Silwan, Jerusalem – Enas al-Shaludi was sitting on an old, worn-out couch, huddled under a thick blanket in front of an electric heater, despite the unusually warm late November day.
With one hand, she clutched a picture of her son, AbdelRahman, who on October 22, drove his car into a Jerusalem light rail stop crowded with pedestrians. Two people were killed: a three-month-old baby girl and a woman hailing from Ecuador. Shaludi was shot and succumbed to injuries later.
Enas sat with a solemn look on her face. As well as grieving over a son, last night she also lost her home. Overnight Wednesday, Israeli forces demolished her family’s apartment in a four-storey building in Silwan, a majority-Palestinian neighbourhood, which has slowly been targeted by Israeli settlement.
The narrow roads here are peppered with potholes and trash; like in many of East Jerusalem’s areas, public services in Silwan have languished far behind the western part of the city.
Family members said Israeli forces came to the building – housing approximately 50 people in eight apartments – at about 1am. They forced everyone to head to a tent a few metres away.
Some of the children left the building with no shoes or socks, and AbdelRahman’s grandmother was not allowed to go to the bathroom, so she was forced to urinate herself, said Amer al-Shaludi, AbdelRahman’s uncle.
“They kept us outside until they were done blowing up the house at about 4am,” Amer said.
Most of the apartments sustained some damage; windows were broken, walls were cracked, mattresses were overturned, doors were unhinged, and fridges were emptied, their contents strewn across kitchen floors.
The demolition left seven members of Shaludi’s immediate family – his parents, two brothers and three daughters – homeless. For now, they will be staying with the extended family in the building until they figure out what to do next, Enas said.
Since July, seven attacks – mostly in Jerusalem – claimed the lives of 11 Israelis. At least 17 Palestinians were killed during that time, all bearing testament to the rising tensions in the holy city and the rest of the West Bank, even inside Israel proper.
The numbers exclude those killed during the July-August Gaza war; during that time, approximately 2,000 Palestinians died, a majority of them civilians. Seventy-one Israelis were also killed, most of them soldiers.
Israel has increased its violations against al-Aqsa, and crackdowns on people on checkpoints, and through red tape. All this leads to violence. All this pressure will ultimately lead to an explosion. As you can see, home demolitions have not stopped attacks. Violence breeds violence.
Israel has increased its police force exponentially in Jerusalem in the past few weeks in an attempt to curb the violence, but many Palestinians say their long-simmering frustrations over what they call Israel’s unjust measures and difficult living conditions are finally boiling over.
“Israel has increased its violations against al-Aqsa, and crackdowns on people on checkpoints, and through red tape,” Enas said.
“All this leads to violence. All this pressure will ultimately lead to an explosion. As you can see, home demolitions have not stopped attacks. Violence breeds violence.”
For decades, Israel has demolished homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks. But in 2005, the practice, which authorities said was necessary for “deterrence”, was halted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week pledged to speed up the demolitions of homes of those involved in attacks. This came a day after two Palestinian men – also from Jerusalem – killed five Israelis in a synagogue in the western part of the city.
Human rights groups had long maintained that home demolitions were an act of collective punishment.
“It doesn’t deter; on the contrary, it inflames and increases the hatred even more,” said Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.”What it does is it helps the Israeli people feel that they’ve been avenged.”
In 2004, Moshe Ya’alon, a former army chief of staff, formed a review committee to look into the practice of punitive home demolitions. The committee found that it did more harm to Israeli interests, than it did to deter future attacks.
Home demolitions began again in August when the houses of two of the men involved in the abduction and killing of three Israeli teens were destroyed in Hebron. Another home belonging to a third man was sealed.
Israeli authorities had long maintained that fear of house demolitions led to families turning in their relatives to stop them from carrying out attacks.
“AbdelRahman died, but what about us?” Amer said. “Why must we suffer? Obviously this is collective punishment. They want to humiliate us.”