It rained on Monday here in Jerusalem. I’ve been here since October 3rd and it’s only the second time it’s rained. I was actually glad to see, feel and smell the rain. Most of Jerusalem and the West Bank are thankful for the rain because it has been such a hot, dry fall. But, at the same time I was celebrating the rain, I was acutely aware that there is at least one family that might not be so grateful for the rain.
On November 30, our team received a text message from a group that monitors house demolitions and evictions in the neighborhoods that make up East Jerusalem. The message was a demolition alert for Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood to the north of the Old City and home to over 2,800 Palestinians. When the team arrived, there were approximately fifteen police officers near a house where the top floor was being demolished. The picture to the right is what the house looked like shortly after the demolition started. The appearance of the house changed rapidly from that point on as the picture below and to the left reveals.
Although I was not with the team on November 30, when they first went to this demolition, I returned to Sheikh Jarrah on December 1, to view the demolition and to speak with the family members who lived in the house. As we approached the home, the owner, Bahar, invited us to come upstairs and view the scene first hand. As we climbed the stairs toward the front door, the first thing I saw is this door that the police broke through to enter the home in order to gain access to the roof.
From the front door we climbed up to the roof area and were met with the scene (below right). As we stood among the nails, the broken 2 x 4’s and the smashed drywall, Bahar explained to us that he purchased the house 5 years ago. At the time he purchased the house the structure at the top of the house was already there. Before he completed the purchase, the City Inspector came to the house and determined that everything was in order. The previous owner never disclosed that a portion of the home had been built without a permit.*
Bahar went on to tell us that several weeks ago, as he was leaving for work, somebody stopped, put a piece of paper on his door, took a picture, then took the paper down. When Bahar asked what it was about, he was told it was none of his business. On November 30 at 10:30 a.m. a crew of men arrived, broke the lock on the front door, forced it open, went upstairs and started destroying things.
The police told Bahar, that the only thing on the structure that was illegal was the roof, and only the roof had to come down; the rest of the structure could stay. But the pictures show that isn’t what happened. And, really what good would a home be without a roof anyway? The roof and two exterior walls were demolished as were most of the interior walls. One exterior wall, the one facing the street, remained standing. Drywall, wood, window frames, electrical fixtures, flooring, tile, etc. were in a large pile of rubble. The workers remained until approx 4:30 p.m., then left, leaving the piles of debris where they fell.
Bahar told us that he will have to pay 50-60,000 shekels for the cost of demolition - yes he has to pay for the destruction of his home. In addition, he will have to pay any costs associated with cleaning up and hauling all of the rubble away. It was his brother’s family that lived in this apartment. His brother died earlier this year from cancer. His brother had five children, ages 13, 11,9, 5, and 3. The children and his brother's widow are currently living in Bethany with an uncle.
The family of Bahar's brother were probably not as happy as I was to see the rain on Monday, since it now comes directly into what used to be their home. And the picture at the top of this article, the one with the beautiful blue skies? That's a picture of one of the workers throwing a piece of their home into a pile of rubble.
*I need to explain a the issue of permits. As with most municipalities, you must obtain a permit in East Jerusalem to erect anything on your land. By anything, I mean anything, a house, an addition, a chicken coop, a dog house, a storage shed. Now that may not seem like such an odd thing, after all many of us have needed permits over the years in order to modify, expand or remodel our homes. But, unlike most of us who obtain the necessary permit simply by going to City Hall and paying a relatively small fee, in East Jerusalem an application for a permit can take anywhere from 5-10 years and the average cost is $25,000. As a result, many additions are added to existing buildings without the necessary permit.