Al-Jazeera / July 18, 2021
Hundreds of Palestinians struggle to see a future as Israel demolishes homes and businesses in occupied territories.
Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem – Hundreds of Palestinian families are struggling to put their lives back together after their homes and businesses were demolished by Israeli authorities, either as collective punishment for operations carried out by relatives against the Israeli occupation or as part of Israel’s plans to change the demographics in occupied territory.
The village of Thurmasiya, north of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, is home to many expat American-Palestinians, with many ostentatious double-storey villas dotting the rolling valleys and hills of the village.
Saneh Shalaby, 40, was able to move into the home in the village owned by her brother after hers was demolished by the Israeli authorities.
Her home was destroyed on July 8 after her husband, American citizen Montaser Shalabi, allegedly shot and killed an Israeli settler and wounded two others in May near a checkpoint in the northern West Bank during a period of intense fighting between Hamas and Israel.
Despite a legal appeal and the intervention of the American Embassy which criticized the collective punishment inflicted on Saneh and her three children – who took no part in the shooting and only knew about the incident after it happened – the demolition went ahead.
Israel argues that its policy of collective punishment against relatives of suspected attackers is a deterrent to other Palestinians considering acts of violence against Israelis.
But Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which said Israel had carried out hundreds of punitive home demolitions over the years leaving thousands of Palestinians homeless, refutes this.
“The state has never presented any figures to prove that the demolitions do, in fact, deter Palestinians from carrying out attacks, nor has it ever been pressed to do so,” the rights group has stated.
“Without proof of efficacy, the utilitarian justification for such an extreme and injurious measure is lost. On the other hand, contradicting proof indicates that house demolitions have actually increased motivation among Palestinians to carry out attacks.”
No such punishment, which is against international law, applies to Israelis who have committed similar crimes against Palestinians.
Both Saneh and her mother were interrogated by the Israeli Shabak or domestic intelligence agency, but neither were treated harshly – probably due to their US citizenship and the American Embassy’s intervention.
However, Saneh is still deeply traumatized by the incident.
“Saneh is very depressed and stressed and sleeps most of the day only waking to eat and shower,” her mother Elizabeth Khamis, visiting from the US to support her daughter, told Al-Jazeera.
Khamis said Saneh’s children appeared to be adapting to the situation and their new home but that it was hard to know how their mother’s grief, the imprisonment of their father and the loss of their home had really affected them.
“My other children who are studying and living in the US are also very concerned about their sister and phone all the time to see how she is while encouraging her to be strong.”
‘I don’t know how I will feed my children’
In Silwan, in occupied East Jerusalem, another Palestinian family is struggling with the emotional and economic effect of the demolition of the family’s business and the pending demolition of their home.
Nidal Rajabe’s butcher’s shop was demolished two weeks ago after he was unable to obtain a building permit because of an Israeli policy that limits Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem, while simultaneously encouraging the building of Jewish settlements – all illegal under international law.
Several Jerusalem municipal officials and Israeli cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, have openly stated Israel’s official policy is to create a Jewish majority in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
On June 7, the Jerusalem municipality issued a series of demolition orders to residents of the Al-Bustan area in Silwan. The 13 families affected, consisting of some 130 people, were given 21 days to evacuate and demolish their houses themselves.
Rajabe received a notice to self-demolish his business within 21 days – an order he refused to carry out.
Subsequently the municipality demolished the building and Rajabe is waiting for the bill for that which is expected to be in excess of NIS 60,000 ($18,200).
On the day of the demolition, protests broke out and Rajabe and two of his brothers were arrested and jailed.
“I was beaten up and spent four days in prison, one of my brothers was hospitalized with a head injury after he was hit on the head by the Israeli soldiers,” Rajabe told Al-Jazeera.
Not only does Rajabe have to pay the Jerusalem Municipality for demolishing his business but he has lost his monthly income of up to NIS20,000 ($6,000) with which he supported his wife and eight children.
Furthermore, the Jerusalem Municipality has fined him NIS20,000 for building his butchery without a permit, NIS50,000 ($15,200) for building his home without a permit and NIS10,000 ($3,000) for building his verandah without a permit.
He has also received a demolition notice for building his home.
In one of the protests which followed the destruction of his business, Rajabe’s son Harby, who is diabetic, was shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with live ammunition.
He was subsequently rushed to hospital where he underwent hours-long surgery, during which one of his kidneys and some of his intestines were removed. He is now in chronic pain and struggles to walk or stand straight.
Rajabe confirmed that he would not comply with the Jerusalem Municipality’s order to self-demolish his home, which will lead to new expenses to pay for the municipality carrying out the demolition.
Because of the huge debt he is facing, the payments to the municipality have been broken down into monthly instalments, which Rajabe showed Al-Jazeera, and which will take several years to repay – assuming he is able to find work.
“My wife is very worried about the situation and my children are stressed and angry,” he said.
“I’m looking for a job but I don’t know when I will find a job or how I will continue to feed my children or repay the debt.”