Over the last ten years, Israel has demolished over 6,000 Palestinian homes and structures, negatively impacting over 100,000 men, women, and children.
For over a decade, Holy Land Trust has challenged this policy in material ways. We have invested tangibly into the most marginalized and at-risk communities, rebuilding these homes.
Our first home rebuilding was in 2007 in partnership with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD). We rebuilt the home of the Munther Salem family in Al Walaja just outside of Bethlehem. The Israeli military destroyed their home and livelihood in January of 2005. They returned a second time in December 2006 on the pretext it was too close to the Apartheid Wall that was being erected during those years. When Holy Land Trust arrived, the family was dwelling in unliveable conditions. Their beds and a small amount of furniture were lined up inside a 3m by 2m tent with no running water, toilets, or electricity. The family of five – two parents and three children – had lived like this for six months. After rebuilding their home, witnessing the healing that started to take place when strangers from around the world gave of themselves in real ways, we knew that our home rebuilding program was going to be a cornerstone piece of our solidarity work and peacemaking.
Our 2013 Home Rebuilding was a particularly powerful example of this healing process.
Israel’s methodical implementation of settler-colonial policies almost broke the family of Abed al-Qaisi from Battier. The Israeli military had set a curfew for the West Bank and anyone who roamed the streets would most likely be shot. Their 5-year-old boy had a temperature of over 104 degrees. His helpless mother, without transportation, had decided to carry her son to a hospital in Bethlehem. She was met by soldiers at an outpost, where they threatened to shoot her if she did not return to her home. Upon her refusal, the soldiers shot around her to frighten her into returning home. She carried her son all the way back. His temperature continued to rise and desperation began to set in for the mother. She decided to carry him to another hospital in Hebron, which is much further than the one in Bethlehem. Again, she was met by soldiers who refused to listen to her pleas for help. She was forced to return home with her ailing son. His fever became dangerously high. Due to the lack of medication, transportation, and access to a hospital; the boy suffered brain damage. He is now 16 and is disabled. Their poverty and Israeli lack of compassion for Palestinians led to a life-altering experience for this once healthy boy. He now requires special medical treatment and attention that this poverty-stricken family cannot afford on their own. With their roof literally collapsing and no fixed income, they were are asking for support from anyone who will listen. But the pain didn’t stop there.
The Israelis had demolished their home in Batter when Abed was at work. Returning home, seeing his home being demolished. “You lose hope. You stop thinking. The world turns black. You lost your home,” said Abed of the experience of helplessly watching is labor, his protection of his family be crushed under Israeli bulldozers in 2009. With this story of violence in hand, Holy Land Trust responded with Amos Trust to rebuild the home in 2013. We understood the family needed healing from the traumatic experience. Our participants understood as well.
“In April 2013 I was privileged to be part of a group from Amos Trust helping a community to rebuild a home demolished by the Israeli authorities in contravention of international law. The home is on the outskirts of Battir – a village famous for its beautiful agricultural terraces and the unique Roman-era irrigation system that waters them. The terraces and irrigation system have been proposed as a potential World Heritage Site, but are under threat from the Israeli separation wall which is planned to be built along the valley and around the nearby Israeli settlements. The village is also being surrounded by Israeli settlements, with more expansion recently planned and approved,” said Neil I. from the U.K. “The family has owned the land for many generations. After four years of building, they moved into their new home. One month later, without any prior notice or court order, a squad of Israeli soldiers accompanied a CAT bulldozer to tear down the newly built home. What took the family four years to build, and an entire lifetime to save for was destroyed in less than two hours.”
Neil, like many, many others continue to come back to rebuild homes for the indigenous communities that have been resisting nonviolently to stay on their lands. The home rebuilding not only representing a turning point in the family’s life but also in the region, by sending an international call of solidarity, to resist in meaningful, tangible ways.
In supporting this work, I am spending the next several weeks abroad rising consciousness to the impact of home demolitions in Palestine. As a Palestinian Christian, I am carrying not only a message of Jesus’s love, but his directive of action to stand on the side of the oppressed.
As we move forward into 2020, we are asking you to stand in solidarity with us and make a financial contribution to rebuild another Palestinian home and resist violence and oppression. We are also asking you to join us on the ground in 2020 to help in the rebuilding process.
Elias Deis - Executive Director
Holy Land Trust’s E.D., Elias Deis has worked for over a decade at Holy Land Trust. He was formally the Travel & Encounter Program Director and serves on the Beit Sahour City Council.