Peace House in the West Bank demolished for the 5th time

Beit Arabiya - The Peace House cc Martina Weitsch

Israeli authorities demolished Beit Arabiya (“Arabiya’s House”) last night (Monday, January 23rd) for the fifth time, along with structures in the East Anata Bedouin compound.  Beit Arabiya, Located in the West Bank town of Anata (Area C) just to the northeast of Jerusalem, is a living symbol of resistance to Occupation and the desire for justice and peace.

Thus reads the beginning of a news report from the International Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an Israeli NGO.

When QCEA’s Council sent a delegation of 10 Council Members and the two Joint

Members of the QCEA Group June 2009 at Beit Arabiya cc Martina Weitsch

Representatives on a study visit to Israel and Palestine in June 2009, we met with Director of ICHAD, Dr. Jeff Halper. He took us on a tour of the area around East Jerusalem and we visited Beit Arabiya. We were welcomed by the family who told us of the four demolitions of their home and their decision to make it a house for peace, to welcome those who want to work for peace and to engage in dialogue. We heard even then that the house was under threat of a further demolition.

Salim Shawamreh who lives there with his wife Arabiya and their children told us that:

  • He is in favour of planning regulations and building permits in principle.
  • He had grown up in a refugee camp in Jerusalem, had moved to Saudi Arabia to work for some years and when he came back, wanted to build a house for himself and his family. He bought a plot of land on the edge of East Jerusalem just in Area C.
  • He applied for permission to build; each application costs $ 5000; he was refused; he applied again, and again, and in the end, he realised that he would not get permission. Different reasons were given each time.
  • He built the house; it had (at the time of our visit) been demolished 4 times; it had been rebuilt each time. The price paid by his family, both in actual money (the owners have to pay for the demolition and a fine) and in trauma to the whole family is unimaginable.

The reasons given for refusing permission to build included: the house would be built on agricultural land and that the house would be built on a hill; we saw the house and the land it is built on and the landscape around it. This is a rocky desert, not agricultural land. And yes, it is a hill side; but I guess the world is full of buildings on hill sides. So how is that a reason for withholding planning consent?

The Peace House with rocky hills behind cc Penny Heymans

Another reason given was that there are two signatures missing on a document. But the authorities could not say whose signatures were missing. When Salim provided the signatures of all the people in the village giving their consent to the building of the house, the document was lost.

We were very concerned that the fifth demolition would happen and immediately on our return wrote to decision-makers in the European Union Institutions to ask them to use their good offices to prevent a further demolition.

Now, the demolition has happened again. But of course, this is not an isolated case. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees publishes statistics of house demolitions regularly. Their most up to date report for last year (2011) shows that in total 493 structures (including houses) were demolished in Area C of the West Bank and 22 were demolished in East Jerusalem. In total this led to the displacement of 923 people in Area C and 67 in East Jerusalem. Of these, 507 and 41 respectively were children.

Article 53 of the 4th Geneva Convention prohibits  ‘any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations’ ‘except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations’.

Of course, in the case of Area C the Israeli Authorities are using planning law to justify the demolitions. But as they are not giving planning permits to Palestinians they are forcing Palestinians to break planning law or move away. A very detailed account of these issues can be found in several reports by ICAHD all available on their website.

The renewed demolition of Beit Arabiya must be the trigger for public protest the world over against the occupation and the against the suffering imposed on Palestinian people, not only because imposing this suffering is wrong, not only because it is illegal but maybe even more importantly because the ongoing suffering is a major obstacle to peace.

Change is necessary,  in the policy of the Israeli government with regard to house demolition and in the approach the European Union and its Member States take to the ongoing demolitions. We must tell decision-makers that we expect that change. We must write to our Members of Parliament and ask them to demand explanations from our Foreign Ministries about the response they are making to these demolitions; we must write to our Members of the European Parliament and ask them to demand explanations from the European External Action Service.  If we do nothing, the demolitions and the suffering will go on.

About Martina Weitsch

Martina worked for Quaker Council for European Affairs as one of two Joint Representatives from 2002 to October 2012. Her main areas of work were the EU role in Palestine/Israel, EU peacebuilding, conflict prevention and crisis management, EU finances, democratic accountability and relations with the European Investment Bank.
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