Blog 11: Reflections in Broken Glass
‘I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations.’ Testimony by Israeli bulldozer operator in Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s most widely circulated tabloid paper, on 31 May 2002
For the majority of June I’ve been covering demolition orders, demolitions and other destruction of property by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF). The first story came from an idyllic picturesque village to the west of Nablus called Sarra. We were following up a story where six homes were left with demolition orders due to claims that they were on area C land. It gets very muddled but basically the West Bank was divided into Area A, B and C after the Oslo ‘Peace’ Accords. Area A was meant to be under full Palestinian civil administrative control, Area B would be under joint control and Area C; which represented the vast majority of land, was to be under full Israeli control. Area A represents the urban centres in Palestine, Nablus for instance, Area B makes up many villages and towns, but the land vital for expansion and farming that surrounds both the cities, towns and villages is almost entirely Area C, not to mention villages and the Jordan valley where they are Area C. Area C means that the Israelis are meant to provide for the population and should allow for instance the building of houses. Planning permission is almost always rejected.
Sarra however is Area B, but given population growth, like all places in the world, needs more space to expand. Planning permission was granted by the Palestinian Authority (PA) as they are ‘entitled’ under the Oslo agreement. The houses were built or close to completion when the demolition orders arrived claiming that they were in Area C. In a civilised society this should not matter as planning permission and town planning are integral to growing populations, but obviously this would interfere with the policy of squeezing Palestinians into ghettos.
I got taken to one of the beautiful large houses, Palestinians like to have the family together, generations do not split off but rather move into a different part of the house. The new home represented all the families savings from work abroad, to allow the younger generation; new couples with young children to settle and live in a beautiful place. Though Israel claimed they were ‘illegal structures’ due to being in Area C, the family believe and were granted permits and paid costs according to being in Area B. Although the homes are very close to the border with Area C, some other homes are closer or just as close, but have not been issued with demolition orders. Mustafa Durabi who welcomed us into his home, said to us ‘If I had known it was Area C I would not have built here. I have other land but here is nice and quiet that is why I build here.’ I stared at my glass of tea and saw that it was also obviously a brand new set. The room had the new smell of the furniture, the garden had expensive tiles and each floor of the building for which his family were going to move into had a balcony that looked outwards to the land. They were going to challenge the demolition orders in court on the 9th of July, but they and we knew the likely outcome of Israeli justice. As I write this, I shall work on a followup from the courts decision, it would be nice to get some good news. I have covered many demolition orders before, but generally I have not been around long enough to witness the outcome, but this meeting set the tone for the month that was to be full of similar destruction or attempted destruction of people’s dreams. I wrote the article here, which apparently has been re-posted by another website, http://palsolidarity.org/2013/06/six-homes-in-sarra-threatened-with-demolition-orders/
I feel at such a loss when going to these meetings, it hurts to see the helplessness of the people involved who are going to (or not, enshallah) lose their entire investment and dream and then on top of that resigning themselves to spending thousands more on a court case that realistically will only ever have one result.
Later, we had another night where we were woken up by another army raid of Nablus, they raid almost every night but once again this night, we were woken by tear gas and shooting close to our home. We watched from the balcony for many hours, filming and seeing may jeeps speed along in the city centre tear gassing houses and the handful of shabab (young people) who had ran out, quite rightly to tell them to fuck off. This would be the last night where we would do this as we decided by consensus that we wanted to go out in the future, we wanted to go out and support the people and find out what the army were up too, even if it had been thought previously that it would be too dangerous. We assumed what ‘they were up too’ was arrests, but we did not know of the scale the destruction they would cause to peoples homes and life.
In the morning we found out that there had been at least three arrests so we went out to report, frustrated that all we could do for the time being was to fulfil the role of journalists. We managed to get in contact with the family of one of those arrested and went to visit them in a high rise block of flats. When we entered there was something very worng about the Palestinian house, those who pride themselves by their property, and it was still beautiful, but disordered. The wife of the man arrested and his sister, who both spoke very good english had the complexion of people who had either been crying or who had had no sleep, I assumed it was probably both. They had spent the entire evening after the army eventually left repairing and cleaning their home, but there were tell tale signs. They had had help, apparently the community had come and helped them clear, replaster some of the wall, that had been hacked away at with tools by the army and pick up their furniture, clothes and food, that had been all thrown into the shower room. After getting the story of the arrest, we were shown to the children’s rooms that had not been left alone.The matress had been sliced open and the headboard smashed, I looked at the walls to see ‘Sponge Bob’ and ‘Hello Kitty.’ I realised that I’d actually never seen a Palestinian bedroom before, that was not a guest room, as normally only got as far as the immaculate lounge where we would be fed and watered to burst. It was painful to ask to see as they had done their best to clear up, but they accepted. I apologise for the analogy, but their home had been violated as had they and peoples’ response to that is to wash it away, to hope the shame, guilt and pain goes with it, unfortunatly not leaving clear evidence of the crime. I knew how Palestinian homes should be though and knew that it was not right, as I say, there was a disorder in the home that could be noticed. Such care and attention had been given, artwork and design, all done by Alam (the man arrested) and his sister show that this is not the usual sight. We left the family, who were still obviously traumatised and the children still without their father.
Near Alam another house had been raided but no arrests had been made. Mazin lives with his parents in an old house, we entered, but were not prepared for the sight we saw.
I carefully moved about the house, trying not to step on anything, frustrated to see everything and how my pictures were not doing justice. Mazin came over to speak to me stepping on everything the broken glass on the floor and food scattered in the kitchen, showing that nothing could be saved. We got the story, but it was not enough, we volunteered to help him repair and clean but he refused. It was awful, I couldn’t believe the pettyiness of mindless vandalism, that crossed over with evil as the contents of the fridge was emptied, eggs chucked at the wall and two bizarrely noticeably cracked open on the seat of a chair. We said goodbye, upset and I rushed home to write the report and luckily someone had better pictures.
Lastly in this journal I want to mention a Bedouin village called Atuf which I visited, at perhaps the worst stage. Their homes had already been demolished, without even a demolition order, though they not only were in Area C, but were also in what is known as a firing zone. This is a military training area, that basically ignores the populated areas in its scope. there are many deaths due to training ‘accidents’ and the purpose is to scare the population away as well as make life unlivable. We were close to the Jordan Valley so started to bake to death in the sun as we were slowly shown around the ruins of homes and animal inclosures. The road had also been dug to make a huge ditch to stop vehicles driving to the homes. We drank water in the sun and i was hoping we would be invited in to the shade, til I realised, yeah their homes have been destroyed. My camera started to melt, proof of which I contemplated posting a blue screen picture of its fault. It was hot and the families continued to look after their animals and kick about the wreckage of their homes. The UN had come briefly and delivered small tents for each of the families to stay in, and then had left again. It was desolate and inhospitable and I was angry. Angry at inaction, angry at why this was just accepted. Some of the homes had been demolished five times. One man asked me ‘how people expect to live with their children under the sun, without any shelter, how can we live like this?’ I didn’t know the answer, other than people just do, as delivering a tent will do, as allowing this to continue as it has always done.