Monday, February 16, 2009

Home Wrecking

Last week as we were making dinner in our guest house on the Mt of Olives when we had an unexpected visit from a neighbor, Ibrahim Ahmad Abu El-Hawa. Ibrahim and most of his family have lived here on the Mt of Olives for many generations. He is an affable and kind man who is a member of an organization dedicated to inter-religious cooperation and peace with Israel. It is called Jerusalem Peacemakers (

He has spoken all over the world on his heartfelt desire for peace and harmony between the Palestinians and Jews. He was quick to point out that he has spoken to groups in 46 states and been invited to the White House. I was completely struck by his warmth even as he told us why he had come to visit. He told us that the home of his niece, her husband, and their family, who live just down the hill from us, was to be demolished by the Israeli Army the next morning. They had built a very nice house just a few years ago on land they own, to house their growing family. They spent years trying to get a building permit to build their home, but like most Palestinians they were unable to secure the permits and in the end, were forced to build anyway in order to put a roof over their families head.

One of the most horrific forms of the occupation is going on every day in Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Authorities use bureaucratic process to try to force Palestinians out of their homeland and away from their friends and families. They do this with a systematic process that prevents Palestinians from getting a required building permit to expand, improve, or build a home. Jewish citizens of Israel have no problem getting a building permit. For Palestinians, it is nearly impossible and if they are allowed a permit it is very expensive. Ibrahim was lucky enough to get a permit for his home. He told me, in his excellent English that the permit alone cost 550 Sheckels per square meter or over $100 Thousand dollars!

When they build without a permit out of sheer need, a demolition order is placed on their house and the Army can show up at anytime without any notice, reduce the home to rubble and give the family a huge bill for the demolition. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions ( calculates that 28 structures (including garages, storage areas and Bedouin tents) have been demolished in the past two weeks, and 78 in all so far this year, in East Jerusalem alone. Hundreds of homes have active demolition orders on them that can be acted on at the whim of the municipal authorities.

In this family’s case, they were told last year that if they took down part of the house they would be able to keep the rest. They did that. A few months later they were told they needed to take down another part of the house. They paid for that demolition too. Last week they received yet another demolition order; the one Ibrahim came to tell us about. The order was to be executed the following morning at 7 AM. He asked our team to be present to witness this heinous act. His lawyers were fighting to save the house and continued in their efforts right up to the end. They lost the fight and while our team watched from the neighbor’s rooftop what looked like the whole Israeli Army descended on the house, and in a matter of a few hours reduced it to a pile of broken concrete. We got the whole process on video which is no consolation to the family that is now homeless. The pictures tell the story much better than I can.

This process has been going on for years and it is well know to be a significant part of the Israeli governments attempt to take over as much Palestinian land as possible and make life for those who remain as miserable as they possibly can to encourage them to leave the country.

The building restrictions for Palestinians are on top of other very restrictive land laws that the government uses to take control of Palestinian land. One of those laws provides that any agricultural land that has not been tended for three years becomes government property. This law has been used extensively to take land with the wall. The wall has been built between the homes of Palestinians and their farm land. The Army puts an ‘agricultural gate’ in the wall and the farmers need to wait at the gate for access to their farm land. There is no real schedule for access so they sit there for hours waiting for a passing jeep to get to their own land. They must repeat the process to get their crops to their village. I may cases only the old people are given permits to tend the land to ensure that it does not pass to a younger generation. When people tire of this process or become too old to endure it, the Israeli government takes the land because it is not being cared for.

When I was in the village of Yanoun last week I was told by the mayor of Yanoun that the Army had come to the village a few years before and taken detailed pictures of every house in the village. They were told that if they made any improvement or changes to their homes they would be subject to a demolition order for the entire home, and they would be arrested. The village is the middle of nowhere. The only other people in the area are the armed settlers above and around them who want to steal their farm land which is very good land. The mayor wanted to improve the well on his property that provides water for the village. He was told that if he did, his home would be leveled. This is all because the village is within a protection zone of the illegal settlement and the settlers, who all have M16’s and are well versed in their use, need to be protected from the farmers and their goats in this tiny village.

In the cities like East Jerusalem there is a long list of methods employed including taking land for ‘public use’, for dubious historical significance, or simply to build the wall. In many of these cases the ‘public use’ is never known. We did identify the use for one plot of land that was taken to build a new park to honor Jewish Tolerance. They call it Tolerance Park. The Israeli government has demonstrated their tolerance of others by building Tolerance Park on an Arab cemetery.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?