Beit Arabiya is the name of the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh, a family of nine whose home has been demolished four times.
Any day now, the Civil Administration, Israel's military government over the Occupied Territories, could order the home demolished for the fifth time.
The Shawamreh home in the village of Anata, in the West Bank but just meters over the Jerusalem municipal boundary, has become the symbol of the Palestinian struggle against Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes -- and of resistance to the Occupation in general. Salim and Arabiya both come from families made refugees in 1948. In the early '90s they bought a small plot of land in the village of Anata, close to the Shuafat refugee camp where Salim grew up. They applied to the Civil Administration three times for a building permit and were denied each time for a different reason -- the basic one being that Israel had zoned virtually the entire West Bank as agricultural land according to a British plan (RJ-5) formulated in 1942 which freezes Palestinian building as it was 65 years ago. Indeed, RJ-5 is used to "legally” deny building permits to Palestinians throughout the Occupied Territories. And like thousands of other families -- ICAHD estimates that the number of demolition orders in the West Bank and East Jerusalem reaches into the tens of thousands -- the Shawamrehs were forced to build their home “illegally,” although the right to shelter is a fundamental human right.
Hundreds of volunteers -- Palestinians, Israelis and internationals -- organized by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Palestinian Land Defense Committee (LDC), have repeatedly come together to rebuild a home made for peace. The Beit Arabyia Peace Home, has become a meeting place for Israelis, Palestinian and International peace activists situated at the cornerstone and intersecting point of Areas A, B, and C.
Under the Oslo Agreements, Israel divided the Occupied West Bank into three areas:
Area A – This area consists of approximately 17.2% of the Occupied West Bank, divided into 13 separate, non-contiguous areas and The Palestinian Authority is responsible for security.
Area B – The area consists of 23.8% of the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority has civil control over the area, but overall security control rests with Israel. For all practical purposes, since September 2000, Area B has functionally ceased to exist and has been under full Israeli control.
Area C – This area consists of 59% of the Occupied West Bank. Israel has full security and civil responsibility over these areas. This is the only contiguous area in the Occupied West Bank; it surrounds and divides Areas A and B. This area is primarily situated around the Israeli colonies of the West Bank. The colonies themselves are not subject to the classification of Area A, B or C.
The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an Occupying Power to extend its law and administration to an occupied territory, rendering the very process of granting or denying permits to Palestinians, not to mention Israel's policy of house demolitions, patently illegal under international humanitarian law…
Resigned to the reality that the Israeli courts do not admit international law, the Shawamrehs' lawyers raised the illegality of applying a plan, RJ-5, that had never been revised over the past 65 years despite significant changes in demography and land use, including the construction of some 300 settlements, themselves illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which the Israeli government approved on the very same land that had been designated agricultural and on which the Shawamrehs and thousands of Palestinian families had been denied their fundamental right to housing…
Finally, the illegality of repeatedly demolishing the Shawamreh home under the original “perpetual” demolition order was questioned, especially since such a practice is illegal in Israel itself and is not applied to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.
On a hill in front of the Arabyia Home/Peace Center is the newly erected Sheen Bet (similar to USA FBI) prison and interrogation center. A new portion of the Ring Road which will connect the illegal settlements/colonies runs between the two and The Apartheid Wall is in full frontal brutal view.
When this reporter visited in October 2006, the closest neighbor's lived in a soon to be dismantled Bedouin camp. The Israeli government's policy of "Quiet Transfer" is moving, [or already has] the indigenous nomadic Bedouins to a garbage dump which will lead to their extinction, for the Bedouins have been denied the freedom to move about and graze their herds.
Upon the wall of the Arabyia Peace Center home is a mural donated by the North American Workers Against the USA occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The mural depicts Rachel Corrie, the American who was run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza when she stood up to defend the home of a pharmacist with five children, the other figure is of the pregnant Palestinian woman of ten who was also killed in Gaza. The angelic images of the two women float above a depiction of a USA made Caterpillar bulldozer tipped to one side and flanked by tanks and weapons of destruction. On both sides of the weapons of destruction are many people. A railroad track reminds the viewer that prior to 1948, Jews and Palestinians once worked together in peaceful solidarity to build a railroad.
The Arabyia Home/Peace Center is also at the cornerstone of the Anata and the Shuafat refugee camp, in the very area where the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century B.C. critiqued the violent conflicts in the Mid East, which were already old news: "I hear violence and destruction in the city, sickness and wounds are all I see." (Jeremiah 6:7)
Mohammad Alatar, film producer of The Iron Wall spoke to my group of over one hundred internationals who broke bread and ate a typical Palestinian feast prepared by the Arabiya family: "I am a Muslim Palestinian American and when my son asked me who my hero was I took three days to think about it. I told him my hero is Jesus, because he took a stand and he died for it. What really needs to be done is for the churches to be like Jesus; to challenge the Israeli occupation and address the apartheid practices as moral issues. Even if every church divested and boycotted Israel it would not harm Israel. After the USA and Russia, Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. It is a moral issue that the churches must address."
Eileen Fleming has been to the OPT four times since June 2005. She is the reporter and editor of We Are Wide Awake. Her second book, Memoirs of a Nice Irish-American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory, was released in Feb. 2007.
Other Articles by Eileen Fleming