A Disregard for Humanitarian Aid
UM AL-KHAIR | 08.09.2016
The international community, through a long history of pain and suffering, had ushered in a new international legal regime to protect and advance basic human rights. Universally accepted, the right to adequate housing is going without question on the global stage. For decades, the European Union has recognized this fundamental requirement for life and have responded to the methodical, routine home demolitions in Um al-Khair by providing the community with simple, makeshift shelters to shield us a bit from the weather. For many Palestinians, this humanitarian aid is one of the only things that allow us to remain on our land. This humanitarian aid is supposed to hold a special status under international law. But in the eyes of the Israeli regime, it is nothing but an impediment to their settlement plans and annexation of Palestinian lands for the Jewish communities.
In August of 2016, the Israeli occupation forces returned to Um al-Khair and demolished these humanitarian structures. I remember as the sun began to rise, as I was making my first pot of tea, thinking about the chores that awaited me for the day, how at night time me and my friends were planning a BBQ and were going to spend the night watching the football match in the community center, when I heard the unmistakable noise of the Israeli military caravan arrive in our village.
Despite the number of times I’ve watched the armed battalions take siege of our community, I was shocked at the number of soldiers that were deployed to Um al-Khair, because after all, the children were going to school and the men would be taking off to work.
As what had become the common procedure, the Israeli forces, with guns in hand, targeted our community leader Suleiman to arrest him as a show of force, to demonstrate that even the elders of the community, the old people, the vulnerable would not be spared if they resisted the home demolition orders. Time and time again, the message the Israelis send to the people of Um al-Khair is more than just “You can’t build here”, they share a message of control, of violence. They let us know they can act with absolute impunity, with complete disregard for international norms, or even their own military protocols. Once they had restrained Suliman, they unchained the bulldozers from the hauler and let them loose in our community to turn homes into waste.
On this day, they sent a message of aggression to everyone – even the women. It was as if they brought in a special brigade of women to just use against the women in Um al-Khair. Unlike other times, when they would at least throw our belongings in the house out on the streets before demolishing, this time they simply dropped the heavy blade of the bulldozer and crushed our belongings inside the house.
We are a simple people and we don’t have many material things. But the things we do have, are very special to us. Some families lost all of the property inside the houses that were demolished. But it wasn’t even just watching our belongings on the inside being destroyed which was the worst, it was watching the children try to dig through the concrete to search for their broken and dirty toys. Do you know what it is like to watch a small child try to lift heavy stones and dig through broken glass to find their toy truck or girl doll?
On that day, five houses were demolished by poor families. 22 people were left homeless, wondering how they were going to put together their lives again, with little money. On that day, the future of nine children would be forever altered.
Israel carries this narrative of being the victim, of being the only moral democracy in the Middle East. But how can we say these things when we watch what they do time and time again to the children of this land?