Ali Mussa has lived in Al Khader in the Bethlehem Governorate with his family since 1985. We sit under the mulberry tree beside his house, with his children playing nearby as he tells the story of his family and the recent demolition of his house. When he first moved here neither the Separation Barrier that run across his land had not been built, nor had the Israeli army been in the concrete guard tower that overlooks his house. Ali Musa stated that the land has been in his family for generations and that they have Ottoman era paperwork to show his ownership of the land. When he first moved here to his family land they were a small family of six but now the family has grown to over 50 and they have out grown the two rooms they currently live in – this was why Ali Mussa built a new house on his land.
Unable to get a permit to build a house through the Israeli army controlled planning system he pushed on and built without a permit, and because of this the army came and demolished his house.
Ownership is of little significance as Ali’s land is in Area C and any development on this land risks demolition. Under the Oslo Agreement the West Bank was split into three: Area A under Palestinian Civil and Security control; Area B under Palestinian civil control and joint Palestinian and Israeli security control; and Area C under Israeli military control for both security and civil administration. The Israeli authorities state that they have planning rules for Area C and that any development needs a permit, this being reasonable and what most countries have; the demolitions are simply enforcing this reasonable system.
Standing at Ali Mussa’s house the most obvious difficulty with the Israeli position is the settlement outpost overlooking the family’s land. On the hilltop on the other side of the valley, an outpost of mobile homes and farm buildings has sprung up recently, an expansion of the nearby settlement of Efrata. The building of any settlements is contrary to international law under Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention and supported by United Nations Security Council Resolution 465, and this outpost in particular constitutes development without a permit. Instead of being demolished the outpost will later become a permanent settlement with permanent buildings following a pattern well established across the West Bank, of settlement expansion and confiscation of Palestinian land.
Settlement outpost on the hilltop visible through the ruins of Ali Mussa’s House.
The position of the Israeli authorities is also contested by the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem who state that “Israel’s policy in Area C violates the essential obligations of international humanitarian law, namely: to safeguard occupied territory on a temporary basis; to refrain from altering the area or exploiting its resources to benefit the occupying power; and, most importantly, to undertake to fulfil the needs of the local residents and respect their rights”. This view is backed up by a 2013 report by Swedish Development agency Diakonia examining the planning regime in Area C which concluded that “the planning regime in Area C is fundamentally unlawful, and that this is demonstrated in several key aspects of its form and function”. Diakonia go on to conclude that the development permits and associated house demolitions are part of “a restrictive, discriminatory and unlawful planning system that obstructs Palestinian development in Area C by impeding access to natural resources and livelihoods”
Ali Mussa says he knows the Israeli authorities want rid of him. Recently the military built a guard tower overlooking his land and he reported that the settlers on the outpost opposite have started to intimidate him as he goes to tend his crops on th e slopes below their outpost. Ali Mussa claimed that in the past he has been offered money to just leave, but states that he will not take the money and open the way for yet another settlement. Ali is angry, stating “one day they will come and take the very air we breathe”.
Ali Mussa’s view of the situation – that the Israeli authorities are trying to get rid of him is backed up by figures and reports by the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions – ICAHD. In a March 2012 submission to the UN Human Rights Council, ICAHD stated that “since 1967 Israel has demolished more than 28,000 Palestinian homes, businesses, livestock facilities and other structures vital to Palestinian life and livelihood in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The motivation for demolishing these homes is purely political, and racially informed: to either drive the Palestinians out of the country altogether (the “quiet transfer”) or to confine the four million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to small, crowded, impoverished and disconnected enclaves.”
Ali Mussa stated boldly that he would rather die under a bulldozer than live as a refugee, telling us this demolition was the fourth time they had demolished a house of his, and that he was already beginning the fifth house on his land.
Ali’s children playing on the ruins of the recently demolished house.