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.”