A flagship case

An east Jerusalem family faces home demolition for the fifth time.

demolition-ready house 248.88 (photo credit: Gil Zohar)
demolition-ready house 248.88
(photo credit: Gil Zohar)
Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh and their seven children symbolize the Kafkaesque reality of life for many of the 245,000 Arabs dwelling in Israel's capital. Squeezed between restrictive zoning laws that make getting a building permit difficult and the policy of demolishing illegally built homes in east Jerusalem, the family is facing having its property bulldozed - for the fifth time. On June 7, after a delay of more than two years, Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Ayala Procaccia and David Cheshin of Israel's Supreme Court rejected the Shawamreh family's appeal to rescind the demolition order on their home, a 110-sq. m. bungalow in the neighborhood of Anata. No date has been given for the Civil Administration to execute the court order. Border Police and Israel Police, armed with guns and a demolition order, usually arrive unannounced, explains Jeff Halper, director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolition (ICAHD). After breaking down the front door, they summarily remove the contents of the house, and the building is flattened to the ground, he says. "The Shawamreh house is the flagship of house demolitions," he notes. "It represents thousands of Palestinian houses." At present there are demolition orders against more than 22,000 homes in east Jerusalem, representing one-third of the housing stock in the Arab sector there, adds ICAHD's Angela Godfrey-Goldstein. Further complicating the Shawamreh case is the fact that the family does not currently live in the house that they originally built in 1994, which was demolished and rebuilt twice in 1998 and again in 2001 and 2003. As the house is situated on the east side of the security fence, the Shawamrehs prefer to rent a house in Jerusalem's northern suburb of Kafr Aqab rather than risk losing their residency rights in the city. The wall gerrymanders across Jerusalem's post-1967 municipal boundaries, excluding the Shuafat refugee camp and the older section of Anata that nominally belongs to Jerusalem. The Shawamreh homestead, which Salim named Beit Arabiya in honor of his wife, lies on the far side of that municipal line in what is known as Area B under the 1994 Oslo Accords. The Shawamrehs' modern stone building, equipped with all the modern conveniences, has been used every summer in recent years as a "peace camp" where volunteers from abroad stay for two weeks while rebuilding demolished Palestinian homes. This year's contingent of 65 youths from Spain, Britain, the US, Norway and France will be working from August 2-17 to rebuild two 100-sq. m. homes nearby in Anata, explains Halper. The Spanish government has provided 100,000 euros for the project, he says. "It's illegal to rebuild demolished houses," Halper adds. ICAHD has rebuilt 160 houses in Jerusalem and the West Bank since 1998, he notes. The Shawamreh home was the first one. The organization has received funding from the European Union and from donors and church organization in the US. One American donor, a Holocaust survivor who wishes to remain anonymous, has given $1 million. "'I don't want Israel to demolish houses in my name' is how he put it," says Halper. Salim Shawamreh was born in Jerusalem's Old City in 1956 when it was under Jordanian rule. When he was nine, his family was relocated to the Shuafat refugee camp near Anata. Shawamreh made his money working for a decade as a construction engineer in Saudi Arabia. He bought his 1.5 dunam (1,500 sq. m.) parcel of land in 1989 for $35,000, he says. He has applied three times to get a building permit from the Jerusalem municipality. The applications, costing $5,000 each, were turned down for various technical reasons. Once he was informed the land was zoned for agriculture, and another time that the hillside site was too steep for construction. Major Guy Inbar, the Civil Administration's coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, commented, "The Shawamreh family deliberately broke the law numerous times and illegally built their house without the required permits again and again, and thus the Civil Administration took action in its authority as the body responsible for controlling illegal construction in Judea and Samaria." House demolitions continue on a weekly basis, says Godfrey-Goldstein. Often an owner will self-demolish his home rather than pay the punitive costs imposed by the court. Shawamreh was assessed $7,000 in court costs in his most recent unsuccessful appeal, she notes.