Demolition Orders – Between a Rock and a Hard Place
On September 24th, the Center for Freedom and Justice received a demolition order from the Israeli military for one of its project sites, which lies at the edge of Beit Ommar in Area C. As a matter of fact, saying that we “received” the order does not do the deed justice. In reality, we found the piece of paper by chance, as it was stuck between two bricks of a low wall on the site itself. Had we not noticed this small, inconspicuous slip of paper, we would not have any information or knowledge about this planned demolition and would not have been able to make any appeal in court.
The project site in question is one of the Center’s larger projects and is located next to Road 60, the main road that connects Jerusalem to Hebron. As part of a long-term plan, the Center has been working on making this area a future market space, where local farmers from Beit Ommar would be able to sell their agricultural products, instead of having to travel to outside towns to move their stock (which is often a problem with fresh fruits). As over 70% of Beit Ommar’s economy is based on agriculture, the benefits of such a project would thus be considerable.
In recent years, we have made much progress and managed to build a water-well and plant new trees, laying the foundation to transform this area from an arid site to a rich agricultural field. The market project would also be accompanied by the construction of a small factory in Beit Ommar, which would allow farmers to use part of their harvests to make juice, jams, and other products which can be stored and sold for a longer time. This way, the farmers would not lose considerable amounts of their harvest every year, increasing productivity, efficiency, and self-sufficiency.
Overall, the project will contribute greatly to the sustainable development of agriculture in Beit Ommar, and will be a step forward for the community’s self-dependency and economic empowerment. Despite our progress and future aspirations, the Center’s activities on the market project have been halted due to the demolition orders. The legal base on which these demolitions take place however, as is commonplace in the Occupied Territories, are not mentioned, either on the order slip or in courts. All that is mentioned is that the site, at some unspecified point in time, will be bulldozed.
The fact that the Israeli military places (if not hides) its demolition orders away from plain sight does not change the authority of the military to take action. In other words, in cases where local Palestinians do not see or find the demolition orders, the military can still come at any given day and demolish the building or site without any prior knowledge of such actions from the Palestinian side.
Legally, Palestinians are allowed to build projects on their land located in Area C, given that it is for agricultural purposes. Yet although our project falls within these criteria, our site is currently ordered for demolition, with exact and concrete reasons lacking. These evasive legal and military tactics are consciously designed to make Palestinians feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. While inaction to these orders eventually leads to loss of land and thus livelihoods, engaging in court by challenging demolitions are economically paralyzing, as they are costly procedures that most Palestinians cannot afford.
In spite of the financial burden of taking legal measures, the Center for Freedom and Justice will continue to challenge the demolition orders in court. By remaining firmly committed to the principles of universal human rights, international law, and non-violent action, we aim to regain full control and freedom over our land and work constructively on the sustainable development of Beit Ommar.