By Rich Wiles
Around ten days ago a group of Israeli officials arrived unannounced at a small and cramped family house on the Jabal as-Zaytoon (Mount of Olives) in Al Quds. The men of the house, which accommodates 25 members of one Palestinian family, were busily working together to construct extra rooms in an attempt to reduce the severe overcrowding they are forced to live with everyday. The Israeli officials began taking photographs of the construction and told the men they had no right to extend their house. According to one of the brothers who was present at the time, the officials then took out an official looking document with Hebrew writing on it and taped it onto one of the outer walls of the house before quickly photographing the document in its position stuck to the wall. It was then removed without further discussion and without the family members being able to read it. One of the officials put the sheet of paper back into his pocket before they all returned to their vehicles and left the scene.
The Jumah family has lived on Jabal as-Zaytoon for decades, since well before the Nakba of 1948. The men remember growing up when the mountain was still covered in the rich Olive trees from which it takes its name, but standing on the flat roof of their house today the view is very different. The area has seen vast development over the last forty years and houses are now tightly packed together, Olive trees are no longer abundant. The Dead Sea is still just visible over the mountains in the distance from this high vantage point but as its waters have been drained so severely by Israeli industry the shoreline has moved substantially, and the tiled red roofs of Maele Adumim try their best to obscure it altogether. Maele Adumim is one of the largest Israeli ‘Settlements’ or ‘Colonies’ in the area of Palestine now referred to as the ‘West Bank’, all these ‘West Bank Settlements’ are illegal under International Law and none of them stood in the days when these men who are now attempting to accommodate their extending families were born in the neighbourhood. Down the hill and across the valley another very disturbing and much more recent construction also scars the landscape. From this distance the Apartheid Wall looks small until it is put into visual context by 5 or 6 story-high Palestinian apartment blocks whose residents are now stranded from each other - their neighbours - by this gross monstrosity. The view from the roof of the Jumah house presents significant evidence of the ‘success’ of Zionist colonization in Palestine, the rubble and devastation at the other side of the house alongside the road is much more recent evidence of Israel’s continued attempts to destroy indigenous life in Al Quds, the capital of Palestine…
At 8am on Monday June 29th over 100 heavily armed IOF soldiers, accompanied by Israeli policemen and snarling dogs, surrounded the Jumah house. They beat heavily on the doors of the various apartments. On the road outside bulldozers waited poised to strike. As the doors were opened by family members soldiers reached inside and dragged them onto the streets. The mother, at 65 years old, resisted and refused to leave her house as did some other family members. She wanted to struggle for her family and her rights. She was pushed backwards roughly as was an aunt who had also stood defiantly alongside her; both fainted from the stress and physical aggression and eventually were carried out unconscious before being rushed to the nearby Al Maqasid Hospital by neighbours. Two of the brothers who attempted to stand their ground were beaten by the intruders and then also dragged outside. Once all family members had been forced out of the building the bulldozers moved into gear and ploughed into the first two small rooms of the house as the family watched in horror. The demolition continued until the first two rooms of the house were reduced to a mass of rubble. The bulldozers did not continue onto the rest of the building as one of the Jumah brothers explained:
“They came (to us) and forced us to sign a letter saying that we would remove all the rubble before Sunday, then they will be back! They told us if we do not clear it all they will remove it and then they will send us the bill for ‘their work’!”
The Israeli Forces forced threatened the family with a bill that will run into thousands of dollars if the remains of their house are not cleared away before they return on Sunday, they also threatened to carry out more demolition on the remainders of the property.
The Jumah family did not have the building permits required by the Israeli Occupation authorities to carry out the extension work that was underway before it was violently halted by this demolition. The only people able to issue this building permit are the same Israeli authorities who brought bulldozers and soldiers to attack the house. Around six months ago the family followed all ‘rules’ laid out by the Occupation and applied to the authorities for the required permit, their request was refused…
“They told us we couldn’t build because we needed a minimum of 600 square metres in order to get the building permit we needed, we had only 100 square metres. Nobody has 600 metres of land here, look around, there’s no space or land left!”
All Palestinians living in Occupied East Jerusalem (Al Quds), or in Areas B and C of the so-called ‘West Bank’ (Areas B and C incorporate all areas of the ‘West Bank’ except the city centres which are referred to as ‘Area A’), must apply to the Occupation authorities for building permission yet it is virtually impossible to obtain. Nearly 300,000 Palestinians live in Al Quds yet according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD) only 18 building permits were issued in 2008 in Palestinian areas of the city. This practice forces Palestinians to build without ‘permission’ as their families naturally expand so overcrowding increases as was the case with the Jumah family, yet Israel uses such 'unlicensed' building work as one of many pretexts for demolishing Palestinian houses. OCHA (The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reports that last year 90 Palestinian buildings in Al Quds were demolished by the Israel authorities for the stated reason of having no building permit. OCHA says this resulted in making 400 Palestinians homeless including over 200 children. A document is sometimes sent to the family by the Occupation authorities informing them of the forthcoming demolition but the Jumah family received no warning. They now believe however that the piece of paper that was taped to their outside wall briefly and photographed by the Israeli officials who came to the house just over a week before the demolition was carried out was probably this document, and that the photographs taken were to create 'proof' of this document being submitted to the family despite the fact that the family themselves were not given this document or even the chance to read it. This 'proof' could be presented by the authorities should the family attempt to build a legal case against this illegal action.
The central section of the Jumah house comprised of two small bedrooms and a living room:
“In one room sleep my brother and his wife, and in the second bedroom sleep his six children. It’s not right six children stuck in one bedroom, when they were smaller it was easier but the oldest is now eleven and boys and girls shouldn’t be forced to share rooms at that age. My mother sleeps on the small sofa in the living room as there is nowhere else she can go…”
With such cramped accommodation the family was desperate to create more space. Even when the permit was refused, as they had expected it would be, they still knew they needed to find a way to extend their living conditions. Another one of the brothers offered to help them with some money as they had none of their own, and they decided to sell the family jewelry and what few valuables they had to try and raise some capital. They used the money to buy whatever building materials they could and for the last five weeks or so everybody has pitched-in together and worked day and night to extend the living space. The brother who had been able to provide some money for the project is a self-employed construction worker but recently has been unable to find much paid work. He lived in 2 small rooms alongside the road and in front of the rooms which housed his mother, brother and wife, and their six children. On the day of the demolition he had found work for the first time in 10 days, ten minutes after starting work he got a desperate phone call urging him to go home immediately. It was the 2 small rooms he lived in that the bulldozers ploughed into and crushed like a tiny beetle under the clumsy feet of an elephant. Sitting with him surrounded by the rubble of his former home he offered few words:
“What can we do? We have no money, no work, no life… all we have is Allah.”
The rubble of his former home cannot be cleared before Sunday, to do so would involve heavy machinery which would incur significant costs; the family is now just sitting and waiting. If the soldiers and their weapons of home destruction do return the family themselves can do little to prevent further demolition being carried out but they are appealing for help:
“Please tell everyone to come here on Sunday at 8am. We need journalists, activists, the Red Cross, we need people from the mosques and churches, we will need hundreds of people, but we need people to come here and help us. We need help…”