ANATA, East Jerusalem—A Palestinian family here is clinging to the hope that their newly rebuilt home won’t be demolished as it was 10 years ago.
“I live in fear—I expect any second that the bulldozer will be here to demolish the house,” said Dalal Duwaik, a mother of six children.
Her fear is shared by many Palestinian families whose houses have been demolished or who live under the threat of demolition.
Studies show that more than 24,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (Occupied Territories) since 1967, said Jeff Halper, founder of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an Israeli peace and human rights organization committed to stopping the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories.
It is nearly impossible for Palestinian residents to get building permits because of Israeli government building policies that systematically discriminate against Palestinians, he said. The Duwaik’s first house was demolished because authorities said it was built without the proper permits.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) has been supporting ICAHD activities since its inception in 1997.
“Based on our Christian faith, MCC works towards justice and peace for all people, and we partner with Palestinian and Israeli organizations who share our concern for justice and peace for all people,” said Rick Janzen, director of MCC programs in the Middle East.
Duwaik recalls the excitement she and her husband Mohammad felt in 1998 when they invested their savings to buy a plot of land (800-square metres) on the outskirts of Anata and started building a 150-square metre house.
They had been living in a one-room apartment in the basement of a house owned by her husband’s parents and wanted to raise their six young children in a house with windows located on a yard with a garden.
Two months after moving into the house it was demolished.
“I was the only one at home,” she recalled. “I opened the door and was shocked to see all the soldiers. They told me to get out. I was a woman on my own. I couldn’t do anything, so I just left the house.”
Following the demolition the family moved back to the basement suite. Ten years later, in 2008, the family was notified that ICAHD would rebuild the house.
“When my husband told me that ICAHD would rebuild the house, I didn’t believe him,” she said. “I was so happy the house would be rebuilt.”
The new house is much smaller than the first one. It is only 50 square metres but has natural light and is not as damp as the basement suite where they had been living with their family, which now includes a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
But once again, while the house was still under construction, the family received a demolition order because the new house was also built without a building permit from the Israeli authorities.
Israelis and Palestinians working together to resist the demolitions and rebuild houses is a form of non-violent resistance to Israel’s discriminatory housing policy, said Halper. Although it is almost impossible for Palestinians to get permits, the growth of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories continues, said Halper.
Israeli settlements that are considered illegal under international law now cover 25 per cent of the West Bank and 34 per cent of East Jerusalem. These settlements strategically carve up the Occupied Territories and undermine efforts to create an independent Palestinian state within pre-1967 borders.
This non-violent resistance is also part of a larger effort to pursue a just and sustainable peace based on equality of all people—an idea that Halper has been supporting since joining the Israeli peace movement in 1973 when he emigrated to Israel from the U.S.
“If we don’t link our commitment to justice and peace and love with opposing real injustices in the world, then our commitment is hollow and it doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “If we don’t oppose injustices then what is the point of saying that we support justice?”
Duwaik is hopeful that solutions will be found before her new house is demolished. “Where will we go if our house is demolished?” she asked.