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Eviction of people and house destruction

From Oxfam

As President Obama describes the situation for the Palestinian people as “intolerable”, Malcolm Fleming reflects on his recent visit to the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, and the demolition of Palestinian settlements there.

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Nur at her school [Photo credit: Francesca Munari]

The day I visited Al-Grein in Israel was Nur’s fourth birthday. When we arrived, her celebration was in full swing in the local nursery school.20 toddlers singing, playing and having fun, with all the ingredients of a great kids’ party.

Al-Grein is one of the ‘un-recognised’ villages in the Negev desert area of Israel. Unrecognised because, even though it has been there since the early 1950s, the Israeli authorities have neither recognised its right to exist, nor provided basic facilities such as water, electricity or public transport. This is despite the families being moved from their own land to this area by the Israeli army back in 1951.

I visited Nur’s school about two months ago. It was well equipped with kids’ paintings adorning the walls, just like any nursery school in the UK. But not for long. When I was there, a demolition order had been served on it by the Israeli authorities.

Ali Abu Shcheta, a 47-year-old father of five, lives next door to the nursery. His house is also due for demolition. “It’s ridiculous,” he said. “Everywhere else in the world, states invest to raise and protect their children. Except here, where the government invests in the opposite approach and does not care.”

Demolition was to be a recurring theme during my two-week visit to Israel and the West Bank. I was shocked again and again by how the Israeli authorities are demolishing Palestinian homes, and, at the same time, failing to grant planning permission for new construction. This is a practice that appears to be very one-sided. Israeli applicants seem to have no problem getting planning permission even for building settlements in the occupied West Bank, a practice illegal under international law, as is the occupation itself under UN Security Council resolutions.

Oxfam, which runs poverty-reduction programmes in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, has been helping Al-Grien village with support for community facilities and support in securing their rights, but it has been an uphill struggle.

During my visit, I stayed in a small hotel in East Jerusalem. Only two minutes walk away a Palestinian family were living in a tent beside their demolished house. A 10-minute walk in the other direction and you reached the community of Silwan. Here88 houses have been served demolition orders- two have already been demolished -ostensibly because they were built without permits. But most of these homes were built before the state of Israel was established and were inherited from the current residents’ parents. In many cases, the evicted residents get a bill for the cost of demolition. If you don’t pay you can find yourself in jail.

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Anti-demolition protest sign at Silwan, and Nivine Sandouka Sharaf.

The Israeli authorities wish to build a park and tourist attraction on the site of Silwan. This is only a few minutes’ walk from the Old City of Jerusalem, the ancient centre of the city where pilgrims, tourists and locals converge to visit and worship at the holy sites of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Abd Shlode, a young Silwan resident, told me: “The final goal for Israel’s action in this area is to impose the Jewish flavour on the whole area and move the Palestinian Jerusalemites.”

A look at the statistics backs up the view that Israeli law is applied differently in East Jerusalem compared to Jewish West Jerusalem. In 2004 and 2005, despite there being almost four times the number of breaches of planning law recorded in the west of the city, there were almost five times the number of demolitions in East Jerusalem.

This was my first time in Israel and Palestine. Before I went, I thought I was reasonably aware of what was happening, but was shocked again and again by the inequity of the situation. It is glaringly clear that each community is treated differently by the authorities, despite living cheek by jowl.As a Palestinian you have far fewer rights, and the rights you do have are not upheld.

Rights that are infringed daily include freedom of movement, access to water, security of tenure on your land, access to medical services, the right to travel without harassment and the right to access your farmland. Cars with Palestinian number plates are also banned from certain roads in the West Bank. This is segregation.

Security is cited as the over-riding reason for much of what goes on. It is totally understandable that security is important in a society that has buried its dead again and again after terrorist attacks, and security issues remain real today. However, it became clear to me that removing basic rights for virtually all of the Palestinian population for the acts of a few is not only morally wrong.Doing so could also threaten future stability and safety for everyone.

More informations from Oxfam’s site:

http://www.oxfam.org.uk/oxfam_in_action/where_we_work/palterr_israel.html

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