Ismail watched in tears as the house he built with his own hands was demolished. He had built his home legally but, following a recent court decision, it was deemed to lie too close to Israel’s “separation wall,” dividing Jerusalem from the West Bank. And so, it was destroyed, along with many others. In the film, Palestinians plead with the Israeli army to let them pray before the bulldozers move in. “You have five minutes,” barks an enraged officer.
Last Thursday, the deadline for residents of Wadi Hummus to evacuate and demolish their own homes came to an end, and so the Israeli army took up the task. Wadi Hummus is in the West Bank but falls on the Jerusalem side of the so called “separation wall.” [link to map] In 2011, Israel banned any construction lying 100-300 meters from either side of the barrier, on the pretext of creating a security buffer zone. In the Sur Bahir area of Wadi Hummus, 200 buildings are located in this zone, half of them built before the 2011 decision, according to the United Nations.
The issue for the court was the proximity of the house to the “separation wall.”
Ismail describes how he built his house, how proud he is of it. He tells of how he complied with the requests of a judge to look for alternative accommodation and confesses his consternation upon hearing the ruling to destroy the house. The ruling came despite the fact that Ismail had the paperwork to prove that his house was built legally. The issue for the court was the proximity of the house to the “separation wall,” described by Jewish Voice for Peace as “the apartheid wall.”
Ismail’s is one of many court cases, filed by Palestinian families in East Jerusalem over this matter, which have fallen flat in recent months. “For me it’s like death, an early death,” says Ismail. “I don’t ask for anything – only to be able to live. That’s it. I don’t need their help. I need them to let me live with my family in my house; it’s a simple request.”
In the coming months, Israel plans to demolish hundreds more Palestinian homes.
Ismail describes the process as “the darkest month of my life,” but he is not alone. In the coming months, Israel plans to demolish hundreds more Palestinian homes. Ismail’s is one of dozens of families to lose their home in July. All of the affected houses were built legally, on land controlled by the Palestinian Authority. No compensation has been offered to any of the families, most of whom have lived in the area since 1967.
In the film, Israeli soldiers are seen storming properties in the Wadi Hummus area in full military gear. “If you want to film, film elsewhere Lady,” says one soldier to an activist. Moments later, a teenage boy is attacked while standing in the soldiers’ path.” “Why are you hitting him?” yells the boy’s father, while a woman is heard screaming in the background. The following morning, outside the building, one man is heard to ask one of the soldiers: “Why are you treating us like animals?” The answer lies in the fact that these house-demolitions are part of a wider policy aimed at limiting Palestinian urban development in East Jerusalem as well as in the Palestinian territories in general.
Alaa Hamid Amira, a 39-year-old resident of Wadi Hummus, told Middle East Eye: “While I was building my house, the army would stop by all the time and look at how it was developing. They would enter on the pretense of checking the laborers had the right paperwork and they never said it was illegal. That’s why I was surprised when I found a demolition notice stuck to my door in 2017.” This kind of testimony suggests that the intention of the Israeli government had always been to demolish homes in the area, with the alleged illegality of the planning permits serving solely as a pretext.
In truth, these home-demolitions are part of a broader policy of annexation, intended to wipe out all Palestinian territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
In truth, these home-demolitions are part of a broader policy of annexation, intended to wipe out all Palestinian territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The problem for the current Israeli government lies in the fact that we live in the age of information – the film about the destruction of the homes in Wadi Hummus was shared widely on social media. As public opinion changes worldwide (and crucially in the United States) many are beginning to wonder whether Israel’s current extreme policies are truly in its long-term interest. While the likes of Ismail are the true victims, in the long run, the losers may be those who used money and power to defy the opinions of the world population, accepted human rights norms, and international law.