OCCUPIED JERUSALEM – Waking up to bulldozers pulverizing her home into rubble, British mother Jessica Barhum got a glimpse of what Israel has been doing with Palestinians for decades.
"You can’t believe a country like this would make a law against its own citizens," tearful Barhum told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The 32-year-old mother and her Israeli Arab husband woke up in shock at 5:00 AM to two Israeli bulldozers tearing down their two-bedroom house in the village of Ein Rafa, west of occupied East Jerusalem.
Pregnant Barhum was given just five minutes to vacate before implementing a demolition order against the house her husband Moussa spent eight years building on land owned by his family.
"I can’t believe that it’s lawful, that this law exists," said Barhum, who grew up in the southern British city of Salisbury but moved to East Jerusalem after marrying.
In 2005, Moussa was given legal notice he had 18 months to secure an Israeli permit to build the home or have it bulldozed. Up until the deadline, he was unable to get the hard-to-win permit.
For decades, Israel has been adopting a series of oppressive measures to force Palestinians out of the holy city, including systematic demolition of their homes.
Israeli authorities do not issue building permissions for Palestinians who are also banned from renovating their house unless with an Israeli permit, which they rarely get.
In 1968, Israel enacted a law allowing "illegal" houses to be razed even if permits are pending in the bureaucratic pipeline.
The law is disproportionately used against the Palestinians and Israeli Arabs rather than Jewish Israelis, according to AFP.
Last year, some 850 houses were demolished, most of them in the Arab sector, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
And since 1967, 18,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the occupied territories, including Al-Quds.
Barhum, a landscape gardener, does not know what to do after the demolition of her home. "I’m having a baby in November," she cried.
"We need something that’s winter proof and summer proof because we’re not quite sure how long it’s going us to take to get our house back to a livable state."
Barhum accused Israel of discriminating against its own Arab citizens, who pay taxes.
"We abide by the law, we’re Israeli citizens.
"We all want to live together, but the people who are making the laws don’t," she said.
"They know that they weren’t just knocking our house down, they know that they were breeding hatred and anger within our community."
ICAHD field coordinator Meir Margalit said Jewish homes are never demolished on the permit pretext under the 1968 law.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories are classified as illegal because Israel is an occupier.
Israeli Arabs are descendants of Palestinians who stayed when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven from their homes by Zionist gangs in1948, when Israel was founded on the rubble of Palestine.
Arabs represent about a fifth of Israel’s population, estimated at nearly 5.2 million.
Though legally considered Israeli citizens, many of them face discrimination in all walks of life. Poverty rate among Arabs is almost twice that of the Jewish population.
The Knesset has further made life unbearable for Israeli Arabs married to Palestinians by adopting a law denying the latter the right to get an Israeli residency to live with their spouses.
The demolition of her house was not the only bad experience the British mom had with the Israeli authorities.
As a practicing Muslim, she had to endure arduous times at checkpoints, security checks weighed down with shopping and lengthy scrutiny at airports.
"It’s a different experience once you’ve got a headscarf in this country, but I guess it’s something you have to live with if you want to live here."
Many believe that the demolition of the home is part of Israel’s land-grab of Palestinian lands in Ein Rafa.
"It’s a bit strange that they just picked this house because there are many houses without a permit," said lawyer Sami Rashid.
"It may be that the interior ministry may want to demolish houses in Ein Rafa."
Rashid, the village representative on the regional council, said that 200 homes in Ein Rafa and a neighboring village could be liable for demolition.
"I do believe that the law has to be amended.
"There must be much more restrictions and restraints in bringing a demolition order into force."
The house demolition policy is largely seen as part of a larger scheme by Israeli occupation forces against the holy city of Jerusalem (known in Arabic as Al-Quds.)
In 2006, Israel cancelled a record number of residence permits for 1,363 Palestinians of East Jerusalem, effectively denying them access to the holy city.
Permanent residence gives the holder the right to live and work in the occupied holy city and vote in municipal, but not parliamentary elections.
Israel captured East Jerusalem, home to Islam’s third holiest shrine, in the 1967 six-day war and later annex the holy city, in a move not recognized by the international community.
(IslamOnline.net + News Agencies – August 2, 2007)