May 22, 2017 – Bill Van Esveld is Senior Researcher, MENA, Children’s Rights Division
Ashraf and Islam Fawaqa were at a hospital checkup for their month-old daughter, Aya, on May 4, when Ashraf got a phone call that Israeli forces were demolishing their home.
Ashraf had built the house himself, six years ago, on land his family has owned for generations in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher. Ashraf, a building contractor, works on projects for the Jerusalem municipality.
But Ashraf, like many Palestinians in East Jerusalem, couldn’t obtain a building permit for his home. Israel has zoned only about 12 percent of the land there for Palestinian residential construction, and most of the zoned area is already overcrowded. The United Nations has estimated that 90,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem live in homes without permits. By contrast, Israel has zoned 35 percent of the land in East Jerusalem for Jewish settlement construction. Municipal planning documents have had the stated goal of ensuring that Palestinians are a minority in the city.
In 2011, Ashraf said he paid 60,000 shekels (US$17,000) in fines for having built his home without a permit. When he received the demolition order for the same reason, early in 2017, he paid a fine of 25,000 shekels ($7,000) to delay it so his family would still have a home when Islam gave birth.
On May 4, his time ran out. At an emergency hearing that day, a Jerusalem district court judge found that the “freeze” of the demolition order had expired, and no more extensions were possible.
The wrecking crew finished the job that same afternoon.
Under Israeli law, Ashraf will have to pay a fine and fees to cover the cost of demolishing his home, a bill he estimates could run to 150,000 shekels (US$42,000).
But what will be the cost to Aya, and her sisters Saba, 4, Rimas, 7, and Ritaj, 9? The mental health consequences of home demolitions for Palestinian children, one study found, include “somatic complaints, depression/anxiety, and higher rates of delusional, obsessive, compulsive and psychotic thoughts.”
“Islam and the baby are both doing well,” Ashraf told Human Rights Watch last week, sounding for a moment like any other new father. “But it has been hard on all of us.” His older daughters now come home from school to a tent pitched beside the rubble of their house.
On May 4, Israeli forces demolished nine other Palestinian buildings in East Jerusalem. In 2016, Israeli demolitions left 254 Palestinians homeless, around half of them children, in most cases because buildings lacked permits.
The international law of occupation, which applies to East Jerusalem, prohibits the destruction of property except for reasons of military necessity. For decades, Israeli officials have violated these prohibitions with impunity. Families like the Fawaqas are paying the price.