teleSUR, 30 November 2014 **** Front Page

Witnessing a Home Demolition Operation in East Jerusalem

By Bruno Jäntti

It was late July, 2008. As ICAHD rebuilding camp participants were just about to go to bed, a word came through on a house demolition operation that would most likely take place at 4 a.m. the following morning. We were offered a chance to take part in an act of nonviolent resistance against the home demolition. Many of us decided to go.

The official reason given for the demolition was that the owner of the house had expanded the house without a permission from the Israeli authorities. The location was Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. Our ad hoc group of internationals from a couple of different organizations arrived at the scene at around midnight. It was a four four-storey building, housing families who were evidently well-off. Dozens and dozens of neighbours, relatives and many other people had come to express solidarity to the families who would, in all likelihood, lose their homes for good just in a matter hours.

We brainstormed on tactics in one of the living rooms on the first floor. We, the internationals, and the local families decided that the internationals present would spread around so that in every household there would be a couple of people with European or American passports.

The idea was not only to demonstrate solidarity with the families but to hinder the Israeli operation on a number of levels. To raise the bar for the police to kill or wound Palestinians; if the Palestinian families so wish, to make it more difficult for the Israeli authorities to oust the families, mostly through refusing to comply with the orders of the police and refusing to leave; and to witness, document and publicize these inhumane manifestations of Israeli expansionist occupation and apartheid.

My friend Edna and myself went to the third floor to stay with one of the Palestinian families. The countdown was on. The raid by the Israeli police would commence in a couple of hours.

A close relative of the mother of the family had come to spend those last hours with the family. He was a cosmopolitan, spoke fluent English, had studied and worked in Europe. We discussed the Israeli occupation, Jewish nationalism and the history of Israel-Palestine.

We contemplated the decades-long dispossession of the Palestinian people and why such blatant injustice still goes largely unnoticed in the Western discourse on Israel-Palestine. Discourse that keeps reiterating the same old mumbo-jumbo of “balance”, “Israel's right to self-defence”, “peace process” and so on and so forth.

We also discussed the cultural, religious, political and ethnic mosaic that is Jerusalem, as is the entire historical Palestine. As is the whole world. We talked about how the Jewish nation is and should be a part of the country, rather than a supremacist and chauvinistic entity. What I remember quite vividly is how this relative who had come to visit his family members also spoke quite positively about the revival of Hebrew language and persecution of Jews in Europe – topics which some might not have brought up in such a context.

Time was running out. For obvious reasons, it was one of those moments in which there probably wasn't much one could have said to improve the atmosphere. When it was four o'clock in the morning, the Yamam, one of the special forces units of the Israeli Border Police, began the raid.

We were standing in the stairway by the door and we heard the voices of the police officers. As the Yamam was approaching the third floor – our floor – we heard their shouting louder and louder.

The person we had talked with for hours looked at me and, referring to our discussion, said: “That's Hebrew.” Then the police kicked the door wide open.

Their they were. Wearing full body armor and black masks and pointing their M-16 rifles directly at us, they instructed us that everyone in the apartment has a couple of minutes to get out. After a couple of seconds, we were told the time is up and it's time to leave immediately.

The family members were violently evicted by the Yamam. We were all evicted. There was this one moment when the son of the family, around 16 years old, walked past me. He had been calm and hospitable the whole time, but during the eviction his facial expression was something I will never forget. Perhaps a combination of a sense of unbearable injustice – something we had been talking about the previous hours – and sheer rage, I reckon.

Outside the huge building, there were one thousand heavily armed police officers. The police was beating and kicking us and hospitalizing a number of people. When everyone had been evicted, the area was declared “a closed military zone”.

I have never experienced my own powerlessness so strongly. The young police officers were laughing amongst themselves, tossing water bottles to one another, making fun of the Palestinian families who were crying on the street right in front of them. It was just another day at the office. Once used by someone else to describe someone else, the phrase “banality of evil” came to my mind.

The size of the building was too much for bulldozers. So the Israeli authorities blew up the building with explosives. With all of the belongings of the families inside.

And now there were some 50 more Palestinians made homeless. Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, Israel has demolished around 48,000 Palestinian homes and other livelihood structures solely in the occupied territories.


The archive: Bruno Jäntti, Middle East, Noam Chomsky, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, Moshé Machover


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