In May 2013 half the house of a family of neighbors of the lovely area where I was living in Jerusalem was demolished by the Israeli government. A terrifying experience which marked a watershed in my relationship with the reality of the place. I am only telling it now basically for two reasons: the first and obvious one is that I have left Jerusalem, and I am now free to express myself as I wish; the second is that – as I have repeated over and over again in these last weeks – one cannot separate what is happening in Gaza and – as far as more recent days are concerned – in Jerusalem, from the devastating occupation Palestinians have been subjected to for decades now, and that deprives them of every right and of the dignity every human being should be entitled to.
After it happened, I wrote about it for the 2013 anthology of Writers Abroad, and I was happy to see my story published. Today I can add something to it, and show you how in a matter of few minutes, the plan Israel is carrying out in Jerusalem devastates a family’s life.
The family had been living on that land – which they possess – for decades. The patriarch is more than eighty years old and has witnessed dramatic changes. From time to time my husband and son, when going to work and to school, gave him a lift to town, and he told us about how Jerusalem once was, what the geography of the city was before the foundation of Israel, where the Jordanians were, what happened after ‘67 and lots of anecdotes and facts related to different areas of this fascinating place.
The morning the police border came to demolish the house, I was set to give my final exam to become a coach. I had to stay connected on Skype to wait for my turn. From the window of my house I saw the whole nightmare display in all of his cruelty: policemen literally everywhere made sure no reaction would disturb the demolition, while men in orange fluorescent jackets emptied the house – they took out every single item and made a pile beside the house. The kids of the neighborhood threw some stones and the soldiers shot rubber bullets, one hit the cousin of my landlord, who was trying to protect the children, on the back.
I want to point out that since 1967 under Israeli rules Palestinians are not allowed to build or extend their premises without a permit from the Israeli government, even if they own the land. Out of 100 permit applications per year, only 5% is accepted. The remaining 95% can chose to reapply, not to build, or build without a permit, which is what most Palestinians do, since families grow, couples get married, children are born, and they must be lodged somewhere. If you climb on any high place in Jerusalem, from where you can see a good portion of the city, you’ll be immediately struck by the fact that whereas West Jerusalem is literally filled with cranes and construction yards, East Jerusalem is completely still. The only heavy machinery moving in East Jerusalem are the ruthless bulldozers that demolish houses. If you have lived in Jerusalem, you have certainly come across the deadly procession: two heavy trucks transport the bulldozers, followed by a couple of police jeeps and usually a smaller police car. They get to the point where the destruction is going to take place, and are met by a group of armed policemen that are already there, to ensure that reactions, if any, will be contained.
My neighbors had built an extension of their home thirteen years ago, after waiting for ten years to get a building permit that never arrived.
They knew they were at risk of demolition, but they never received the notification which is usually sent beforehand and that allows the family to empty the house and get organised. And organised they must be, because if the rabbles of the demolished house are not cleared in a couple of days, they will get a fine of a couple of thousands dollars. They were totally taken aback, and so was I. When my exam finished, I joined the enlarged family of my landlord and some members of the family of the house that was about to be demolished, in the garden of my home, from where I filmed the whole act.
I wish I could find the words to express my sorrow and outrage in front of all this. I know the family and I have lived side by side with them for four years, so I have been obviously touched in a personal way, but this happens in occupied Palestine every single day. Every stroke of the bulldozer does not only destroy a cement structure – it also erases a culture, a population, the hope for a peaceful coexistence and for a better world.
While I was living in Jerusalem, many friends who are not familiar with the situation asked me why the Israeli government has this demolition policy. I hope this helps clarify the situation a bit. And please, if you are a parent, I ask you to imagine your small children standing in front of their house and seeing it torn down piece by piece. No human being should be subjected to such violent trauma. This happens in Jerusalem every day.
Here are a couple of videos of what happened that day. I am really sorry for the bad quality – I was crying and my hands were shaking very hard. I still hope to make you feel, through them, the injustice of it all.