Thursday, May 17, 2007

No Place Like Home

May 17, 2007

For the great majority of us, our homes are our safe place, our sanctuary and haven from the rest of the world. They are the places that we relax, enjoy the company of friends and family. For most of us, our homes are not just a physical structure, they are also the symbolic representation of our intimate and personal lives.

For those of us living in the West, the destruction of our home usually only comes as a result of a natural disaster or an accident – a cyclone, a flood or a fire. Rarely do we experience the destruction of our homes as an act of war or as physical manifestation of oppression or as punitive punishment. However, in Palestine , the destruction of ones home occurs regularly as a result of these three things.

Since 1967, when the Israel state seized and occupied the West Bank and Gaza , it has implemented a systematic policy of house demolition to not only to illegally and collectively punish the civilian Palestinian population, but also as a means of ethnically cleansing and ensuring the Judaisation of Palestinian land.

Although, I had seen the outcome of such Israel 's policy when I was in Palestine in 2004, I was fortunate enough not to have ever to witness such an act of demolition in action or to deal with the anguish of a family about to face such an act.

That, however, all changed this week.

On Wednesday night, one of my team mates received a phone call from a family in El Funduq, a small village a half an hour from our house. The family wanted us to come to see them the next day as the Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) had come to their home during the day, while they were at work, and left demolition orders for their house.

The following day, myself and two team mates made our way to El Funduq to meet with Bashir and Rana, the young couple who called us. Neither Bashir or Rana had been able to go to work that because they were so distressed and worried about what would happen to their family home and to their family.

As I sat listening to Bashir and Rana explain what happened and ask for their help, I also watched their two young children play. As I watched and listened to the family, I wanted to cry at the sad fate they were about to experience. Bashir looked drawn and told us even though he could speak a reasonable amount of English, he was too stressed and tired and ask us to pardon him for speaking in Arabic. Rana, like many Palestinian women, was the hidden strength in the family. She calmly and seriously explained in English the situation, while also nursing and feeding her 8 month old daughter.

Even in the direst of times, Palestinian hospitality is never forgotten and amongst glasses of Shay (tea) and Qarhwa (coffee), Bashir showed us the family deeds to land, land his father had brought in 1964 when Palestine was still under Jordanian administration and three years before the beginning of the current Israeli occupation.

Bashir and Rana's house, while built on family land, was built like the majority of Palestinian homes since 1967 in the Occupied Territories without a permit and this is why it was scheduled for destruction. Bashir and Rana, like most Palestinians are caught in a Catch22 situation, victims of Israel's cruel and brutal planning and development policy specifically designed to ethnically cleanse Palestinian land in order to ensure its systematic Judiasation.

For the past four decades, the Israeli state has used planning and development policy to severely restrict or freeze construction by Palestinians, while at the same time allowing for the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements. Israeli policy has meant that thousands of Palestinians are unable to obtain permits to build on land that has often been in their families for decades or even centuries. As a result, Palestinians are often forced to build without permits because they can not get official Israeli permission to be able to provide shelter for their families. In addition, Israeli policy has seen land registration frozen for more than 30 years, making it easier for Israeli authorities to deny permission because the owners of the land are unable to provide formal documentation of ownership of the land.
According to the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, over the past ten years, Israel has demolished more than 2,200 residences (as a result of planning and development policy), leaving more than 13,000 Palestinians homeless. During this same period, however, at least 155 Israeli settlements with more than 170,000 illegal settlers have been established in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As B'Tselem notes, "thousands of houses were built in these [illegal] settlements without permits", however, " Israel refrained from demolishing these houses, and instead issued retroactive building permits for thousand of houses constructed without permits", revealing the Israeli states blatant discrimination in favour of illegal settlers.

In addition, since 1967, Israel has also used the policy of house demolition as a form of punitive collective punishment supposedly in order to deter attacks on Israeli citizens and soldiers. Between December, 1987 and January 2005 alone, the Israeli state and military demolished, either completely or partially, almost 16,000 Palestinian homes as part of the punitive punishment policy, leaving more than more than tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless.
Bashir and Rana, although distressed, both knew well that there was little that they or us could do should the demolition go ahead. A year earlier, Bashir's brother's house had been destroyed, the evidence of its destruction was still evident a few hundred metres away. To the other side of the house, over on the next ridge, we could see the rubble of a sheep farm which was destroyed just three months earlier, leaving another local family millions of shekels in debt.

Over the next hour and half, Bashir and Rana's family – mothers, sisters, brothers and nephew and nieces – came to the house to express in Arabic and English, their distress and anguish about what was about to happen. The pain on the face of their mothers was etched deep, as Andjelka translated their distress: "This life is difficult", one said. "If they destroy this house, we don't know what we will do. If we built a second house, they will come and destroy it too. We will have no where to go but the streets".

So now, like Bashir and Rana and their collective families, we await news from their lawyer as to whether the house demolition can be stopped. If it can not be stopped, we will do as they ask of us and we will await their call to come to the witness the destruction of their family home, in order to document and photograph its destruction and their plight.

We will bear witness to the destruction of their refuge, their sanctuary, their hard work and intimate dreams in order to try and make the world understand what is happening, not only to Bashir and Rana's family, but to Palestinians all over the West Bank and Gaza .

We will bear witness in order to try and make the world understand that this is what it is to live under Israeli occupation and why now, more than ever, we must demand an immediate end to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian people and the occupied territories and call for a free Palestine.


Max said...

Dear Kim,
Your letters are very inspiring and I will tell all my friends and collegues about your blog. I'm writing from sydney resistance where I'm helping to build the 40 year anniversary demonstrations around the illegal occupation. I wanted to thank you for having me over at your place last November, we drank wine and talked politics and in the morning you made us Arabic coffee. Walter has since gone to Queensland to pick tomatoes and take a break from sydney politics. All the best. Max

Max said...
This comment has been removed by the author.