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(DV) Smith: House Demolitions in the West Bank







House Demolitions in the West Bank 
by Jane Smith
December 5, 2006

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 As we arrived in the village of Al Funduq, central West bank, the aftermath of the first house demolition was evident. A family stood on a pile of rubble silenced and shocked. The second house demolition was just beginning, with the Caterpillar and Volvo bulldozers ripping into the top floor of the nearly completed house. As we approached, four Palestinian men ran forward from behind the line of soldiers and entered their house. I was deeply moved by their courage. The soldiers grabbed the men out of the house, holding one in a tight neck lock, and handcuffed two of them throughout the demolition. Within an hour, the future home was nothing but a pile of rubble. The family was powerless in this situation, and could only watch as years of labor and money was obliterated by the Israeli army. Caterpillar and Volvo are profiting from this family's grief.

The bulldozers turned around and headed off in the direction of the village. By this time we were joined by five more internationals. We walked ahead so as to be able to get to the site of the third demolition before the bulldozers arrived. Not surprisingly, the Israeli army was already surrounding the building. It was a big agricultural structure, where livestock lived. Money had clearly been invested and no doubt many mouths were dependent on the income. One end of the building was already under demolition as I helped the family salvage a few things.

Without pause, the bulldozers and army headed off to the site of the fourth demolition, in the nearby village of Hajja. This family had fire. They wanted to resist. They stood at the top of the hill, angry and shouting at the Israeli army. They were frantically waving and hollering for neighbors to join them in their resistance. We ran over the field and up the rocky, thorny hill to join them in their struggle to preserve their livelihood. As people were approaching the army started throwing sound bombs. This did not deter us, and we joined the family up against the wall and gate of their huge agricultural structure. The family had papers with their lawyer, which they hoped would prevent the demolition. No wonder they had fire. They had a slither of a chance of preventing this crime. It was only ever a slither. They needed time. And time is exactly what is not available living under military occupation. The family was frantically calling their lawyer. We were frantically calling everyone and anyone who may be able to buy some time. There was a sense of inevitability about the demolition, soldiers had already entered the compound, and the family members inside the walls and gate were "allowed" to move some of the animals. Let it not be said the Israeli army is inhumane. Though much like the hierarchy of human beings in this part of the world, some are "worth" saving, some are not.

The predictable happened. The army would not wait for the papers and the demolition started. It took two hours to rip this multi-storied building apart.

During the demolition a group of around 10 soldiers took off across the field in which I was stood. They threw a sound bomb and fired at least one rubber bullet into a small group of boys aged around 12 who were passing by. The boys were in no way threatening. I am sure more bullets would have been fired if this white skin had not been watching. Throughout the day, I lost count of the number of times I shouted: "Stop. Do not shoot."

The final house demolition was by far the worst. It was extremely traumatic for the family involved. The soldiers tried to prevent internationals from passing, pointing their guns at us.

It was unclear which of the two houses the bulldozers were aiming for. Outside the first house there were several women, gathering up their young children, petrified. I thought of my sister. And my beautiful niece. We had our brief moment of opportunity and dived in the house with the women and children, locking ourselves in. It was then that we became aware of what was happening in the next house. A family up on the roof, hysterical in their grief. Four internationals stayed with the women, three of us dodged the soldiers and joined the family on the roof of their semi constructed house.

I will never forgot the agony of that family. As I emerged onto the roof I was met by a scene of utter chaos. I had no idea what was happening. One young man was lying motionless, with family members desperately trying to rouse him. Periodically, he would writhe around screaming in agony. A second man dropped to the floor, writhing uncontrollably. We had to keep pulling him back from the edge of the open roof. I was pretty sure what I was witnessing was an extreme emotional reaction, but at the back of my mind were the stories I have personally heard of the Israeli army using unknown gases that have debilitated people for a week. I heard a bang and then a third man screaming and holding his leg. I thought he'd been shot. That was the first time I consciously felt my fear. Possibly a rubber bullet skimmed him, but fortunately he was not shot. An elderly woman collapsed. Everyone was wailing and screaming and crying out to Allah. The Divine arrived in the form of the medics. Palestinian medics are some of the saints of this world. Fortunately the army did not try to prevent them entering the building.

Things became marginally quieter and calmer for a brief moment. Then the 30 soldiers who were stood around the house massed together. It was clear they were going to act. What was not clear was what that action would be.

En masse they entered the house. They scrabbled up the concrete framework where the steps would have been built, in this yet unfinished house. They pushed past me and started grabbing and pushing the Palestinians down the rough steep concrete slope. Four people were still being treated by the medics. They picked these people off the ground and dragged them outside.

Once we were all outside the Israeli army started throwing sound bombs and firing rubber bullets. Sound bombs were exploding all around the ambulance and one man was shot with a rubber bullet a couple of meters from the ambulance.

A few people were beaten by the soldiers. They pushed people to the ground. They screamed with hatred into our faces, the saliva of their anger meeting my skin.

As the demolition was happening, the soldiers began firing rubber bullets into a group of predominantly women and children, stood outside their house, watching what was happening. There were so many outrageous things that day. But this indiscriminate shooting is where I felt my anger boiling. One soldier had his gun aimed at the women. I shouted with as much power as I had left, but with complete clarity, to stop. He looked at me. We held each others eyes for what felt like an eternity. He did not shoot. I am utterly aware the only reason I can do this and for it to work is because of inherent and deep deep racism. Fortunately there are still situations where this international privilege is working.

Three people went to Qalqiliya hospital, seven to local clinics to be treated for rubber bullet injuries and shock.

A young man sobbed, tears racking his body as he sat on a pile of rubble that was his family's future.

The reason for any of this? A brutal, racist illegal Occupation.

If you want the reason according to the Israeli army, Palestinians dared to build on their own land, in their own village without the permission of Israel.

The virtual impossibility of getting building permits is another story all together. If you want to learn more about demolitions, permits, etc. go to: www.btselem.org and www.icahd.org

Jane Smith is currently working with the International Women's Peace Service in the West Bank, Palestine. IWPS is a solidarity group which documents as well as intervenes in human rights abuses. On 22nd November the IWPS was called to some house demolitions in the villages of Al Funduq & Hajja.

* For photos and video of the demolition go to www.rainbow70.blogspot.com  www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UHAcun3qaU, www.iwps-pal.org.