The Christian Peacemaker Teams, a human rights action group based in the area telephoned the office of IMEMC (the International Middle East media Centre) in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem.“Three houses belonging to Palestinian villagers are being destroyed by the Israeli army with bull dozers”
Drive for 1 hour south of Hebron, through steep rock scattered hills, used for centuries by Palestinian shepherds and farmers for grazing their herds and olive growing.Yet despite this being the West bank, and technically Palestine, the Israel occupation is visible from every hill-top, the red roofed houses of illegal settlements cluster on every summit, land stolen by Israeli settlers, using force, no contracts or money has been exchanged with the families who have cared and nurtured these hills for hundreds of years, this land was taken from them at the butt of a gun.
Along a deserted road we reach the remains of a home, now a mass of broken concrete and twisted metal.About ten women and children sit on a dry stonewall their backs turned to the road.The Red Cross unload emergency supplies.The entire family, in total around 20 people seem very quiet and contained as they attempt to deal with this catastrophe.
I ask if it is ok to take video and stills, they agree and I move to photograph a heap of furniture stacked on the hillside.Two women come and lift the tarpaulin so I can get shots of the mattresses and bedroom furniture underneath.
The army had arrived unexpectedly telling the family they had just 20 minutes to get all of their possessions and furniture out of the second storey because it had to be demolished, as there had been no permission given for its construction. After 16 minutes the army drove the bulldozers in. The second storey, which had accommodated the 20 family members, was destroyed along with the possessions they had not yet retrieved, including their electricity generator.All the wives wedding jewellery had been sold to pay for its construction. Now houseless on a hillside, the women and children sit calmly, young men construct two Red Cross tents, the only shelter on offer to house 20 people.
When the army crushed the house, settlers driving past to their all mod-cons abodes at the top of the hill, sounded their horns in support of the army’s actions and jeered at the families’ distress.As I film the younger children run in and out of the tent, laughing, pushing to be in my shots, as if this is all just a game. I find myself worrying about them at night time, so exposed on the high ground, when temperatures plummet.
The area here belongs to this extended family “ we have the papers” they say, and when the settlers took their land they hired lawyers and went to the Israeli courts to contest the theft of their acres.Thirty acres, had been initially squatted by settlers and the court case drags on. On some points the family wins, when this happens the army comes and destroys another one of their homes. They have had 35 houses destroyed so far and are afraid to rebuild.Just down the hill, the head of the family shows me the remains of a beautiful Arabic house built by his ancestors 150 years ago. The army had destroyed it and now he stables his flocks its’ ruins, again afraid to rebuild “ They even came and destroyed my caravan” he said pointing to a battered mobile home perched on the edge of the hill.
His wives and children wave hello from inside a make shift shed.Thirty-five soldiers had arrived onto their land the previous night and with bulldozers crushed a little house built for his son’s new family.“The Israelis want us to leave, but we will never leave, this was my great great great grandfathers land, and I will die here rather than leave” said Ismael Ibrihim Al’atrah the head of the family.