One of the four demolished sheep barracks

Demolition nightmare haunting Zreina family

Alistair Avon / PNN / Beit Jala

IOF soldiers demolished four metal barracks, used to house sheep, on Mohammed Zreina’s farm early on Tuesday morning. At 5.30am IOF soldiers stormed the farm in Beit Jala, Bethlehem and bulldozed the four barracks for the fourth time. Last night IOF soldiers demolished another family house under construction in Beit Jala.

The IOF last demolished these structures on 10th June, arresting and imprisoning Mohammed, his wife Laila Faraj and their son for 25 days. The second demolition happened in March. IOF have also previously demolished the family’s home. In April, their cousin was given one days notice to demolish his own two-storey home in Beit Jala in order to avoid paying the IOF’s demolition fine. His was the 6th house in Beit Jala belonging to this family that has been demolished. Mohammed and Laila believe that the IOF is targeting their family.

The farm sits in the shadow of the apartheid wall, as a constant reminder of the occupation. Laila told PNN that the IOF want her family to leave their land but says they do not have anywhere else to go. Laila’s family have been farming this land for more than 30 years. Laila says that her family will not give up despite the huge emotional and financial burden of these repeated demolitions: ‘If they demolish our barracks again, we will rebuild them again. We will never be afraid of them’, she says repeatedly. Mohammed estimates the cost of this demolition at 100,000 shekels: this figure accounts for replacing the barracks but also the death of a sheep in the demolition, injury of a horse and damage to olive trees. The family have received no financial aid except after the June demolition, when a French organisation helped them rebuild the barracks.

In a 2017 report, property destruction, demolition and the lack of quality housing is found to be the single greatest human rights violation inflicted on Palestinian women by the State of Israel. The report, published by the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC), Community Action Center (CAC), The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), discusses how demolitions, property destruction and night raids are still a daily occurrence in the lives of Palestinian people. The fear of demolition overshadows the lives of many families, especially for those living in area C. The result of the intimidation and possibility of losing their livelihood and home has profound economic, social, and psychological consequences on women and their families, who are often left homeless, or forced to live in over-crowded, or less than adequate, conditions.

These home demolitions and destructions are carried out because families do not have the correct building permits. These permits are, however, almost impossible to obtain. Palestinians are only allowed to build on 13 percent of the land in East Jerusalem, whilst only 7 percent of all building permits applied for are granted to Palestinians. The most common reason given for the rejection of permit applications is ‘overcrowding’. Families are often forced to spend thousands of shekels trying to resubmit or appeal permit rejections, which places a huge financial and emotional strain on the family, particularly on the wives and mothers who feel responsible for the families welfare.

IOF soldiers typically demolish houses either at night or in the early morning, adding to the psychological fear of a demolition. Families are usually given a ‘choice’ between IOF soldiers demolishing their house for an extortionate demolition fee or having to demolish the house themselves. This is an extremely distressing and degrading task for families who have to destroy the homes that they have lovingly designed and built. Since the 1967 occupation, it is estimated by the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions that Israel has razed around 50,000 Palestinian structures. So far in 2019, 265 structures have been demolished, leaving 355 people without a home. Both the lingering fear of displacement and the trauma that results from a housing demolition are violating the human rights of the Palestinian people, particularly women, and preventing them from enjoying the quality of life they deserve.

Mohammed Zreina doing an interview with PNN
Mohammed Zreina doing an interview with PNN
Broken olive tree and the skin from the sheep that was killed

One of the four demolished sheep barracks