AL-ARAQIB, October 27 (JMCC) - Alia Salim vividly remembers the morning her home was demolished for the first time.
“The first demolition was horrible for us kids,” said the 14-year-old resident of al-Araqib, a Palestinian Bedouin
village in the northern Negev desert.
“It was the first time after ten years of living here that I'd experienced a demolition
. I'd always been seeing people [police officers and soldiers] but I never expected that they'd come here one day to demolish our homes,” she said.
Alia explained that she watched 1,500 Israeli soldiers invade al-Araqib in the early morning hours of July 27. They proceeded to demolish 45 structures, making the village’s 300 residents – including 200 children – homeless in a little over three hours of destruction.
“This time, it was a terrible thing for me,” Alia said.
One of 45 so-called “unrecognized” villages throughout Israel, the state does not provide al-Araqib residents with basic services such as water, electricity or roads. Today, the Israeli authorities are trying to force villagers to leave their ancestral lands in order to make way for a forest, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund.
As a result, the village has been demolished a total of six times since late-July, with the latest round of destruction taking place on October 13.
The hardest thing here is that you're sleeping in your home and then, suddenly, you have no home. It's the worst thing that can happen to a human being: to destroy his home,” said Hakima Rashid abu Mdeghem, an al-Araqib resident and the mother of Alia and eight other children.
“But I’m stronger than I thought. I’m a lot stronger than I thought,” Hakima said.
Indeed, each time the bulldozers, soldiers and police officers leave the village, residents have begun the rebuilding process, digging planks of wood and tarps out from beneath mounds of sand and trying to salvage as much material as possible.
Still, a constant sense of fear that the Israeli police will return to once again destroy their homes lingers in the air.
“The hardest thing for me was that when they came to destroy the house, they demolished it a moment, in just a few minutes. But for us to rebuild, we need hours. We need wood. We need materials. We need to clear the ground. It's really hard,” Alia said.
She added that she’s been forced to miss many days of school and has received poor grades on exams because of the stress of the demolitions.
“Now especially, I don't have time to practice my studies. Before, I used to spend three hours just doing my homework and studying the material for the exams; now, half-an-hour is the most I can take,” she said.
MENTAL HEALTH STRAIN
According to Yoad Ghanadry, a clinical psychologist at the Palestinian Counseling Center in Beit Hanina
, East Jerusalem
, forcing families to continuously fight for a basic need such as shelter will have a devastating impact on peoples’ lives in al-Araqib.
“A human being that has to be in a survival situation all the time, it’s very energy consuming in terms of mental health. And for the long-term, it will have serious negative implications upon families living there and of course upon their children,” Ghanadry explained.
“I think it’s very healthy that there are others who are helping these families to stand against the house demolitions and build their dream again and again. But I think the energy of people is limited and the ability for resiliency and to act against a traumatic reaction is limited, as well,” she added.
Article 27 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that State Parties should recognize the right of children, defined as anyone under the age of eighteen, “to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.”
It also explicitly specifies that states should help “implement this right and shall in case of need provide material assistance and support programs, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.”
According to Ghanadry, Israel
is going against this UN directive by denying the children of al-Araqib’s right to shelter, and creating a situation where their mental health is jeopardized.
“Kids want their houses, their parents, their mom and dad, their security. They want to play. They want to have fun. They want to have dreams and not nightmares at night,” Ghanadry said. “This continuous situation of abnormality [with home demolitions] is not sustainable; it can’t continue like this. The anger, frustration and emotional effects that our children are paying will be back upon the community as a whole.”
'TERROR FOR US'
For Hakima, the major lesson she hopes her children take from the demolitions is that they have a right to live in al-Araqib and they must fight for their homes.
“We need to teach even the smallest children that this is our land, and we can't leave it, no matter what happens. We want to live in peace on our land, [...] that's what I tell my children,” Hakima said.
I will bear it, God willing. Even if they destroy my house dozens of times I will bear it. But there are people who can't bear it, this immense pressure from the country. The only thing we want is our land; that's our only desire, she added.
For her daughter, Alia, the most difficult part is seeing the impact the demolitions have had on her younger siblings.
“I tell [my little sister, four-year-old Sujud], ‘They ruined our house, we'll build a new house, don't be afraid.’ But she's always afraid, always crying,” Alia said.
“In the morning when she's sleeping, I say, ‘Don't think [about whether] the army's there.’ But what are you supposed to feel when the army comes to you? It's a terror for us, the children.”