Welcome to Occupied Palestine. House Demolitions: Planning as a Weapon

November 15, 2013 by cosmoakacitizensmith

“I get knocked down/But I get up again/You’re never gonna keep me down…” Chumbawamba, Tubthumping

Meet Yusuf. He’s building a house in the tiny village of I’thna, about half an hour’s drive from the city of Hebron. I should say he’s actually re-building the house. The original one was destroyed by the Israeli army a few weeks ago.

Yusuf’s English is broken but he is a delightful person to work for. He gets me and the two other volunteers to help him make cement and fetch tiles so he can tile the floor. Despite the language barrier he keeps us all informed and laughing. Progress is slow, and it is very hot, but I’m made up: I never thought I’d ever help someone by making cement!

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We learn that the Israeli army had knocked down the house with children still in it. The reasons are unclear why it happened.  I’thna is in Area C, under Israeli military control. The army have always claimed that it demolishes houses because the structures are built without permits and are therefore “illegal”. However, 94% of planning applications are rejected by the Israeli government. What are people supposed to do as the population expands? Demolition can come at any time and notification is scant.

Because of the language barrier, it isn’t clear whether Yusuf is helping friends or family members. The family whose house it is are living in a temporary shelter that looks like an iron box next door, and the four young kids seem happy and playful despite their hardships. Their father speaks no English but tries to explain what happened using gestures. The Israeli army are now chasing around the area on quad bikes. It appears they even arrested another member of his family and detained him without trial for months: another depressingly familiar tale.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions considers planning laws used in this way to be a weapon of ethnic displacement. It’s not hard to see why. You can read more about their campaign here. It is interesting to note the contrast with the treatment of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories. This is quite disturbing and I’ll look at the issue in the next post.

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