The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions launched its tenth annual Rebuilding Camp on Sunday, July 1st. More than 30 volunteers from around the world joined Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank town of Anata to rebuild a Palestinian home demolished five times by Israel.
The home belonging to Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh and their seven children (known as Beit Arabiya), located in the West Bank town of Anata, north-east of Jerusalem (Area C), has been demolished by Israeli authorities five times since 1998. The family applied three times to the Israeli Civil Administration for a building permit and was refused each time, as were 94% of Palestinian permit applications since 1993. Having no other alternative, they proceeded, as have thousands of other Palestinian families, to build their home, in which they lived for five years despite having been issued a demolition order. In July 1998, Israeli authorities demolished the home for the first time. Subsequently, the home was rebuilt and demolished four more times, with the last demolition occurring on January 23rd 2012.
Within two weeks, the pile of rubble left after the demolition of the house in the middle of night on 23 January earlier this year, was transformed into a fully functioning house with extensive terrace, made possible by nearly one hundred additional volunteers, including international youth, part of summer delegations to Palestine who worked with temperatures soaring over 30 degrees C and with limited water supplies.
“This has been an intensely emotional experience. We’ve rebuilt a home, which is great – but knowing that we’ve rebuilt Beit Arabiya, the symbol of hope to all Palestinians, enabled us to participate in their steadfastness,” added Galen from the UK.
Rebuilding Camp Participants Recall Experiences of First Week
As the first week of the rebuilding camp was drawing to an end, participants recollected their experiences rebuilding Beit Arabiya, and taking in the disturbing realities of the occupation.
Rebuilding Camp Participants Explore Judaization
Rebuilding camp participants have taken time to explore Israeli practices and policies of disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people, and Judaization of the West Bank, and Israel proper.
“On a welcome break from rebuilding Beit Arabiya”, recalls Pia from Canada “Camp participants had a chance to visit Jerusalem and catch a screening of the documentary ”The Law in These Parts”. The title of the film, which documented a collection of interviews from Israeli military court justices, could not be more suiting. Law as practiced by the military courts is not the law of land, but a separate branch: it is a tool of the occupation. The judges rationalize justice in a framework of security, or perceived danger. The military courts as presented are a tool of oppression and occupation. The viewing of the documentary was a welcome one as it permits the viewer a rare glimpse into the functioning of these courts.
Charlotte from France reflects on the constant presence of the Separation Wall: “From the rebuilding camp, I observe each morning the boundaries of this open-sky prison all around the West Bank. The tour of Tel Aviv and Yafo did not offer us the opportunity to break out.” Charlotte further recalls that “Fifteen minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv, we stopped at Lod and Dahmesh. There are parts of the few mixed cities in which Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish Israelis live together. We got off in a neighborhood which looked familiar. The place was reduced to a heap of rubble. Seven houses were demolished two years ago. I ended up back in this jail. A smaller wall sprang up along the road separating the Jewish and the Palestinian neighborhoods of Lod. Lod or Jaffa are anything but mixed cities. They are segregated cities. The same process of Judaization is occurring on the Israeli side of the Fence. Many Palestinian live under the threat of impending demolitions. State discrimination has a bright future within the Israeli society.”
“Next stop: Jaffa”, reminiscences Galen from the UK, “where after a welcome lunch, we were shown around by our local guide Yousef Asfour who has to walk past his family home every day with the knowledge that he will never be able to return to it after his family was evicted by the Israeli government in 1948, with the promise of being allowed to return – a promise that has not been fulfilled in 64 years. Finally, Tel Aviv – "The New York of Israel" – a bustling western city with all signs of the nearby occupation hidden by a thin veil of liberalism and democracy. The plight of the Palestinian people almost invisible behind the avenues of green grass and lush trees.”
Rebuilding Camp participants spent the day the Jordan Valley, and for Heli from Finland, that day is embodied in the words of Fathe Kdirat from Jordan Valley Solidarity: ”Israeli's occupation in the West bank is worse than the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In South Africa everybody were at least drinking the same water.” She further recalls, “Early in the morning we left for a field trip to Jordan Valley where the air is dry and temperature raises easily above 30 C. Before the occupation Jordan Valley used to be rich agricultural paradise but after Israel dug some 40 deep wells in to area the Palestinian wells have run dry. The dryness in the Bedouin communities is visible, ground is dry, animals lie passive in the shadows and people need to decide who will get the water portion of the day: themselves, their children, their animals or their land. The consummation figure of water for the Palestinians is 40 l/day, where for settlers is around 400 l/day. The inequality is brutal and the temperature continues to rise as the day draws on.”