If Choni Kaniel’s home had been located a few meters to the left, security forces would not have destroyed it on Wednesday afternoon.
He watched a yellow bulldozer take large chunks out of his one-story white modular house. Wearing jeans and a striped blue shirt, Kaniel was going on 40 hours without sleep.
“It’s not easy,” the tall, brown-haired man told The Jerusalem Post
, as he stood helplessly by, while his home was destroyed within minutes.
A white dust briefly rose and then settled where the structure had stood, almost at the entryway to the Ma’aleh Rehavam outpost, located just outside the Nokdim settlement, in the Gush Etzion region of the West Bank.
The moment Kaniel understood that security forces planned to destroy his home, along with five others in Ma’aleh Rehavam, he worked round the clock to remove all valuable items, such as the window frames and the kitchen cabinets and sink, so he could use them to rebuild.
But when security forces of the Border Police and civil administration arrived at his door, he had not yet finished taking out his personal belongings.
“I did as much as I could,” he said.
So now, everything from his laundry, bed, wood bureau and a white washing machine, was scattered on the hilltop outside his home, as if it had suddenly become his own personal junkyard.
His was one of six homes located on private Palestinian land in Ma’aleh Rehavam.
Most of the 30 outpost homes are on state land and the Defense Ministry is taking steps to legalize them.
The High Court of Justice, however, ordered the civil administration to remove those structures in the outpost outside “the blue line,” which distinguishes state land from non-state land. The court mandate was in response to a 2007 Peace Now petition.
On Wednesday, security forces declared the area a closed military zone and demolished structures on private Palestinian property. The demolition included the six homes, a storage container and a pergola that had given shade to soldiers.
Kaniel, who has lived in the outpost for the last 10 years, said that when he first built his home, it was within the blue line.
“Then in 2012, they moved the line,” he said, so that now it went straight through the middle of his home.
With a gallows sense of humor, Kaniel noted that maybe if he had cut his home in half, like through the living room, he could have saved a wall from destruction.
His situation, Kaniel said, reminded him of the tale of a person who parked in a legal spot in Tel Aviv. But while the car was parked there, the police repainted the blue curb lines – red, for no parking – and towed the vehicle.
On Independence Day, he said, he placed a flagpole on his roof, from which he hung a very large blue and white Israeli flag.
Before demolishing his home on Wednesday afternoon, Border Police officers climbed up onto the roof and took it down. Initially, they grabbed Kaniel’s ladder to do so.
“Stop,” he shouted at them. “That ladder is private property. You can’t use it.”
The Border police listened to him, placed the ladder back on the pile of his possessions, and took one of their own.
An officer even handed Kaniel the rolled up flag, once it had been removed.
Kaniel unfurled the flag, and stuck the pole into the brown dirt, so that the flag now fluttered above his washing machine, outside on the hilltop.
One of the Defense Ministry workers at the scene approached him, and said, “Just so you know, I support you.”
Kaniel responded, “Then why are you helping destroy my house?”
The worker responded, “I have to or I would lose my job.”
Kaniel said, “You see, that is the difference between you and I. Even if they paid me a million dollars, I would refuse to do this.”
The evacuation, Kaniel told the Post
, shows that this “right-wing” government has lost its way. “It is stupidity in the name of stupidity,” he said bitterly.
“They [the state] should move the lines to help us. They should not be against us. We are not doing anything bad to anyone,” Kaniel said.
He could not help but note the irony in the timing of the evacuation, which comes just one day after former prime minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced for accepting bribes.
“They shouldn’t now come and teach us what is legal and illegal,” he said. "We are engaged in Zionism, in building the land,” said Kaniel.
After the demolition, he sat on his neighbor’s porch and smoked a cigarette.
He explained that he was divorced and that his wife and three children also lived in a house up the road slated for demolition.
From where he sat, he could see the house, which was still standing.
“See that crane there,” he said. “Now they are taking down her home.”
But the issue here, he said, “is not my personal story but that of the country and what it will be like in the future.”
Kaniel added, “This is what the fight is about.”
At one point in the afternoon, he was warned that the civil administration could move his possessions out of Ma’aleh Rehavam.
He quickly organized a posse to move his furniture and clothing into his neighbor’s yard.
“I am planning to rebuild my new house in the same place, the second the soldiers leave the community,” Kaniel said.