Salim Shwamara (50), a father of seven, waited for years for a permit which would allow him to build on his land at the Arab village of Anata in east Jerusalem. Each time, his request was rejected until he decided to stop waiting and start building.
Four years later as he was having lunch with his family, the bulldozers arrived. "The land belongs to me but like the rest of village's residents, I have no right to build on it. Finally, when you do what you have to do, they call you a criminal," he said with despair. He built his house four times and watched it be demolished every time until he gave up and left.
Halper: 'Fighting against the most painful aspect of the occupation' (Photo: ICAHD)
Lately, the deserted house was converted for the use of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions for their annual work-camp. Volunteers and activists from all over the world, who try to fix the world with their own two hands, gather in the village for two weeks and work from sunrise to sunset.
A symbolic act? Jeff Halper, ICAHD coordinator thinks it's a political act. "We are not professional construction workers and we can't rebuild everything that was demolished but we try and fight against the most painful aspect of the occupation," he said.
The committee has been active for 10 years during which the activists engaged in legal battles but Halper admits that now the legal arena has been abandoned completely. "The legal system supports the government's policy, so we decided to focus on construction work and raising awareness. The Israeli public does not know what is happening because it doesn't want to know. People abroad are much more aware and interested," Halper said.
The decision to base this year's camp in Anata reflects the village's situation. The village has a population of 7,000 but its land is divided between three different authorities: part belongs to east Jerusalem, another part is theoretically the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority and the third part is Israel's responsibility.
All of the people who reside in the section that is Israel's responsibility have received demolition orders. According to data collected by the committee, since 1967 Israel demolished about 18,000 home in the West Bank.
Every structure 'is a microcosm of the occupation' (Photo: ICAHD)
"One of the problems with the demolition orders is that no date is specified," said Halper. One resident received the order in 1995 but the bulldozers arrived in 1998. "This expresses the total disregard of the authorities. It is the essence of the conflict."
Halper believes that the continuous war of attrition between the bulldozers and the activists proves one thing: "Every structure is a microcosm of the occupation – and occupation is not a defensive tactic. It's an active policy of land annexation and stepping over the weak. This is what we fight against."
For more information about the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions - click here