Tuesday, May 27, 2008

House Demolition in Ar Tur, East Jerusalem

The large arms of the bulldozers jackknifing their way through the concrete roof of the Abassi home drowned out all other sounds in the area, as plumes of dust spewed into the air under the blazing sun. We stood on a hill just above the scene, along with a handful of international aid workers, students, and reporters, but all we could do is watch. The order to demolish the home had come down that morning despite last minute appeals from the family’s lawyer for a stay on the order.

Audrey, one of my fellow EAs, had seen the bulldozers driving down the street outside her bedroom window and informed the rest of us of what was underway. The house, it turned out, was located just behind the Augusta Victoria complex on the Mount of Olives where we are staying. The family had built their home there two years ago without the necessary permits from the Israeli authorities who control the Eastern Palestinian part of Jerusalem. They moved there because they had been displaced by Israeli settlers from their home in nearby Silwan, the neighborhood I mentioned in an earlier blog. And it is very difficult for Palestinians to get permission to build in East Jerusalem, or even to add additions to existing structures. We have heard figures in the realm of less than five percent getting permission to build. Thus, many families, faced with few desirable alternatives, build without permits and are subject to a similar fate. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) reports that over 18,000 homes have been demolished over the years.

Before the demolition began, the family and a team of yellow-vested workers began removing the family’s belongings, and a small skirmish erupted after one of the workers scratched a piece of furniture as they carried it out. The family was then detained and escorted to another part of the property, while the children were moved to the neighbor’s house but not spared from the sights and sounds of it all, as they watched through the slats of the neighbor’s balcony railing.

There are seven people in the family including three children, of which the youngest, a girl, is 7. As they watched their home slowly dissolve into twisted metal and rubble, I thought of this popular reality show in the U.S. called “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” where impoverished and hard luck families are given new homes. I have to admit, it is a warm feeling to see a family being given a second chance with a new home, but I never imagined what it would be like to witness the other extreme. It was awful.

We approached a soldier to ask what he thought and, in his broken English, used the analogy of driving a car without a license. Despite the obvious flaws in his reasoning, it was clear that there is a legal aspect behind the destruction, a misuse of laws and bureaucracies to force people from their lands and homes.

After about an hour, it was all done. The house was gone and the family left homeless. All we could do was walk away, sweaty, speechless, and sad.
To learn more about ICAHD, go to their website at http://www.icahd.org/eng/


lisa j said...

This story will be our devotion for youth group this Sunday! Thank you for being our eyes and ears Marty. Blessing on your work.
lisa j

Elizabeth W. said...

How sad to watch a home demolition. You are our eyes and ears there. Thank you.