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Life after demolition: Palestinian family in East Jerusalem reels after being forced to demolish their own home

Israel/Palestine
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The days since 38-year-old Murad Hashimi lost his home in occupied East Jerusalem have been some of the most difficult of his life.

Not only did he lose the home he was born and raised in, but he was forced to demolish it with his own two hands.

“When I was destroying my house, it was like I was in a daze,” Hashimi told Mondoweiss.  “I couldn’t think clearly. Even now, I can’t think about anything except the house.”

Murad is the latest addition to the growing list of Palestinians in East Jerusalem who have made the unbearable decision to destroy their own home.

With Israeli building permits too expensive for most Palestinians in Jerusalem, many are forced to build their homes without a license, and thus face the Israeli demolition order that inevitably follows.

When officials from Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality served Hashimi with a demolition order for the home he built 20 years ago, he was given two options: demolish the house himself, or wait for Israeli forces to destroy his home, and then pay them a demolition fee.

“The decision to destroy my house by my own hands was difficult, but I had to do it for economic reasons,” Hashimi said, adding that it was significantly cheaper for him to tear down his own home than let the Israelis destroy it, and incur the demolition fee.

Due to the high costs of renting demolition equipment, the Hashimi family worked with activists to start a GoFundMe page to help alleviate the financial burden.

“Where else in the world do you have to ask strangers for money so they can help you demolish your home?” he asked.

“I can’t describe that feeling,” he said as his voice started to crack. “It was very, very difficult. I still haven’t accepted that this happened.”

“With every stone that I tore down, I felt like I was destroying a piece of my soul.”

A 20 year fight

Murad Hashimi was born in the Wadi Qaddoum area of Silwan, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem located just south of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

He grew up with his siblings in his parents’ small one-story home, that has been around since the 1950’s.

In 1998, he and his brother Juhar decided to build an extension on top of the original family home. The new level would consist of two apartments, one for either brother and their future families.

All that remains of the Hashimi family home is the tiny, two-room ground floor structure that was built in the 50’s (Photo: Saleh Zghari)

“We decided to build without permits because the Israelis make it very difficult for Palestinians to get building permits,” Hashimi said. “For example you need to meet a minimum requirement of land area to get a building permit, specific amount of area to build; but in East Jerusalem there is a lot of overcrowding and the space we have does not meet the Israeli requirements.”

When Murad and Juhar worked out the costs of building legally, they knew it was something they would never be able to do.

“Of course we wanted to get the proper permissions, but the cost of obtaining the building permissions alone was more than twice what it would have cost us to actually build the place,” he said.

The brothers completed the new addition to their home in the same year they started. The project cost them around 120,000 shekels.

Murad would go on to get married and have four children, all born and raised in the house he built with his brother.

“From the moment we finished the house, we lived with the fear that the Israelis would come to destroy it,” he told Mondoweiss. “It’s a fear all Palestinians in Jerusalem live with.”

“You know that day will come, but a small, naive part of you still has hope that it never will.”

Despite his highest hopes, that day did come for Murad just a few years after he built the house.

Over the past 18 years, he said, he has exhausted every legal option in an attempt to retroactively legalize his home.

“We appealed to the courts, we got engineers to prove that our building did not violate any of the municipality’s building codes, we paid thousands of shekels for lawyers, but it was all for nothing,” he said.

“Going into it, I knew that no Palestinian had ever been successful in legalizing his home after receiving a demolition order, but I still had to try,”

Though he could not legalize his home, Hashimi’s efforts did buy him some time with the courts.

“The demolition order was consistently delayed for a long time, and I got to live in my home for 20 years, which is more than a lot of people here.”

A few months ago, Hashimi’s luck ran out. Israeli forces arrived to his home with a final demolition notice.

“We knew it was coming, but it didn’t make it any easier on us,” he said.

‘It’s a vicious cycle’

The story of the Hashimi brothers is a familiar tale in East Jerusalem, which is home to some 300,000 Palestinians, who have lived in the city for generations.

When Israel illegally occupied and annexed East Jerusalem into its territory in 1967, the Palestinians in the city were given the status of “permanent residents” in the city, meaning that they are not citizens of any country: neither Israel, nor the Palestinian Authority-administered West Bank.

Over the years, Israel has used a number of tactics to “Judaize” Jerusalem, by incentivizing Jewish settlement in the city, and placing severe restrictions on Palestinian residential or other construction in East Jerusalem.

Israel’s Jerusalem Municipality has zoned only 15% of the land in East Jerusalem for residential use, despite the fact that Palestinians make up 40% of the city’s population, leading to severe overcrowding in Palestinian neighborhoods.

An estimated four out of five of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem live under the poverty line.

Coupled with extremely expensive building permits that can cost tens of thousands of dollars, these policies have created a reality in which Palestinians like the Hashimis have no choice but to build without permits.

According to UN documentation, at least a third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, placing over 100,000 Palestinians at risk of displacement.

“I know very few people in East Jerusalem who have gotten permits, but it ended up costing them up to 450,000 shekels,” Hashimi told Mondoweiss.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” he said, “the system is designed to work against us.”

‘We will not leave Jerusalem’

Despite the cost-saving decision to demolish his home himself, Hashimi anticipates his family will feel the financial strain for years to come.

“I still ended up paying more than 25,000 shekels ($6,630) for the cost of all the demolition equipment,” he told Mondoweiss, adding that the family received over $2,000 from the GoFundMe page.

Between the cost of building the house, all the legal fees over the years, and now the demolition costs, he estimates he has lost more than 200,000 shekels ($53,030).

“It will take us a really long time to recover,” he said, adding that between his brother’s family and his own, 14 people — more than half of them minors — have been displaced as a result of the demolition.

For now, Murad and Juhar are staying in the original family home on the ground floor, which remains in tact. Their wives and children are staying with their wives’ families.

Murad Hashimi walks among the remains of his home (Photo: Saleh Zghari)

“My family is scattered in different places,” Hashimi said, “we don’t feel whole when we are not together.”

“The demolition has really affected my children. This is the house they grew up in and it’s the only place they’ve ever known,” he said. In the days after the demolition, his kids were too distressed to go to school.

With his family torn apart and his bank accounts depleted, Hashmi’s future seems bleak.

“I can’t even think about planning for the future,” he told Mondoweiss. “Our whole life has been destroyed. I don’t know what to do.”

When asked if he would consider leaving East Jerusalem for the West Bank in search of more affordable housing options, as many Palestinian Jerusalemites have done over the years, Hashimi shook his head.

“No, absolutely not, I don’t want to leave Jerusalem. That is what they want us to do,” he said.

“Jerusalem is the most important thing to us, we can’t leave from here. Whatever they put us through, we will never leave Jerusalem.”

yumnapatel
About Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is a multimedia journalist based in Bethlehem, Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @yumna_patel

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11 Responses

  1. Misterioso
    Misterioso
    December 17, 2018, 10:06 am

    Heads up Mondoweiss!
    For some reason, I have not received today’s usual daily email regarding the latest postings. I trust I am not alone.

    In any event, here’s some inspiring news:

    https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/rashida-tlaib-to-wear-palestinian-gown-while-being-sworn-into-congress-1.6746113

    “Rashida Tlaib to Wear Palestinian Gown While Being Sworn Into Congress” – Haaretz, Dec. 15/18

    “Representative-elect Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, posted a photo of the traditional garment on Instagram”

    “Democratic Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib said she plans to wear a traditional Palestinian garment to her swearing-in ceremony next month.”

    “Sneak peek: This is what I am wearing when I am sworn into Congress. #PalestinianThobe #ForMyYama,” Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, wrote in an Instagram post on Friday. A thobe, or thawb, is a traditional ankle-length garment worn throughout the Arab world and some countries in East and West Africa, while “yama” is Arabic for mother. [Photo of her beautiful dress can be viewed in the Haaretz text]

    “The embroidery on Palestinian dresses varies per city, village or region and is a way for the wearer to show pride in one’s origins. Tlaib’s mother is from Beit Ur al-Fauqa, outside Ramallah, and her father from Beit Hanina, an East Jerusalem neighborhood.

    “Tlaib made history in November, when her victory in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District made her the first female Muslim to be elected to the House of Representatives. She was followed shortly later by fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who won the seat formerly occupied by Keith Ellison.

    “Tlaib has made headlines regarding her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on several occasions. Before winning her primary in August, her campaign represented her as supporting a two-state solution and aid to Israel. But since her victory, she has explicitly endorsed a one-state solution and called for an end to aid to Israel, prompting the pro-two-state-solution lobby group J Street to officially withdraw its support for her.

    “Earlier this month, Tlaib told The Intercept that she plans to lead a delegation of lawmakers to the West Bank. Tlaib said the delegation’s goal is ‘to humanize Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories,’ which Tlaib likens to what African-Americans in the United States endured in the Jim Crow era.”

  2. amigo
    amigo
    December 17, 2018, 11:53 am

    ““Rashida Tlaib to Wear Palestinian Gown While Being Sworn Into Congress” – Haaretz, Dec. 15/18” Misterioso

    An absolutely brilliant symbolic gesture.

    But wait for the howls and accusations of antisemitism .I mean this gesture will make the Jewish members and their supporters uncomfortable . Imagine, a terrorist supporter wearing a Hamas uniform in Congress. A deliberate act of provocation against the Jewish People.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      December 17, 2018, 2:57 pm

      @amigo

      Agreed.

      The Zionist anti-Semitic card is wearing thinner and thinner. This is 2018, not 1948 or 1967.

      “You can fool most of the people some of the time………”

      Once again, I am impressed with the courage, honesty, determination and humanity of Palestinian women.

      Mabruk Rashida Tlaib!!!

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        December 17, 2018, 11:19 pm

        Yes, most impressive

  3. Misterioso
    Misterioso
    December 17, 2018, 3:37 pm

    Meanwhile, Australia plays a clever and entirely honest move:

    https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/.premium-australia-a-true-friend-of-israel-1.6748169

    Editorial
    “Australia, a True Friend of Israel” Haaretz, Dec.17/18

    “The Australians recognize what is self-evident about West Jerusalem, but at the same time they also see as self-evident that East Jerusalem is slated to be the capital of Palestine”

    “The decision by the Australian government to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and wait to move its embassy until there is an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is good for Israel. It’s also a reality check for the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which mistakenly believes that the world is in its pocket.

    “It was U.S. President Donald Trump who insisted that the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to move its embassy there was no more than an acknowledgement of reality. But despite the fact that the embassy is situated in the West part of the city, and although Trump declared that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital did not constitute a taking a position on the borders of Israel’s sovereignty in the city, the decision had a decidedly one-sided whiff to it – so much so that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has since been boycotting the Americans and refuses to return to the negotiating table.

    “In contrast to the American move, which only recognized the Israeli reality and ignored the Palestinian reality, the remarks by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reflect reality more reliably. On the one hand, the Australians recognize what is self-evident about West Jerusalem. ‘The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,’ Morrison said, and promised to establish a bureau in the city to deal with security and trade issues. At the same time the Australians see as self-evident that East Jerusalem is slated to be the capital of Palestine, and promised to recognize it as such when the time comes.

    “It’s no surprise that, according to political sources, ‘There was disappointment with the recognition of West Jerusalem.’ Netanyahu and his government, the peace resisters, have been misleading the public to think the world has come to terms with throwing the two-state solution into the dustbin of history and is even willing to ignore Israel’s continued military control over the Palestinians. The Australian government’s decision is an important reminder that, with the exception of the Israeli right, there is an international consensus that there is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict other than the two-state solution.

    “’We expected more from a friendly country like Australia,’ said Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who went even further and claimed that the decision encourages Palestinian violence, as if the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem haven’t been inflamed almost nonstop since the U.S. declaration. One hopes that the Americans will follow Australia’s lead, recognize East Jerusalem as the capital of the future Palestinian state, bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and press the two sides to sign a two-state agreement.”

    “The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.”

    • Marnie
      Marnie
      December 18, 2018, 8:45 am

      That was a cracker of a move by Australia!

      “We expected more from a friendly country like Australia”. Actually, I had no idea Australia was so ‘friendly’!

      The zionists have really got to pull their heads out of their asses so they can see what everyone else is seeing, before it’s too late for them (it probably already is though).

  4. RoHa
    RoHa
    December 17, 2018, 9:26 pm

    Clever, yes.

    Honest? From our Government?

    It was a way to get Morrison out of the hole he dug for himself for sordid political (tautology?) motives.

    I gave you the background earlier.

    https://mondoweiss.net/2018/11/occupied-expansionist-wishlist/comment-page-1/#comment-935036

    Trade deals with Indonesia are very important to Australia.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      December 18, 2018, 10:59 am

      @RoHa

      Yes, I am familiar with what you wrote.

      By using the word “honest,” my point was that while Australia has made it clear that it is prepared to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to West Jerusalem** when a peace agreement is reached between the Palestinians and “Israel,” in accordance with international law, it has also agreed that East Jerusalem belongs to the Palestinians.

      **By signing the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PLO accepted UNSC Res. 242 and thereby agreed to recognize a sovereign Israel within the 1949 armistice lines, i.e., as of 4 June 1967 – 78% of mandated Palestine, including West Jerusalem, which was invaded, seized and permanently “cleansed” of 60,000 Palestinians by Jewish forces in March and early April 1948.

      The PLO also agreed to the US/EU/UN supported 2002 Arab League Beirut Summit Peace Initiative, which offers Israel full recognition as a sovereign state (per UNSC Res. 242, i.e., within its June 4/67 boundaries with possible minor, equal and mutually agreed land swaps), exchange of ambassadors, trade, tourism, etc., if Israel complies with international law (e.g., the UN Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute) and withdraws from East Jerusalem.

      (For the record, the Beirut initiative does not demand the return of all Palestinian refugees. In accordance with Israel’s pledge given to the UNGA in 1949 and by signing the 1949 Lausanne Peace Conference Protocol to abide by UNGA Res. 194 regarding the then 800,000 Palestinian refugees as a precondition for admittance to the UN (after being rejected twice), the Arab League’s Initiative “calls upon Israel to affirm” that it agrees to help pursue the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem…,” which would include ample financial compensation as an alternative to their inalienable “right of return.”)

      Along with all Arab states and the PLO, Hezbollah and Iran also accepted the Arab League’s 2002 Beirut Summit Peace Initiative. Regrettably, then Israeli PM Ariel Sharon summarily dismissed the Arab League’s peace overture, as did Israel in 2008 and thereafter.

      • mondonut
        mondonut
        December 18, 2018, 1:11 pm

        @Misterioso, In accordance with Israel’s pledge given to the UNGA in 1949 and by signing the 1949 Lausanne Peace Conference Protocol to abide by UNGA Res. 194

        Once again, this claim has been totally fisked. Israel made no such pledge.

  5. niass2
    niass2
    December 18, 2018, 12:01 am

    Friend of the devil is a friend of mine. If I get home before daylight, I just might get some sleep tonight.

  6. klm90046
    klm90046
    December 19, 2018, 12:06 am

    “….. demolish the house himself, or wait for Israeli forces to destroy his home, and then pay them a demolition fee.” AND THEN PAY THEM A DEMOLITION FEE!

    When Germany herded Jews onto cattle cars and railroaded them to concentration camps, these hapless people would then be ordered to pay for their transportation!

    How new atrocities look identical to older atrocities! Spiritual grandchildren of perpetrators recreating their grandparents’ vile deeds.

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