What do you say to a man who has just watched his family’s home destroyed by bulldozers sent by Israeli security forces?
Looking into his face just moments after the dust settled, I glimpsed his pain and devastation.
“Asfe” (“Sorry”) felt so inadequate as I looked into his heartbroken eyes, which returned unspoken thanks for my small offer of sympathy.
This east Jerusalem family is homeless tonight. What did they do to deserve this? They built a home without a permit – as many are forced to do.
Since 1967, Israel has implemented a policy of planning, development and building that restricts Palestinians from constructing buildings and planning cities, while simultaneously establishing and expanding Jewish settlements.
More than 12,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished since 1967, rendering an estimated 70,000 people homeless according to the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions (ICAHD).
Many homes are demolished for ‘administrative’ reasons – in other words, building without a permit, as is the case for the Abu Sneineh family. The UN reports that 94% of Palestinians in Jerusalem who apply for permits are denied them.
B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, gives three overall reasons for home demolitions:
The Abu Sneineh family built their house in 2001 in Al ‘Eisawiya, a Palestinian neighbourhood in east Jerusalem valley. A demolition order was issued in February 2007, and on Monday night municipality representatives visited, informing them of the ‘eviction’.
We heard the sound of the bulldozers before we could see them as we arrived at around 10:30am on Tuesday morning. It sent a chill through my bones. We watched from the main road as the destruction got underway. Not a single stone was left unturned. There was still food in the refrigerator.
The family of six, including a 15-year-old, is now left with only the clothes on their backs. When we asked where they will go, the father responded that they will probably sleep in a tent that night. The mother was too distraught to be present immediately afterwards. One of the sons and his cousin, both aged 21, were arrested when they tried to stop the demolition from taking place.
In recent days, Israel has demolished numerous Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. ICAHD reports that five Palestinian structures (four houses and a banquet hall) were destroyed between 6–8 November alone.
At an international peace conference in 2007, Israel reaffirmed its commitment to the Road Map, part of which includes halting “confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and property” and “freez[ing] all settlement activity”. The number of houses destroyed in 2008 has surpassed that of 2007.
Since the conference, 94 Palestinian homes have been destroyed in east Jerusalem and 235 in the remainder of the West Bank, compared to 78 in east Jerusalem and 208 in the West Bank in 2007, according to ICAHD.
The sun has already set as I write this at 5pm. My heart goes out to this family – and to the 329 other families who endured this unnecessary tragedy in 2008 alone. I can’t even imagine how it would feel to be in their shoes.
May God grant them grace in the difficult time ahead and may he grant us courage to speak out against unjust policies and such deplorable acts.
Jennifer Chiodo, who works for World Vision Jerusalem, witnessed the demolition of the Abu Sneineh family home in November 2008