centre of Bethlehem and make their lives more difficult every day.

Omar Hajajle’s house is right next to the road block. It lies on the Israeli side of the separation barrier and only a tunnel under the wall connects him and his family to their village. He told EAs that this road block and the arrangements to build the wall changed his family’s life:

“It all started when they began building the separation barrier a few years back. Then they made way for the wall and cleared the land in the Cremisan area, which is right in front of my house. I was informed by the Israeli authorities that my house would be on the Israeli side, isolated from every direction and enclosed by a chain-link fence and this is the reality I live in today.”

A History of Displacement

Al Walaja is a village of approximately 2000 people, of whom 97% are registered refugees. The 1948 war displaced about 1600 people were displaced and the villagers lost almost 70% of their land to the newly formed State of Israel. Immediately, the Israeli towns of Ora and Aminadav were built on the hill where Al Walaja used to be. Over a 100 of the villagers moved to land they owned on what they called the ‘backyard of the village’ on the east side of the Green Line. This became the new Al Walaja.

After the 1967 war, Israel annexed half of the remaining 30% of land and placed it within the Jerusalem Municipality. Residents were not informed of this and despite this boundary change, were not provided with Jerusalem residency and ID cards.

During the early 1970s the construction of the settlements of Gilo and Har Gilo took even more land from the remaining 15% of  village’s land.

Fears become reality

Today, the residents of Al Walaja live continuously under the threat of displacement through the building of the separation wall, land confiscation and demolitions, which endangers the remaining 10% of their original land. The continued building of the separation barrier on its current route will split Al Walaja in half, with part in Area C on the Palestinian side and the other within the Jerusalem municipality.

For the last decade bulldozers uprooted and damaged hundreds of village trees and demolished over 45 building structures. The Israeli army exercised a campaign of house demolition orders and arrests of those living in the half of the village within the Jerusalem municipality, as they were deemed illegal residents because they had no Jerusalem ID permits.

The actions of the Israeli army in Al Walaja concerning the building of the separation barrier, home demolitions, and blocking of roads undermine international human rights. In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) called on Israel to dismantle the Barrier, and provide reparations to those materially damaged by the construction citing numerous violations to international human rights, including the rights to freedom of movement and the right against invasion of privacy of home and family as stated in Articles 12 and 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 “We have been stripped of our lands and forced to resettle here.” said Atta Al-Arja, a resident whose family are refugees from the 1948 war, as he sits on his patio overlooking the valley. “In 1999, the Israeli authorities sent us official warnings against any new construction without a permit. Permits are almost always denied for ‘security’ reasons. After this, 60 houses of Al Walaja received demolition orders, including mine. Half of them have been demolished.”

The villagers fear that the construction of the wall, despite court orders to reroute it, will encircle the village and cut off farmers from their agricultural land and make Al Walaja a Palestinian enclave.  After the closure of the road in May 2013, these fears came closer to reality.