J'lem-area house demolition strains Arab-Jewish relations

Interior Ministry says land in Ein Rafa is zoned for commercial, and not residential use.

house demolition 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
house demolition 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The village of Ein Rafa west of Jerusalem was left reeling on Thursday, a day after one family's home was demolished by the Interior Ministry, enforcing a demolition order that had been issued two years earlier. Jessica "Yasmin" Barhum, the English-born wife of homeowner Musa, said that while the demolition "seems to have been in accordance with the law," it cast a pallor on Arab-Jewish relations in the town. The land is zoned for commercial, and not residential, use, according to the ministry. Jessica Barhum, who is six months pregnant, said voices outside her window woke her up around 5 a.m on Wednesday morning. "I thought it was my husband's friends coming to pick him up for work, but I peeked out of the window and saw that it was police and army personnel wearing bulletproof vests. There must have been about 150 people out in front of the house," she said. She woke her husband and they realized that the men had arrived to destroy their home, which was built starting eight years ago. "It was not a very nice experience. It was very difficult for me to accept that the law allows this," said Barhum. She said that at one point, a police officer tried to block her from reentering the house to check on her 15-month-old daughter, Sara, who was asleep in her bedroom. Once she was allowed back in, she said, the police began to stream into the house, stuffing belongings into bags and throwing furniture outside. "At one point, I went into my daughter's bedroom and saw a plainclothes police officer standing there holding a knife. He pointed at a suitcase and said that I had to find the key, to open it. And if I didn't show him the contents, he'd break it open," she said. At one point, police arrested her husband, Musa, for resisting arrest. Eventually, after a large portion of the house's contents were lying in piles 20 meters away from the structure, Barhum saw "two big bulldozers with pneumatic drills coming down the road from Kibbutz Tzova toward our house." Barhum's sister-in-law, who lived in an adjoining apartment that was also demolished, "went into trauma" and was hospitalized and sedated. The demolition itself took less than an hour, and the house was left a pile of rubble. Residents immediately began to sort through the debris, Barhum said. She said that while she understood that a demolition order was issued for the building in 2005, it was the lack of warning that she found particularly disturbing. "It was scary, really scary how they did it," she said. Ein Rafa had been a peaceful neighbor to Jerusalem since the establishment of the state, she said. Jerusalemites frequently visit area springs and dine in nearby Abu Gosh. "We host groups of American-Jewish young people who come here as part of their Israel experience. We usually have great relations with Jewish Israelis," she said. Barhum is concerned that the demolition, the first such operation in the Ein Rafa-Ein Nakuba-Abu Gosh area, may change the situation. "This act is being interpreted as personal or something against the residents here. Whether or not it is justified, whether or not it is a correct perception."