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In Jerusalem, the Israeli Army has been destroying the family homes of militants as a form of collective punishment. This story explores what happens to those families after they have lost their home.
Text by Youssef Zbib
In October, 21-year-old Abdel Rahman Shalodi drove his car into a light rail train station on a line that connects Israeli settlements in Jerusalem. He killed a baby and a woman from Ecuador and wounded at least seven other people. This act was part of a recent series of attacks against Israelis, fueled in part by a religious conflict over the ownership of the holy site that Israelis call the Temple Mount and to which Palestinians refer as the Noble Sanctuary.
In retaliation for the attack, the Israeli government ordered the destruction of the Shalodi family’s apartment unit, located in the Silwan neighborhood near the disputed old center of Jerusalem. His mother, father and five siblings, are now without a home.
"Right now we are living in my brother-in-law’s apartment. He is in Jordan now and will come back in five months,” said Enas Shalodi, Abdel Rahman’s 43-year-old mother.
“We can only use the living room and one bedroom in the apartment in which we are staying, so the situation is a little difficult. Some of my children sleep at their grandmother's and some sleep here," she added.
The Israeli police have not left the family alone since the demolition. Police officers interrupted a reporter’s interview with Enas to inspect the apartment, something which has happened repeatedly since the family moved into their temporary residence.
“They came here when we moved in and said that we are not allowed to stay. [They show up whenever] a reporter comes here,”Enas said while her teenage daughter Nebras spoke with the police officers.
“The [Israeli police] are also threatening to demolish the home where we are staying now, which belongs to my brother-in-law (…) Since the demolition, approximately 34 days ago, they broke in here about 10 times,” Enas said.
Enas’s daughter Nebras finds it hard to deal with the family’s difficult circumstances.
“We have no computer, no TV, no devices and the house is too small. It is not enough," Nebras said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has labeled the demolition of the family homes of militants as a “war crime.”
“Justifying punishment of people who are not responsible for a criminal act just because they might ‘support’ it would set a dangerous precedent which could come back to haunt Israelis,” reads a statement issued by HRW in November 2014. Israeli critics of this policy, on the other hand, argue that it is ineffective because, as figures show, the number of attacks by Palestinians against Israel increases following house demolitions.
Demolition to expand settlements
In addition to demolishing homes as a punitive measure, Israeli authorities also destroy Palestinian homes built without a permit. Palestinians in the West Bank, however, usually cannot obtain such permits even if they apply for them.
According to the pro-peace Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, Israel has demolished 545 houses that belong to Palestinians in east Jerusalem between 2004 and 2014. This has made 2,115 people homeless. Some people take down their homes with their own hands in order to avoid paying demolition charges to Israeli authorities, according to the organization’s official website.
The Zeer family, made up of a mother, a father and five children, now lives in a cave after Israeli authorities razed their house twice, without giving them a clear explanation.
“Sometimes they [Israeli authorities] claim that this is an agricultural area. At other times they claim that we do not a have a [building] permit,” said 40-year-old Khalid al-Zeer. “It seems that they want to uproot us and ethnically cleanse the original inhabitants from this land and move in settlers that they have gathered from around the world.” The small community of Israeli settlers in Silwan has recently expanded as dozens of them moved into the neighborhood in October, with the help of a right-wing organization called Ateret Kohanim that promotes Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem. The organization considers this influx a legitimate return to a village established by Yemenite Jews in the 1880s known in Hebrew as Kfar Hashiloah, which disappeared in the 1920s.
Eli Hazan, a member of the Israeli Likud party, defended his government’s policy of building settlements in the West Bank.
“We are going to stay in [the West Bank], therefore we are going to build in these places,” Hazan said. “We remember what happened from 1948 to 1967. Jews could not go to East Jerusalem. They could not go to the Western Wall and Mount of Olives.”
From the Palestinian point of view, however, this will only lead to more grief.
“This suffering and the suffering of every Jerusalemite will not be over until the end of the occupation,” said Enas Shalodi.
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