Since the beginning of the Second Intifida, in
September 2000, the Israeli occupation forces demolished 12,000 Palestinian houses,
partially or completely, across the Gaza Strip, displacing approximately 124,000
people, including 60,000 children.

 

Ahmad Abdallah Youssef al Afifi (32) lost his Rafah
home, in the southern Gaza Strip, in a demolition in 2003.

 

“I had been living in the house, together with my
mother and brother, for four months we had to flee from the area. It was too
dangerous to stay there due to the shootings that were taking place,” recalls
Ahmad.

 

“Once, our house was shelled by the Israelis around 3
o’clock in the morning. I was at home but luckily no one was injured. We
managed to escape. UNRWA reconstructed the damage but the problem was that the
Israelis attacked the house again after that. There was a lot of shooting which
often forced us to sleep at my sister’s house. We suffered a lot during those
months. The windows were broken, the water tanks were attacked. The roof, which
was made of asbestos, was destroyed.

 

After four months in that situation I was injured. The
Israeli army had moved into our neighbourhood and I took my mother to a
neighbour’s house for safety.  When I left
their house I encountered a tank on my way. In response, I jumped over the wall
of a nearby school. Then the tank drove into the wall, making the wall collapse
on top of me, injuring my back. I was unable to walk for three months after
that and had to stay at my brother’s house. After that incident we decided we
had to leave.

 

 

For two years we rented
an apartment nearby and intended to move back into our home. During those years
I got married and me and my wife had our first daughter, Halaa.

 

One day neighbours called me and told me that our
house had been demolished, as well as a house belonging to the Abu Shamallah
family. Israeli forces had moved into the area and while it withdrew they blew
up our house with an explosive.”

 

Because he is a refugee registered with UNRWA, the
agency came to the family following the demolition. “UNRWA made an assessment
of our situation. Since then they have been giving us $100 per month for rent
but that is not enough for us to pay for an apartment. We are supposed to move
to a new house in the Saoudi project in Tel al Sultan area.”

 

Ahmad, his wife and four children now live in a
refugee camp in Rafah and are still waiting to move into a new house which they
can call their own. Ahmad says that he and his family “had been promised the
new house in the year after the demolition. We have been waiting for the past 8
years. They started the project last year. It wasn’t possible before that
because of the closure. In December this year will should move there. The new
house is far away from here so the children will have to go to a new school
there, located inside the project.”

 

Despite the anticipation of moving to the new house,
but the family expects to face problems when moving into their new home. “Of
course we are very happy that we will be moving to our own place; we have been
waiting for such a long time. But there is a problem. When UNRWA visited us for
the assessment it was just me, my wife, and our daughter. Now we have three
more children so the apartment will be too small. There are only two rooms; too
little space and no privacy.

 

Also, my brother was absent during the assessment and when
UNRWA made its assessment so they didn’t count him in. He is married now. I
filed an official complaint with UNRWA because we cannot all live in the same
house. We have not received a response until now.

 

For nearly a decade we stayed in rental apartments,
waiting for a new home. We moved to three different places since the
demolition, depending on the rent and availability of the apartment we were
staying in. The waiting has been very difficult. There are people who died
while waiting for a new home. My mother died before she got to see the new
house, which she was hoping for.

 

The Saoudi housing project finally started moving, following
years of lacking construction materials caused by the closure imposed on the
Gaza Strip. This should have happened many years ago when Saoudi Arabia
promised to pay for the project.”

 

Ahmad does not hold hopes for justice within the
Israeli legal system; “I did not undertake legal action against the
occupation’s demolition because the Israelis destroyed many houses in the
border area, without legal consequences. I think it requires a larger
collective effort to take action against this. Even if I filed a claim I know I
wouldn’t get compensated or get my rights back. I hope that somebody is able to
file a complaint against Israel for all houses that it demolished, and to raise
the issue on an international level.”

 

Ahmad makes clear that living through a home
demolition also has irreversible consequences that cannot be fixed by a new
home or compensation. “Some people were given new houses, but no one can give us
back the memories we lived in our old houses. I hope this will never happen to
anyone again.”

 

The mass home demolitions across the Gaza Strip,
carried out as a collective punitive measure as well as the unilateral
imposition of a so called ‘buffer zone’ in Gaza’s border areas, are a violation
of international humanitarian law, which prohibits the forcible transfer of
civilians and the unwarranted destruction of private civilian property by the
Occupying Power, codified in Article 49 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The Israeli home demolitions constitute a form of collective punishment against
the civilian population, which is a violation of Article 33 of the Fourth
Geneva Convention.

 

Furthermore, Article 11 (1) of the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
recognizes everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, which includes
adequate housing. As the Occupying Power and signatory to the Covenant, Israel
is obliged to “take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right.”
Furthermore, under Article 27 (3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) Israel has the duty to provide material assistance and support programmes
to parents in providing housing for their children.

 

Finally, the illegal home demolitions interfere
unlawfully with the people’s privacy and their family life, in violation of
Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
and Article 16 (1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).