Good to hear your voice again, welcome back to the State Department.
It is now nearing 5am, Jerusalem time. By the time you read my message, the Israeli Army will likely have demolished a simple home and a barn (baraks) just outside of Al Aqaba Village. How do I know? Mr. Ashur Tsur of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) visited Al Aqaba yesterday to personally tell Mayor Haj Sami Sadeq that the demolitions will occur at 6 am today, and Mayor Haj Sami called me.
Usually, there’s more notice — this time, the ICA is giving them less than one day to respond.
Usually, Al Aqaba’s lawyers at the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center spring into action to petition the Israeli courts to block the demolitions. But this time, the barn and simple caravan home are located on land belonging to the Latin Patriarchate so JLAC can’t take the case.
I am copying Mayor Haj Sami, Andrew at the State Department, the staff at the US Consulate and US Embassy, the JLAC team and also the Latin Patriarchate on this message because I know, even if we cannot prevent this now, if we work together, we can prevent this in the future.
Here’s what Mayor Haj Sami told me when he called earlier today:
“A young man who grew up in or near Al Aqaba got married two weeks ago. To marry, he needed a house so he brought a container next to his father’s house on Latin Patriarch land near Al Aqaba to make a home for his new wife. There’s a baraks there too, a simple barn to house their goats or chickens. When they realized their home will be demolished, they sought to save it. The young couple (probably with the permission of Al Aqaba’s Village Council) moved their container into the center of Al Aqaba into the area where in 2008, the Israeli High Court said, “For the time-being the center of the village will not be demolished.'”
Yesterday, Mr. Asher Tsur told Mayor Haj Sami that he plans to come into the center of the village to demolish the container-home when the Israeli Army demolishes the animal shelter nearby.
There have been times in the past when the U.S. Consulate was able to stop demolitions in Al Aqaba – but now there’s so little time. There could be a way for the Latin Patriarchate to safeguard Palestinian families by signing leases, then working with JLAC or the St. Ives Center for Human Rights to file petitions, and making calls to COGAT [Coordination of Israeli Government Activities in the Territories] to assure their safety. This is worth exploring.
It was just in July when Mayor Haj Sami spoke before the Israeli Knesset. In just two weeks, Mayor Haj Sami will be speaking to the U.S. Congress on Sep. 21st, International Peace Day, along with representatives of Susiya Village and Umm Al Kheir village. Three children will speak too, describing what peace means and showing what peace looks like as they present their Pinwheels for Peace to Congress. We’ve got to find ways to make the children’s visions real.Right now, if there’s anything any of you can do to make this demolition stop, please make that call now.
“Right now the bulldozers are near Al Maleh, still far. If the US Consulate calls now they can stop this. In 2004 the American Consulate called and stopped the bulldozers. Call the Consulate, call the Embassy now. Call the Israeli COGAT office — there is enough time to stop this.
This is a big family, the children are all crying. This is their animal shelter, this is the home for the son.”
“Donna, call them and ask them to make their calls now.”
Then early this morning in the U.S., from Mayor Haj Sami:
“The shelter just outside Al Aqaba village center, that included the animal barn is now demolished. The water tank is damaged too, the bathroom is destroyed.
The family is all crying, the soldiers are still there, the press is there. It is really hot – where will they sleep?”
“The American Embassy did not help.”
Today, Baranski-Walker reported to us, “I think it is over now. As far as I’m hearing there is no further move by the Israeli Army into the village center. The Latin Patriarch’s office asks for a call from the Mayor, but right now the Mayor is surrounded by soldiers… I do believe it can make a difference when the American Embassy calls. Then-consular staff Prem Kumar stopped the bulldozers in Al Aqaba in 2004 with 2 homes demolished, 14 left standing — that made all the difference.”
On September 21, the Rebuilding Alliance will be bringing a delegation from Palestine to Capitol Hill to brief officials on house demolitions in the occupied West Bank. Those speakers include the charismatic mayor Haj Sami and a representative from the embattled village of Susiya too.