Palestinian family driven from 'tin hut' into cave

Report
from Agence France-Presse
Published on 30 Aug 2013

08/30/2013 01:52 GMT

by John DAVISON

JERUSALEM, August 30, 2013 (AFP) - When Israeli bulldozers knocked down their home, Khaled Zir al-Husseini and his family had to find a new roof over their heads, so they moved just down the hill and into a cave.

The stench of garbage fills their cramped new dwelling, as debris from fragments of their demolished home, just above, fall down the side of the hill and onto the main road in east Jerusalem's Silwan neighbourhood.

"We were fast asleep last Tuesday (August 20) and were awakened at 6:00 am by bulldozers from Jerusalem municipality rolling up to our house," Husseini told AFP, sitting the youngest of his six daughters -- only four months old -- on his lap.

"They gave us five minutes to get out before they demolished the place."

That was one of several incidents which began two days before, that Human Rights Watch says have displaced 79 Palestinians, including 18 children, living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

"When Israeli forces routinely and repeatedly demolish homes in occupied territory without showing that it's necessary for military operations, it appears that the only purpose is to drive families off their land, which is a war crime," the New York-based watchdog said.

But city hall denies having carried out any "housing demolitions," saying the Husseini family's abode was an "uninhabitable tin structure."

"The parks and nature authority, in cooperation with the municipality, removed uninhabitable tin structures located in public property that is designated to become a national park," a spokeswoman wrote.

"Thus, the area cannot be used for private residential purposes."

In February, the municipality had ordered Husseini to destroy his home to make way for a planned national park in the area, but his lawyer appealed.

"There was no final court order for the demolition when the bulldozers came," Hussein said.

"Six months ago the Jerusalem authorities handed me papers for the demolition, which I gave to my lawyer. He appealed, and the court is still looking at the case.

"But the municipality acted on its own, and brought police forces to destroy the house."

Husseini lived in the 60-square-metre (646 square foot) home for seven years, having built it from plywood and metal on land he said belongs to his family.

It is now completely razed, and stairs made from car tyres lead up to a massive heap of rubble, beside which a collection of small uprooted trees litter the dusty ground.

"This is the land of my forefathers and I won't step off it," he asserted.

Husseini has defiantly planted a Palestinian national flag, which flutters within sight Jerusalem's Old City walls, among the twisted metal remains and uprooted allotments of his former abode.

"We're staying here; even if they want to slaughter us, we'll stay," he said, while adding that his wife had gone to stay with her parents who have just enough extra space to put her up.

Husseini's daughters play on a large rug spread out on the floor of the cave. A smaller alcove further in serves as a bedroom, and Husseini's pet horse inhabits another annex just above the main room.

The girls, the eldest of whom is nine, share a packet of crisps as her father offers guests coffee heated on a portable gas cooker.

A television set flickers in the corner, connected by a long electrical cable to Husseini's father's house just up the road, and he even keeps a fridge and a small bright lamp to navigate his new dwelling at night.

Husseini has salvaged some of the house's wooden doors, which he stores at the back of the cave, optimistic for a chance to rebuild his old home.

The cave's entrance is separated from the main road and passing traffic only by a makeshift plywood wall he has erected, and he ducks to enter the 15-square-metre (161 square foot) space.

"I'm living in this cave because I've nowhere else to go," he explained.

Husseini said he has tried contacting the Red Cross for aid, but has been unable to reach them.

Local Islamist activists have donated enough money to buy him some furniture, including a sofa and a coffee table.

Israeli forces have destroyed the homes of 716 Palestinians in 2013, according to HRW, which has recorded a three-fold increase in the number of demolitions in east Jerusalem since last year.

"Israeli home demolitions have displaced 3,799 Palestinians since the beginning of Prime Minister Netanyahu's term on March 31, 2009," the watchdog said.

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