Baby ‘Aya’ is only 2 months old, and she’s already a victim of home demolition

Israel/Palestine
on 5 Comments

Every single home demolition is devastating to a family. Every single family who experiences a demolition tells a unique and surreal story about the day when Israeli bulldozers rolled over their children’s schoolbooks, their grandmother’s prescription medicines, and letters from their uncle overseas.

Home demolition is one of Israel’s preferred methods of evicting Palestinians from land they want, usually to provide housing for Jewish settlements, in violation of international law.

I want to tell just one story — the unique, surreal and totally intolerable story of Ashraf and Islam Fawaqa and their four daughters — Ritaj, 9; Rimas, 7; Saba, 4; and Aya, a newborn.

Islam Fawaqa holding baby Aya, May 15, 2017 (Photo: Nora Lester Murad)

On May 4, the Fawaqas took baby Aya for a newborn checkup. While at the clinic, they got a call from a neighbor that Israeli authorities had started to demolish their home in the Sur Baher neighborhood of Jerusalem. According to Ashraf, they had paid 25,000 shekels to delay the expected demolition.

“Isn’t that a particularly upsetting case?” I asked a friend.

“All home demolitions are upsetting.”

“I know. But when Ashraf rushed home and showed the demolition crew the Israeli judge’s order to pause the demolition, do you know what they did? They noted the judge’s name, left the site, and returned one hour later with a new demolition order from the same judge. Ashraf says an emergency court session gave them legal cover for their immoral act. Isn’t that evil?”

“All home demolitions are all evil.”

“I know. But shouldn’t we get some more international media coverage of this case? Surely the world will be appalled that four children, including a newborn, are living on a demolition site under a thin awning stretched over the few sofas they salvaged.”

“There were twelve demolitions in Jerusalem that day.”

“What?”

“Nine Palestinian families’ homes were demolished in Jerusalem on that same day plus three stores.”

I had no words.

“It’s ethnic cleansing,” my friend said. “And sadly, it’s so common that it’s not considered news.”

I visited Ashraf and Islam on May 15, the day of commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba, the ongoing historic expulsion of Palestinians from their land and the attempt to destroy their property, history and identity. I sat on the sofa amidst the rubble, my feet on the hard dirt.

Their little girl, Saba, served me some apricots.

“I see they left your chickens alone,” I commented as one walked by my feet.

Indeed, the chicken coop was still standing. May 15, 2017 (Photo: Nora Lester Murad)

“And the chicken coop,” Ashraf pointed out.

I looked and indeed, the chicken coop was standing. “Why did they leave the chicken coop?” I asked.

“I guess so the chickens would have shelter,” Ashraf said ironically.

Ashraf had lived in the house for six years. He built it with his own hands on land Ashraf’s family has owned longer than the State of Israel has even existed.

“That house was built without a permit,” Ashraf motions to one of the neighbors. “They told me they paid a lot of money after the fact and now they have a permit. And that family,” he points to another building,” tried for years to get a permit and was denied. They built without a permit and paid after the fact and I heard that now it’s considered legal.”

The Fawaqa family had already spent hundreds of thousands of shekels, first to try to get a legal building permit, then to pay fines for the home they ultimately built without a permit, and then to delay the demolition until after the baby was born. Now they must pay the expense of demolition itself (90,000 shekels according to Ashraf’s estimate), and the removal of the rubble (60,000 shekels plus a fine if the rubble isn’t removed promptly), and the cost of a temporary shelter. Ironically, Ashraf earned the money he’s paid for the home by working in construction. He works for the Jerusalem Municipality.

In order to have a kitchen, bathrooms and a place to sleep, the Fawaqa family ordered a prefab caravan, not unlike those that some Gazans, whose homes were destroyed by Israeli war planes, consider death traps because of the sweltering temperatures in the summer and the cold in the winter. Ultimately, they will face the cost of rebuilding, and if they build again, the new home will also be subject to demolition.

It seems there’s a great deal of profit to be made in the denial of building permits to Palestinians in Jerusalem.

I’ve visited several demolished families in Jerusalem, since my friend Nureddin was locked in a room with his wife and kids while Israeli authorities demolished the house around them. That experience, and the families I’ve met since then, have me feeling heartbroken and angry.

For Palestinians, owning a home is everything. They spend every penny they have on their homes, forgo every other need and luxury in order to build a home to provide security for their families. But clearly, while the international community makes every effort to uphold Israel’s right to security, little Aya’s right to security is violated with no effective action by those governments obligated to ensure respect for the human rights of Palestinians under occupation. Fortunately, Human Rights Watch did cover this case.

The legitimacy of a state comes from the protections and services it provides to the people in its jurisdiction. What kind of state has an explicit policy to destroy people’s homes? What kind of state has an elaborate infrastructure to make people homeless, impoverished and hopeless? Because that’s what Israel has done—made the destruction of Palestinian lives a national priority.

The Fawaqa family’s current abode. May 15, 2017 (Photo: Nora Lester Murad)

About Nora Lester Murad

Nora Lester Murad, PhD, is an activist and writer living in Jerusalem, Palestine. She co-founded Dalia Association, Palestine's community foundation, and Aid Watch Palestine, a demand driven accountability initiative working in Gaza. She has published articles in The Guardian, Aljazeera, OpenDemocracy, Al-Adab, and has done public speaking all over the world on the topics of international aid, local philanthropy, and accountability to communities. She blogs at www.noralestermurad.com and can be reached at @NoraInPalestine.

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5 Responses

  1. JosephA
    May 25, 2017, 7:28 pm

    I can’t believe the international community sits by and allows this. Last time I checked, in every other country in the world, if you built a structure without a permit you would have to pay fines after the fact and perhaps modify the structure so that it adheres to safety codes. I guess this is what happens when you let religious extremists and racists take control of a government. Clearly, the modern state of Israel has no shame.

  2. RoHa
    May 25, 2017, 7:40 pm

    Might as well start young. That’s the way things are going to be for a long time yet, so the sooner she gets used to being a non-person, without rights, the better.

  3. Maghlawatan
    May 26, 2017, 4:47 am

    There is a really interesting article in the Guardian about Facebook moderation. Moderators have to be trained to cope with images of brutality. One person interviewed said the work involves dealing with betrayal and cruelty and the underbelly of human nature. Zionism lives there somewhere on the spectrum between sadism and trauma.

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/may/25/facebook-moderator-underpaid-overburdened-extreme-content

  4. ejran
    May 26, 2017, 8:34 am

    Thank you for this. This makes me angry. This makes me cry. The world says nothing, does nothing, can’t care less. Or do they just not know?

    Please tell more stories. More stories need to be told. More faces and names need to be put on the hundreds of thousands of those faceless and nameless humans that have been killed, captured, tortured, dehumanized, driven away, broken systematically, as a matter of policy. Show the world baby Aya’s eyes. Tell them more about Saba. What did she learn in school this morning? These are people. These are people. It could have been you or me- this is the one thought that never occurs to those driving the bulldozer, to the soldier who mercilessly fires on an injured, unarmed woman lying on the street, to the other who beats children in cells. There are no limits, no limits, no limits to conceivable cruelty and injustice once you decide that the person in front of you is not really human. Everything is permissible. Guilt doesn’t exist. Empathy is not possible. This- this is the brain and emotional wash that Israel has achieved very successfully at a deep level. At a deep level, you shun any reminders of the humanity of this “threat”. You are a victim. You are a victim. Shut up, I am a victim, we all are, we have always been. Shut up, they want to throw us into the sea. The more we kill, the better. The more we drive away, the better. Shut up, we are under existential threat. We *need* this to survive. It is cruel but necessary.

    Please speak more loudly. Please shout it out more directly, more unapologetically. There is a humanity that can and needs to be saved before it dies completely. There is a conscience somewhere down there that can and should be disturbed. Or is this a naive faith? Is injustice sustainable? Israel will just let the hunger strikers die. The world (I correct myself, little pathetic earth) is busy with other things. Who are these people anyway? What is one life, 1500 lives, a million lives? When you are that helpless, that desperate, that you choose to drive yourself to death in order to let the world see. You would die, true, but maybe your death will save many after you. You would die, but maybe the world’s eyes will finally turn towards you.

    But the world still sleeps.

    Please show more faces. Please write more names. Please take more pictures. Please expose the “only democracy in the middle east”, in whom America sees a “fellow democracy (however flawed) in a region crowded with autocracies and so garners more emotional and normative credit with Americans.” (Haaretz).

    Silence is criminal. Inaction is criminal. Mine included. Sucking up to the occupier because he is powerful is criminal. Watering down obvious facts is criminal. Things need to be given their true and simple names. Apartheid. Ethnic Cleansing. State-sanctioned and financed mass murder and expulsion.
    Posterity will not forgive us.

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