Tents as Powerful Symbols of Palestinians’ Fates

Palestinians often live in tents next to their demolished homes. Palestinians often live in tents next to their demolished homes.
In Jerusalem, but also in the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and elsewhere, the State of Israel continues its policy of house demolitions. Evictions of Arab families are a common occurrence.
They are taking place under the cover of claims, such as security, the building of the apartheid wall, the expansion of settlements in the West Bank or the creation of national parks. Since 1967 and the beginning of the occupation Israel has attempted to empty the territory of its Arab population as the desire to make Jewish state of Israel a ‘fact on the ground’.

Today, in several places around the world, tents will be spread up all around cities-including West Jerusalem, as a show of solidarity with the Palestinians’ collective struggle. In the West Bank, Palestinian villagers are facing the confiscation of agricultural and grazing land for the sake of the Wall. They’re being evicted from homes in which they’re families and ancestors have lived for decades, so that the cement behemoths can accommodate the expansion of Israeli settlements.

But in Jerusalem, it is the Arab population as a whole that is being threatened and discriminated. ICAHD, the Israeli Committee against house demolitions, estimates that 24,145 houses have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967. And 2009 has witnessed the biggest wave of house demolition since 1967, with 4,290 homes destroyed in Palestine, notably as a result of the Cast Lead operation in Gaza, during which, 4,247 houses were demolished, according to the UN.

Though the larger goal is the establishment of a Jewish State by emptying the territories of its Arab population, home demolitions target the Palestinian in three different ways:
  • Punitive demolitions

These constitute 8,5% of all demolitions and refer to houses being demolished as a punishment for the actions of people associated with the house. The actions in questions have been everything from political organizing to attacks on Israeli civilians. Cleary violating the 4th Geneva Convention, this policy was suspended in 2005 after it reached the conclusion that, rather than deterring attacks, punitive demolitions only enflame the people and lead to more attacks. But the practice was resumed on 19 January 2009.

  • Administrative demolitions

These constitute almost 26% of the total demolitions, and occur when houses are being demolished for lack of a building permit, mostly in the areas of the West Bank where the Israeli occupation is the harshest –also defined as Area C- such as the Jordan Valley, and in East Jerusalem. It is important to point out that, in almost all cases, Palestinians have no choice but to build “illegally” as permits are almost impossible to obtain for Palestinian residents of those areas. It is also the case elsewhere in Palestine and could occur if a house is in close proximity to a military base or a road used by the military or settlers, further violating international laws.

  • Land-clearing operations or Military demolitions

This third type occurs when Palestinian houses are demolished by the Israeli army in the course of military operations for the purposes of clearing off a piece of land (for whatever reason), achieving a military goal or killing a wanted persons as part of Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions. Military demolition accounts for about 65.5% of defined demolitions, and again clearly violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Not only do house demolitions affect thousands of Palestinians families, but demolitions orders issued by the Israeli government or fines collected for ‘illegal’ construction are further deteriorating the daily life of Jerusalemites who live in the permanent insecurity and fear of being evicted. Only in 2008, about a thousand of demolitions orders were issued, while 90 took place effectively.
In other words, there are over 900 families with children, who are now leaving in permanent fear. As part of the matrix, Israel also imposes expensive fines on Palestinian residents. Again, for 2008, over 3,5 million dollars were paid by Palestinians as fines for “illegal” construction (ICAHD). Palestinians also have to pay the fees for the demolition of their own house up to 20,000 dollars. As a result, some Palestinians desperately rent bulldozers themselves, to avoid those outrageous fees.

Singular stories, common fates

But behind those dramatic numbers, there are thousands of singular stories, often similar in outcome, with a powerful symbol illustrating their struggle: the tents. Palestinian+children+stand+beside+tents+housing+displaced+families+in+Jabaliya,+in+the+northern+Gaza+Strip.+(Wissam+Nassar,+Maan+Images)
“As refugees and people living under occupation, we are asking people to help us with our struggle for our rights. It is unbelievable that in the 21st century, Israel’s authorities can get away with demolishing the homes of Palestinians in order to build settlements or national parks.
The price we and our neighbours have to pay is too high, we are faced with two impossible choices – either we throw our kids out on the street or we go to prison. If we lose our homes, there is nowhere else for us to go, the only option we have is to live in tents. International solidarity gives us more power and strength to continue in our struggle and stay in our homes. We need support from people around the world to let everybody know about our story and pressure their governments to help stop this racist policy of house evictions and demolitions”, says Maher Hannoun, a resident from Sheikh Jarrah faced by imminent eviction order and imprisonment.

Though evicted and harassed day and night, most Palestinians choose to remain in their neighbourhood, even after the evictions, settling in tents, without facilities such as running water or electricity. “This is our resistance and steadfastness. We won’t leave or city”, they often say. Umm Kamal is one of those whose steadfastness and determination demands respects. The 60-years old Palestinian mother and widow –her husband passed away after the eviction- from has been living for the past 9 months in a tent in on the soil of her old neighbourhood. But even there, she is not let in peace, as the Israeli forces have demolished her tent a couple times already. PHOTO: Palestine MonitorAll around Jerusalem, tents such as Umm Kamal’s one have become a powerful symbol of the struggle of the struggle of Palestinian people living in occupied East Jerusalem.

They have been set up as centres of protest in neighbourhoods threatened by Israel’s policies of emptying slowly East Jerusalem of its Palestinian population through house evictions and demolitions. In Sheikh Jarrah, 28 families are living under the threat of house evictions, which are part of a plan to implant a new Jewish settlement in the area, close to the Old City. Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 & 1967 are, once again, facing dispossession from their homes and land as the international community stands by.

In Silwan, 88 homes in the al Bustan quarter are facing immediate destruction in order to create space for a planned national park. A total of 1,500 residents would be displaced if this plan went ahead. In Beit Hanina, Al Tur, Ath Thuri and Wadi Yasul, a combined total of more than 3,600 persons are affected by pending demolition orders – this includes two apartment buildings in Al Abbasiyya, housing 34 families. When completed, up to 2,000 Palestinians will be uprooted from their homes.

The Al Kurd, al Ghawe or Hannoun families are now struggling together against the Israeli bulldozers. Voices rise up all around the world to struggle against these illegal actions. Today, Israeli and international activists will set up tents on King Georges Street in West Jerusalem, as part of a solidarity campaign with Palestinians facing home evictions and demolitions in East Jerusalem.

Similar actions will be happening all over the world on this same day in the USA, the UK, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Ireland, France, Spain, Denmark, Holland and Egypt. Today, we were supposed to provide you with a report from Jerusalem on this international solidarity action, but our foreign correspondent – though international and therefore not subject to arbitrary travel restrictions such as Palestinians are – was prevented from reaching Jerusalem, by the Israeli army.

Prof Jeff Halper’s Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is calling for international action as the home of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh is slated for demolition for the fifth time.

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