Richard Melson

March 2006


The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)

invites you to join us for a summer work camp to rebuild a Palestinian home in the Occupied Territories demolished by the Israeli authorities.


From July 15th to July 30th, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) will host its fourth annual summer work camp in Anata, this time to rebuild the home of the Hamdan family, demolished by the Israeli authorities on December 21, 2005. The home was decided upon by the local Palestinian community in conjunction with the Anata municipality out of dozens of demolished homes in the locality. While the rebuilding is symbolic in terms of the need, it is a powerful statement of political resistance to the occupation. Not only is it an act of defiance, of civil disobedience, but it gets to the very heart of the conflict: the ongoing process of dispossessing and displacing the Palestinian people from its land and its patrimony.

For the policy of demolishing Palestinian homes did not originate with the Occupation in 1967. Even before 1948 the British Mandate authorities demolished Palestinian homes as a form of "deterrence" against attacks, appreciative of the fact that this was the most painful punishment for Arabs. It was Israel, however, that applied the house demolition policy widely and systematically. It contained elements of deterrence or punishment, but was intended primarily to either drive the Palestinians from the country altogether and thus "reclaim" their land for the Jewish people, or to confine them to tiny enclaves.

House demolitions, which occur frequently on both sides of the "Green Line," have stood at the center of Israel’s approach to "the Arab problem" since the state’s conception.

Although exact figures are impossible to arrive at, the stages in Israel’s demolition campaign are as follows:

Stage 1: Inside Israel (1948-1960s)

• Between 1948 and into the 1960s Israel systematically demolished 418 Palestinian villages inside of what became the State of Israel, two-thirds of the villages of Palestine. This was not done in the heat of battle, but well after the residents fled or were driven out, so that the refugees could not return and their lands could be turned over to the Jewish population.

Stage 2: In the Occupied Territories (1967-present)

At the very start of the Occupation in 1967 the policy of demolition was carried across the "Green Line" into the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. As of 2006 approximately 12,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed – many of them homes of refugees who already lost their homes, lands and properties inside Israel in 1948 and after.

• At least 2,000 houses were demolished immediately following the 1967 war. Four entire villages were razed in the Latrun area (now known as "Canada Park"), while dozens of ancient homes were destroyed in the Mughrabi Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to create a plaza for the Wailing Wall.

• In 1971, Ariel Sharon, then Commander of the Southern Command, cleared 2,000 houses in the Gaza refugee camps to facilitate military control. (Since he was elected Prime Minister in early 2001 he has overseen the demolition of another 1500 homes in Gaza.)

• At least 2,000 houses in the Occupied Territories were destroyed in the course of quelling the first Intifada in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.

• Almost 1,700 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories were demolished by the Civil Administration during the course of the Oslo peace process (1993-2000)

• During the four years of the second Intifada, beginning in September 2000, between 4000-5000 Palestinian homes were destroyed in military operations, including hundreds in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities of the West Bank, more than 2500 in Gaza alone. Tens of thousands of other homes have been left uninhabitable. Altogether around 50,000 people were left homeless. Hundreds of shops, workshops, factories and public buildings, including all the Palestinian Authority ministry offices in all the West Bank cities, were also destroyed or damaged beyond repair. More than 3000 hectares of cultivated land – 10% of the agricultural land of Gaza – were cleared during this time, together with wells, reservoirs, water pumps and kilometers of irrigation networks.

• During the same period about 900 Palestinian homes were demolished by the Civil Administration for lack of proper permits.

• During the second Intifada more than 628 Palestinian homes were demolished in acts of collective punishment and "deterrence" affecting families of people known or suspected of involvement in attacks on Israeli civilians. On average 12 innocent people lose their home for every person "punished" for a security offense – and in half of the cases the occupants had nothing whatsoever to do with the acts in question. Collective punishment is illegal under international law.

In sum, during the second Intifada 60% of the Palestinian homes demolished in the Occupied Territories were done so as part of military "clearing operations;" 25% were demolished as being "illegal," not having permits; and 15% for collective punishment (B’tselem Through No Fault of Their Own: Israel's Punitive House Demolitions in the al-Aqsa Intifada; November, 2004).

Stage 3: Back Inside Israel (1990s-present)

• Throughout Israel proper, in the "unrecognized" Palestinian and Bedouin villages, as well as in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Ramle, Lod and other Palestinian towns, houses continue to be demolished at an ever accelerating rate. Some 100,000 "internal refugees" from 1948 and their families still live in more than 100 "unrecognized villages" located in the vicinity of their now-destroyed villages, where they suffer from inadequate living conditions and constant threats of demolition. Entire Bedouin villages in the Negev, numbering some 60,000-70,000 residents, are threatened with demolition. Indeed, whereas Arabs comprise almost 20% of the population of Israel, they are confined by law and zoning policies to a mere 3.5% of the land. In mid-2004 the Israeli government announced the formation of a "Demolition Administration" in the Ministry of Interior to oversee the demolition of these homes of Israeli Arab citizens – between 20,000-40,000 in number.

The house demolition policy, then, represents a policy, pursued by administrative and military means, to contain or force out an entire population. Taken as a whole from 1948 till the present, it represents a policy of displacement, of one people dispossessing another, taking both their lands and their right to self-determination. Since people cannot survive or function without a house, the Message of the Bulldozers is clear: "Get out. You do not belong here. We uprooted you from your homes in 1948 and prevented your return, and now we will uproot you from all of the Land of Israel."

ICAHD resists demolitions of all kinds. As Israelis we block bulldozers coming to demolish, we chain ourselves in the houses, we conduct campaigns to mobilize opposition to the policy in Israel and abroad, we turn to the courts and, when demolitions finally occur, we rebuild demolished homes with the Palestinians as political acts of solidarity and resistance. We have come to see house demolitions as the very essence of the conflict between our two peoples: Israel’s exclusive claim to the entire country in the name of the Jewish people at the expense of another people living in the country, a people being dispossessed by our own country.

But we also rebuild demolished homes as acts of resistance. In so doing we, as Israelis, are acknowledging the rights of both people to share the country. We are affirming our recognition that Palestinian claims carry equal authority to our own. And when Palestinians join us in the rebuilding activities – the families whose home have been demolished, their friends and neighbors, the entire local community and activists from throughout Palestinian society – we are together proclaiming clearly and loudly: We refuse to be enemies!

ICAHD’s summer workcamp offers internationals as well an opportunity to join with us, Israelis and Palestinians, in resisting the Occupation and keeping the flame of peace and reconciliation alive. We invite you to join with us this coming July.

The Hamdan Family and Home

Hassan Yussef Hamdan is a sweet 66 year old man from Anata. We met him at a shop in Anata and he walked us to the house where he is now living. He wore a red kafia and a long white dress. He had somewhat of a limp. He introduced us to his wife, Nashia Imam, 53. She's an outspoken woman who makes the most of her little English to communicate. Shadi, 28, is the middle son and the only one who is single. He was the one in charge of arranging the building permit for the house, a full-time job in itself. In this occasion I already knew the "origins" of the family: "From Anata." They insisted…The land belongs to "the family." This means that the deeds are perhaps in Hassan Yussef's great-grandfather’s name. The deeds of the land date back to the times of the Ottoman Empire.

Hassan and Nashia have three children. Ashraf, 26, is married with two children ages 1, and 2 and a half. Mohammed, 30, is also married and has no children. Shadi is a plump guy who was wearing a grey woolly hat with amazing green eyes that stared at me as he told us the story. He explained to us that even though they knew that all the neighbors had built their houses "illegally", they still wanted to try to do things right. Shadi went to the municipality of Jerusalem to apply for a building permit and the condition for it was a general survey of the land. "They wanted a survey of half of Anata!", he said. He asked an engineer friend for help with this. But his friend told him, "This is a huge job, a job for a government. It is impossible to do it as a private person". The cost of such a survey would have been well over 160,000 US dollars. "I think Israel doesn't want to give Palestinians building permits in case it decides to build something in the future like a bypass road or something like that", Shadi commented. In July, 2003 they started building their home like most people are pushed to do in the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem, without a permit. They finished building the house on the 4th of January, 2004. After the total cost was 55,000 US dollars, the nine people comprising the Hamdan family moved into the new home.

On the 14th of January, 2004, the family received a confiscation order. The Israeli authorities have already confiscated tens of thousands of dunams to build Pisgat Zeev plus thousands more "for security purposes" in the West Bank. This time it was the Defense Ministry who issued the confiscation order. Thus Shadi hired a lawyer in order to "move the route of the wall" and they managed to move it around 70m away from the house. Shadi said that the Defense Ministry was unable to do anything about it because the land is inside the municipality of Jerusalem. Only a few days after that, on the 22nd of January, it was the municipality of Jerusalem that gave them a demolition order. So Shadi hired another lawyer, an Israeli woman who was an expert on these issues. Between lawyer's fees and papers that the municipality requested to sort out the building permit (like surveys, etc), the family spent another $9,000 US dollars. I asked them where they got all this money from, and they answered that they sold their properties in Jordan.

On the 20th of December, 2004, Shadi got a call at work saying that they were about to demolish the house. He rushed back home and they gave him a couple of hours to come up with $17,000 US dollars in order to stop the impending demolition. The deal included the condition that he should continue to apply for a building permit. So he started again to bring every paper the municipality asked for. Yet on the 21st of July, 2004, when workers from the municipality of Jerusalem accompanied by Israeli police surrounded the house and started taking everything out. Mohammed had just come out of hospital the day before. Shadi had the papers from the municipality saying that the demolition had been postponed. The inspector didn't care, he just wanted to demolish the house. Nashia wanted desperately to take her handbag from the house, as her ID was in it (and IDs are extremely important to have if you are a Palestinian). They pushed her "and to this day I still have a back pain from that" she told us. Finally, after several arguments, the Israeli police asked the inspector to call the municipality and check. The municipality told them that the demolition had been postponed as Shadi had said. The inspector told Shadi, "Next time I will come at 4am and you wont be able to do anything to prevent your house from being demolished".

When they returned their belongings to the house they realized the house and the appliances had been badly damaged.

The Demolition

At 6:30 on the 21st of November, 2005, a very cold and rainy morning, ICAHD staff, volunteers and activists traveled to Anata to resist, witness and document the demolition of the Hamdan family home and that of their next door neighbor (

By the time we arrived the area had already been blocked off by the Israeli Border Police so we were unable to approach the houses. As we watched from afar, a Daewoo bulldozer systematically demolished the first house, leaving a pile of rubble where a family once lived. The bulldozer then moved up to the Hamdan's house and began drilling into it as well. After a few minutes, the roof began to collapse and the nine members of the family were left homeless. They were left to stand in the pouring rain, wondering how they would rebuild their lives, which like their homes, were now in shambles.

Impact on the Hamdan Family

The Hamdan family is now in serious debt and without a house of their own. The three couples have been scattered amongst their relatives. Shadi can no longer perform his job as he has no money to buy a car (he used to be a supermarket distributor and now works as a builder in West Jerusalem). Mohammed's wife was three months pregnant the day of the demolition and had a miscarriage because of the shock. Mohammed is an engineer, but cannot find job, and Ashraf doesn't have a job either. Salim Shawarmeh, ICAHD's West Bank field coordinator, believes all this is a process of quiet transfer: "They demolish your houses and then make it impossible for you to have a job. What is the message? Get out! This is our land! You have no business here!" "Where shall I go now?" I've heard Palestinians ask me again, and again…

The Rebuilding

To provide the Hamdans with a place to live and to resist the inhumane policy of demolitions we will come together to rebuild the home from July 15th to July 30th. ICAHD will be joined by Israeli, Palestinian and international volunteers, activists and NGO representatives to rebuild the home along with the family and the community of Anata. Additionally, participants will join tours of Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Negev desert, and the area of the "Triangle" in northern Israel discussing "facts on the ground" with respect to both the Occupation of the Palestinian territories and the consequences of The Wall on each side. Discussions, dialogue, lectures and panels by leading Palestinian and Israeli NGO representatives will also take place at Beit Arabiya in Anata, the peace center rebuilt three years ago in ICAHD’s summer work camp.


ICAHD: Israel II

March 2006