MAP condemns demolition of home of Palestinian man with a disability

Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) strongly condemns the demolition by Israeli authorities to Hatem Abu Riyala’s home in Issawiya in East Jerusalem on 1 March. This is the fourth demolition his family have faced since 1999. During a previous demolition Hatem fell from the roof of his house, and is now in a wheelchair as a result of his injuries.

The demolition took place on his son’s fourteenth birthday. Hatem told media that his children have been in a state of shock ever since.

Speaking to Haaretz, Hatem also described what hurt him the most about the demolition: “They were laughing. Have you no shame? Our heart is burning and you’re laughing? The driver of the excavator laughed. Why are you laughing in this situation? In order to tell us: We have broken you. It’s people’s lives you’re demolishing.”

In February 2020, three UK MPs – Neil Coyle MP, Jeff Smith MP and Alex Norris MP – met with Hatem while visiting the West Bank on a delegation coordinated by MAP and the Council for Arab British Understanding (Caabu). The visit came soon after the previous demolition in December 2019, when bulldozers tore the top floor off his home without giving him time to remove all the family’s belongings.

The delegation climbed over rubble and scattered personal belongings to speak to Hatem. He told the group of his experiences navigating a discriminatory planning regime as he tried to extend his house upwards to meet the needs of his growing family. Hatem, like many other Palestinians in the same situation, told the MPs how he had to pay the Israeli authorities for the costs of the destruction of his home.

“Palestinians don’t want to live illegally,” Hatem told the group then. “But by affecting people and making their lives unliveable the aim it to coerce them to leave.”

Hearing about the recent demolition to Hatem’s home, Alex Norris MP expressed:

“I met Hatem last year and it was clear that previous demolitions had a devastating impact on his life. They made living with his disability exceptionally hard as well. Hearing this has happened for a fourth time is profoundly sad. These demolitions do nothing to work toward a peaceful two-state solution.”

Israel’s planning and zoning regime makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to build in most of occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinians are only permitted to build on 13% of land in East Jerusalem, most of which is already build up, and only 7% of housing permits in the city are granted to Palestinians, forcing most to build without them.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes and other structures by the Israeli authorities reached a four year high in 2020, affecting livelihoods and increasing Palestinian families’ exposure to food insecurity and dependency on humanitarian assistance. In August 2020 MAP, Al Haq and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) released a report highlighting how Israel’s policies and practices in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic have served to “intensify long-standing grievances and systemic discrimination” against Palestinians in the East Jerusalem.

The demolitions to Hatem’s home constitute a severe threat to his family’s rights to housing, education and health, especially during a global pandemic.

As the occupying power in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Israel is obligated to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of the Palestinian population under its effective control in the oPt, including those with disabilities. 

Briefing the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities last Autumn, MAP highlighted that Palestinians with disabilities face many barriers to their fundamental rights, and urged the Committee to:

  • Call on Israel to adhere to its legal obligations and ensure the respect and fulfilment of the rights of Palestinians with disabilities under its effective control in the occupied Palestinian territory;
  • Demand Israel cease all forms of collective punishment with immediate effect; and
  • Urge Israel, the occupying power, to ensure the protection and fulfilment of the specific needs of people with disabilities in the occupied Palestinian territory to maintain their health, safety, dignity, and independence throughout the COVID-19 outbreak and related health emergencies

Last month, MAP also joined over 80 organisations to call on the international community to urge Israel to cease its policy of destruction of property and forcible transfer of Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to address Israel’s internationally wrongful acts as a priority in the current 46th UN Human Rights Council Session.

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