Ismail Abadiyeh, a truck driver and father of five, cannot stop his tears as he stands next to the ruins of his house on the western edge of the Wadi Hummus neighborhood of Sur Baher, in southeast Jerusalem. “They destroyed my dream and my life,” he says. “I put everything I had into this house and went into debt for years. I lived with my parents in a two-room apartment and my whole life I hoped for a house of my own. In 2015 I started building and I thought my dream had come true. Suddenly, two years ago they told me I couldn’t build, when I had already finished everything. Yesterday, they took us out of the house by force and threw us into the street. Now I’m standing in front of a completely ruined house. I feel lost and I don’t know what to do.”
One day after police and army personnel demolished some 70 apartments in the Palestinian-controlled Wadi Hummus neighborhood of East Jerusalem, the neighborhood looks like a war zone that had taken a direct artillery hit. Some of the buildings are completely destroyed, others are partially destroyed, and cement dust is suspended in the air. Residents are walking around, staring at the ruins, their faces fallen. Until Monday, they had tried to live normal, sane lives despite the fact that the Israeli separation barrier divides their neighborhood. Now they are full of anger, frustration and hopelessness.
Near the ruins of Abadiyeh’s house are the remains of an eight-story building blown to pieces. The building, owned by Idris Abu Tir, was to house 40 families. “When they blew up the building I felt like my heart was exploding in my chest,” Abu Tir, who can see the ruins from the nearby grocery store he owns, tells Haaretz. “This was housing for simple laborers, who are making payments so they’ll have a roof over their heads. Now everything is blown to bits. I’m between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand I owe people money and on the other, I can’t do anything about it and everything is destroyed."
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Abu Tir, Abadiyeh and other local residents vehemently reject Israel's claim that security concerns were behind the demolition of the 13 structures. “It’s baseless,” says Abu Tir. “During the trial, we proposed building a seven-meter-high concrete wall along the road next to the separation barrier, just to prove that there was no basis for their security claim” he says. “It turns out that there’s no justice in the High Court of Justice. It goes along with the military and security establishment, and the whole purpose is to destroy and push out residents,” Abu Tir adds.
Like many other residents, Abu Tir believes that the houses were demolished as punishment and a means for coercion. Dozens of structures that are also adjacent to the separation barrier were not demolished and were built two decades ago or more, they say.
“What security do they achieve with this kind of destruction?” asks Ala Amira, a construction worker and father of six whose half-built home was also demolished. “Don’t they understand that every child whose house was destroyed will see them as enemies? Do you know what frustration and anger people here are going through?”
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Amira, who also used to live with his parents, says he had saved for years in order to build a house for his family. “Like everybody, I went to the Palestinian Ministry of Local Government and I got all the permits and authorizations and started building two years ago. I couldn’t finish the construction because I ran out of money, and now they demolished everything. But they won’t break us. Even if in a tent, I’ll live on my land,” Amira says.
A few of the owners of homes that were demolished met Tuesday with a representative of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Among them were Ali Hamada and Jaafar Abu Hamid, both of whose homes had almost been complete. “This is a blow that you can’t recover from,” Abu Hamid says. “There are lots of other houses that are even closer than mine is, but everything they do is to prove that there’s a superior power here that does as it wishes. Yesterday we saw the soldiers and commanders in the field laughing, as if they had scored a victory in the battlefield.”
Abu Hamid says he was standing by his ruined house when a senior commander arrived and praised the soldiers. “One of them said to him with a smile, ‘bring us some more houses.’ This is the most moral army in the world? You feel that they’re happy about the destruction," he says, "It’s like a knife in the heart.”
The meeting with the UN representatives took place at the home of the council chairman, Hamada, who said there was no guarantee that more buildings would not be destroyed. “There are 11 more buildings, homes and shops, and we’re afraid for what will happen in the future,” Hamada says. He adds that in the case of already destroyed houses, they “had done everything, legally, publicly and with the media – to prevent the demolition, and nothing helped.” Hamada says that in recent months the site had been visited by ambassadors, consuls and foreign journalists, and that the Palestinian Authority had approached international organizations, “But none of that can stop the occupation’s bulldozers.”
Ghaleb Abu Wahdan accompanies journalists to the place where his home had stood for the last four years and where he lived with his three children. “This was a two-story house with four apartments. I invested more than a million shekels and I invested here so I’d have a home,” he says. “I live in Shoafat refugee camp and I wanted to get out of there and build a house where I can live with my children and grandchildren while I'm still alive. Now everyone says they stand with us and support us. I don’t know what that really means, because we’re left with nothing and the world is silent.”