21.02.18 | Jerusalem, Shu'fat. | Salah Abu Khdeir in the rubble of his just-demolished home

A Lifetime of Work, Gone

Saleh is walking in the ruins of his home, which has just been demolished by the military. The bulldozer was escorted by about fifteen ‘Border Police’ soldiers who formed a line preventing any of the family members from getting near the house. They had been given only 30 minutes to save whatever valuables they could haul from the home. Sofas, air conditioning units, a television, solar panels and other artefacts of life and happiness lay piled in a heap in the meadow. The rest; lost under the rubble. Saleh wept as he spoke to the local media, which startled a veteran B’tselem volunteer into patting him on the shoulder. A Palestinian father crying was not typical. The demolition, however, was: Saleh did not have a building permit. As a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, it is nearly impossible for him to obtain one. But families grow. Shelter is needed. So people build, and are then criminalised by the system in place. The rule of Law is frequently cited by Israel as a justification for occupation practices; ‘Aren’t there planning laws in your country?’ Yet law does not necessarily serve justice. Between 1967 and 2012, the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem grew by 335%, to 300,000. In that time, Israel granted only 4300 building permits to Palestinians. Such planning practice serves to criminalise those it neglects. The result is that an estimated 100,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem now live with the constant threat of demolition hanging over them. “I don’t know when the bulldozers will come”, a man told me, his cigarette smoke curling toward the ceiling. “Maybe ten years. Maybe next week. Maybe tomorrow.” As far as Saleh could, he played ball. He paid out fines totalling over 50,000 Shekels (12,000 Euro) in an effort to placate the authorities. He successfully obtained a court order preventing the demolition until further deliberations were held. But they came anyway, with no warning, and demolished the home regardless. “A lifetime of work, gone”, he sobbed as the crowd of family, neighbours and media watched on in silence.

21.02.18. East Jerusalem, Beit Hanina. Israeli security forces leave the scene of Saleh Abu Khdeir’s home.