What It Means to Fight for One's Home

No one can really comprehend the pain and loss felt by the tens of thousands of Palestinians whose homes have been demolished.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It was late evening and I could hear the sound of people headed for the garden. In the darkness, I could make out a group of strangers who had reached its borders. Apparently, these figures of darkness had come in order to make preparations for the beginning of demolition and construction work on the building opposite. Their appearance and their words were very threatening. Tomorrow they would begin to demolish the house and, in order to do so, they would have to invade my garden. After measuring borders, they informed me resolutely, “Sorry, we have no choice."

My frightened neighbors from adjacent homes added fuel to the flames of my fears. One of them told me that she believed the bulldozers would just rip apart my garden. Another neighbor added her observation that access to my garden would be blocked forever and that the bulldozers would even wreak damage on the walls of my home. The darkness of nighttime, the surprise, the neighbors who were frightening me and the uninvited guests “did the trick”: I stayed awake all night, I could not fall asleep.

With a feeling of utter powerlessness, I could already envisage the iron mechanized monsters invading my home and destroying it; I had already given up hope for my garden’s survival. I had never felt such a primordial attachment to my home, my castle, which had been erected on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Sheikh Munis, now Ramat Aviv, a suburb of Tel Aviv, and which was about to be toppled.

At dawn, the picture became clearer. The Arab workers were content to merely trim the branches of the bushes comprising my fence and to erect an iron wall on the other side. No one invaded my home; my garden was saved and even my privacy and my property remained intact, albeit by the skin of its teeth. But there was dust, as well as the sight of a barrier fence, which could be seen from my window. There was also a bulldozer demolishing the home of my neighbors and turning an ancient structure, full of memories, into a pile of rubble.

During those hours when I experienced such great and – as it turned out – baseless fears, I deeply identified with those whose houses have been demolished. Countless articles on the homes of Palestinians that had been destroyed – homes of terrorists whose families were completely innocent; homes that had been constructed without a building permit (which would never have been issued anyway.) Also, articles on the tents of shepherds, on the temporary dwellings of farmers, on “unrecognized” Bedouin villages, on Bedouin tent encampments, on caves carved in rocky hills and on tin shacks whose demolition I documented as a recording witness. All these images rose up before me, as I experienced what were in the end ridiculous fears.

I could see in my mind’s eye the hundreds of people whom I had met over the years and who in a single day saw their home and their world come to an end. Sometimes, they were not even permitted to rescue any of the contents from their homes. The demolition was always carried out brutally and with a sense of mastery by those who had the power to do so, while the owner of the home could do nothing but stand idly by, totally powerless.

Once more, I understood that no one can really comprehend what is felt by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have all undergone the very same experience – the experience of loss and destruction. Yes, I also remembered for a moment the Jewish settlers who were evicted from their homes; however, they invaded land that had been stolen and robbed from its rightful owners and they knew in advance that they might one day be evicted.

The next day, I saw Ami Livne’s lovely cinematic debut, “Sharqiya,” which transmits this experience from the viewpoint of an Israeli Bedouin security guard who learns that the Israeli authorities plan to demolish his home and the “unrecognized” village in which it is located. A few days later, I joined the banished inhabitants of Ikrit, as they paid a visit to the ruins of this Palestinian village, which was their home prior to Israel’s War of Independence. In 1948, the Israeli authorities ordered the residents of the villages of Biram and Ikrit to leave their villages, telling them that they would be able to return once the security situation stabilized. They have not been allowed to return since. Sixty-five years have passed and the souls of the inhabitants, their children and their grandchildren remain scarred.

In a single night, for a few bizarre hours, I may have begun to comprehend the profound trauma people experience when they lose their homes. In my case, the home that I feared I might lose was not the house that my ancestors had built, with the lemon tree that my grandfather had planted; it was not my entire world nor was it the only possession I had on earth. Nonetheless, it is my home. I recalled Burhan Basharat, a resident of Halat Makhoul, a Palestinian village in the Israeli-occupied Jordan Valley, who, for the past two months has been wandering aimlessly among the debris of his demolished village, refusing to leave and determined to rebuild it from scratch.

I thought of the inhabitants of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, in the southern part of the country; an Israeli demolition unit was on its way to that Bedouin village in order to destroy it and to build on its ruins a Jewish community. I recalled the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in their villages and refugee camps, in the Bedouin diaspora (the Bedouin communities that are not recognized by the Israeli government and which have a total population of between 70,000 and 80,000,) as well as the Israeli Bedouin and Israeli Arabs whose homes the State of Israel has brutally demolished from 1948 to the present day, turning a large portion of this land into a pile of rubble and painful memories.

In the face of the bulldozer that is destroying the home of my neighbors, as I write these lines, in order to enable them to build a bigger and more beautiful home, all of my feelings, of course, are reduced to nothing more than a single nightmare, which was inspired by groundless fears and which now evaporates with the first light of morning.


The ruins of Biram, deserted, along with Ikrit, in 1948.Credit: Oren Ziv

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