Saturday, March 23, 2013

Demolition Order

Bassam's house could be demolished by the time you read this post.

Bassam Saleem Hassan Solayed and his family live in a lovely house on the outskirts of the village of Fa’run.  When he bought his land and applied for a building permit in 1996, he was told that the land was in “Area B,” an area under joint Palestinian/Israeli administration, and that he could build there.  Eight years later, he received a “demolition order.”  And, while his house is still standing, he is well aware that it could be demolished tomorrow.

“I built my house, before there was any Wall,” Bassam tells me.  “I was married and living in the house, then the Wall came in 2003 and now they want to destroy my house.”

The house next-door to Bassam's was demolished in 2006
Bassam received his first demolition order in 2004, as did 11 of his neighbors, all of whose houses were on the hilltop overlooking the border with Israel and the nearby Tayba checkpoint.   He and his neighbors went to court to fight the orders.  Today, nine houses, including one next-door to Bassam, have been demolished, leaving only Bassam’s and two others standing.

The appeals, which went all the way up to the Israeli High Court (equivalent of the US Supreme Court), bought some time, with a series of six-month extensions that ultimately ran out in 2012.  Now he waits, not knowing what will happen next.

His last court date was in January of 2013.  While he attended the hearing in the Israeli settlement of Beit El, it was conducted in Hebrew and he didn’t fully understand what was said.  His lawyer, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, tells him that his best chance of saving his house is if the map of Fa’run were to be re-drawn to include his house (and the two neighboring houses still standing) within its borders.  This requires the services of a surveyor, will cost US $4,000, and has no guarantee of success.

Bassam's house overlooks the Tayba checkpoint
“They said I was outside the village, close to the fence (Wall),” Bassam explains.  “Maybe it will increase my chances of keeping my house if it is in the village.” 

Or maybe not.  The Israelis claimed “security concerns” when they demolished the nine houses in Bassam’s neighborhood in 2006.  The difference between those houses, and the ones still standing, says Bassam, is that no one was living in those houses at the time of their demolition.  His lawyer tells him he is in a “better position” because he and his family (wife, three children and elderly mother) are all still living in their house.

But the reality of the situation is that occupied houses are demolished every day.  Thousands of homes have been demolished and their occupants left homeless since the start of the Occupation in 1967.  The “reason” given for most is that the owners did not have building permission, but the reality is that the Israeli government will not issue building permits to Palestinians if they live in the Israeli-controlled Area “C,” which is more than 60% of the Occupied Territories. 

Most houses are demolished because the Israeli government wants the land on which they stand to build settlements.  Others are demolished to make way for the Wall, or for Israeli military bases, or even for “parks.”

Living under the threat of a demolition order is difficult.  Children go to school not knowing if their home will still be standing when they return.  A knock on the door in the middle of the night could mean a soldier, coming to tell a family that they have five minutes to leave before the bulldozers come.

Even practical matters are difficult.  “When something breaks in the house, I don’t know if I should fix it or not,” Bassam says.  “The house could be gone tomorrow.  It’s very scary.”  
There are nine demolished houses in Bassam's neighborhood

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