Collective punishment and the demolition of Palestinian homes

Collective punishment and the demolition of Palestinian homes
Israel is destroying family houses as a punishment for acts allegedly committed by one family member.
7 min read
The Shaludi family's home was destroyed on 19 November [al-Araby]
"We woke up to a loud 'boom' that made us run like mad. I ran straight to my uncle's house. The sound was so loud it was as if it was right next to me. My mother kept hurrying us out, saying the occupation had demolished the Shaludis' house, and that they were on their way to destroy our house too."

These are the words of Moataz Hijazi's sister. Her brother was killed by Israeli security forces after he was accused of attempting to kill the right-wing Israeli activist Yehuda Glick. The Israeli authorities have announced their intention to demolish his family's house in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of al-Thawri as a punishment for his crime, though the demolition order has been suspended pending a petition brought before the Israeli Supreme Court by the Israeli rights organisation Hamoked.

Days earlier, the Shaludi family's son, Abdul Rahman, ploughed into a Jerusalem tram stop - killing two before being shot dead at the scene. On 19 November, The Israeli authorities demolished his family's home, in Silwan, south of al-Aqsa Mosque, as punishment for his actions.
Demolishing a house in Jerusalem is not a simple matter. It means homelessness and the loss of identity.
- Mother of Moataz Hijazi

The UN has described this practice of house demolition as a violation of human rights law.

Speaking after they had been given 48 hours notice, but before the court order suspending the demolition was issued, members of the Hijazi family were pessimistic, saying they expected the same fate as the Shaludis.

Waiting for the demolition of their house, the family had moved most of their belongings to the homes of neighbours and relatives. All they had in their home was a few boxes and bags, which they could take with them at a moment's notice.

The Hijazi family built the house themselves, before Jerusalem was occupied in 1967. Moataz Hijazi lived in the house with his family since his release from an Israeli prison two years ago.

"This reminds us of him", his sister said, pointing at the television as she showed us around the house. "He recently installed these cabinets" she said, pointing across the room. She cried as she remembered how he painted the walls in her room and replaced the doors.

"They did not just take away my brother; they took away everything that reminded us of him. They took all his belongings. They are terrorists", she said.

"A house is no more valuable than the man who builds it and lives in it. Whether in Jerusalem or anywhere else, a man with free will can start from scratch," Hijazi's mother told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

"We should hold on to Jerusalem and never let it go. Demolishing a house in Jerusalem is not a simple matter; it means homelessness and the loss of identity and existence," she added.

She said the house demolitions were a brutal crime and a violation of human rights. The Israeli occupation rarely allows Palestinians in Jerusalem to get construction permits, and when it does, the permits are prohibitively expensive.

The pain of loss

Dressed in black, with puffy red eyes and barely making eye contact, the family attended the funeral, which was marked by a sign outside the house in the Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood of south Jerusalem.

Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal were killed after carrying out the attack on a synagogue in Jerusalem that killed five Jewish settlers. Uday and Ghassan's mothers, and Ghassan's wife sat at the funeral, eyes full of grief but shining with defiance, only hours after they were held at the Maskubeya interrogation centre.

During their hours in the detention centre, Uday and Ghassan's family members were humiliated and beaten, especially Ghassan's brother, Munther, who was released after his abdomen was cut open and his eyes swelled as a result of continuous torture for two hours. His mother told al-Araby he had to be taken to hospital.

"They completely destroyed our house", said Uday's mother. "My dear son is gone and now they are after the house. My dear son is gone."

She talked about her house and her fears for her other sons. "They turned it upside down, breaking glass, cabinets and kitchenware. They threw everything on the floor and used teargas. They even wanted to throw Uday's brother from the roof of the house."

Ghassan's mother also shared her story. "Ghassan had three sons. We did not know what he was up to, and the news of what he did came as a shock. Whether they destroy the house or not, the owner is gone", she said. "We hope they do not destroy the house. He had three sons, where can they go?"

Stay or evacuate?

Ibrahim al-Akari's family has lived in a state of confusion since his death. Akari was another Palestinian killed after he rammed his car into a group of Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem, killing one and injuring several.

Even though she has not yet received a demolition notice, Akari's wife cannot stop thinking about the demolition of her family home. She lives there with her five children.

The demolition order on her house has also been suspended, pending consideration of a petition brought before the Israeli Supreme Court by the Israeli rights organisation Hamoked.

"We do not know what to do. Should we move our belongings? It could take months for them to come. Where would I go with my children? Should we all just sit on the floor until they come? We have nowhere else to go," said Akari's wife.

The oldest of her children is Tamara, 13, who said the demolition "would make me sad, but not as sad as I was for my dad".

The family of Mohammad Jaabis is in the same situation. He was killed in August when his tractor hit an Israeli bus, killing one Israeli and injuring others. His family is still waiting for a decision from Israel's Supreme Court on the appeal they filed against the demolition of their home, in which they said the collision was just an accident, and not a deliberate attack.

The Hashlamouns on hold

Maher Hamdi al-Hashlamoun was severely injured on 10 November 2014 after he stabbed Israeli settlers near the Gush Etzion settlement bloc in the occupied West Bank. He was taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva.

His family has been waiting for his condition to improve, and for Israel to make good on its threat of demolishing their house.

Until now, we don't have information about Maher's injuries. They have been keeping information from us, even from our lawyer.

"Until this very moment, we do not have any information about Maher's injuries. They have been keeping information from us, even from our lawyer. We do not have any confirmed information. We hear in the media he is in a critical condition," said Maher's father, Hamdi al-Hashlamoun.

Israeli troops stormed Maher's house in the al-Zeitoun area of Hebron and arrested his brother-in-law. They also stormed his father's house and arrested his brother Mohammad, who works as a dentist. The Hashlamouns rushed to empty their houses. Maher's father said all his sons were abroad, except for Maher, who had been detained by Israeli officials.

Maher lived in a 130 sqm two-bedroom flat on the fourth floor. Israeli troops raided his home more than three times, and every time they would take pictures and note down details about his flat.

"On the same night when Prime Minister Netanyahu threatened to demolish the house, we removed our belongings and furniture, distributing them between neighbours and relatives, as there was nowhere else to put them. Our neighbours helped us move some of our things to abandoned warehouses. When I went to empty the house, I found a group of volunteers whom I did not know helping us move our things," said Maher's father.

Maher's wife and children, seven-year-old Ubeida and four-year-old Mariam, now live between her father and Maher's father.

"We are going to find a house for Maher's wife and kids", Maher's mother, Um Nafiz, told al-Araby. She explained that Maher was still paying off the house.

"Bombing the flat would also destroy other flats in the building," Maher's mother said.

None of the families whose houses have been demolished or who are awaiting demolition said that they had received any help from the authorities.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.