Life Under Occupation:The Misery at the Heart of the Conflict


An eviction in East Jerusalem lies at the middle of a battle that led to battle between Israel and Hamas. But for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the routine indignities of occupation are half of day by day life.

David M. Halbfinger and


JERUSALEM — Muhammad Sandouka constructed his dwelling in the shadow of the Temple Mount earlier than his second son, now 15, was born.

They demolished it collectively, after Israeli authorities determined that razing it could enhance views of the Old City for vacationers.

Mr. Sandouka, 42, a countertop installer, had been at work when an inspector confronted his spouse with two choices: Tear the home down, or the authorities wouldn’t solely stage it but additionally invoice the Sandoukas $10,000 for its bills.

Such is life for Palestinians dwelling below Israel’s occupation: at all times dreading the knock at the entrance door.

The looming removing of six Palestinian families from their properties in East Jerusalem set off a spherical of protests that helped ignite the newest battle between Israel and Gaza. But to the roughly three million Palestinians dwelling in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 battle and has managed by means of a long time of failed peace talks, the story was distinctive solely as a result of it attracted a global highlight.

For the most half, they endure the frights and indignities of the Israeli occupation in obscurity.

Even in supposedly quiet intervals, when the world is just not paying consideration, Palestinians from all walks of life routinely expertise exasperating impossibilities and petty humiliations, bureaucratic controls that power agonizing decisions, and the fragility and cruelty of life below army rule, now in its second half-century.

Underneath that quiet, strain builds.

If the eviction dispute in East Jerusalem struck a match, the occupation’s provocations ceaselessly pile up dry kindling. They are a continuing and key driver of the battle, giving Hamas an excuse to fireside rockets or lone-wolf attackers grievances to channel into killings by knives or cars. And the provocations don’t cease when the preventing ends.

No home-owner welcomes a go to from the code-enforcement officer. But it’s completely completely different in East Jerusalem, the place Palestinians discover it almost inconceivable to acquire constructing permits and most properties have been constructed with out them: The penalty is commonly demolition.

Mr. Sandouka grew up simply downhill from the Old City’s jap ramparts, in the valley dividing the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.

At 19, he married and moved into an outdated addition onto his father’s home, then started increasing it. New stone partitions tripled the flooring space. He laid tile, hung drywall and furnished a comfortable kitchen. He spent round $150,000.

Children got here, six in all. Ramadan introduced picnickers to the inexperienced valley. The children performed host, delivering chilly water or scorching soup. His spouse ready feasts of maqluba (hen and rice) and mansaf (lamb in yogurt sauce). He walked together with his sons as much as Al Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest websites.

In 2016, metropolis staff posted an handle marker over Mr. Sandouka’s gate. It felt like legitimation.

But Israel was drifting steadily rightward. The state parks authority fell below the affect of settlers, who search to broaden Jewish management over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Citing an outdated plan for a park encircling the Old City, the authority set about clearing one unpermitted home after one other.

Now it was Mr. Sandouka’s flip.

Plans confirmed a nook of the home encroaching on a future tour-bus car parking zone.

Zeev Hacohen, an authority official, stated erasing Mr. Sandouka’s neighborhood was mandatory to revive views of the Old City “as they were in the days of the Bible.”

“The personal stories are always painful,” he allowed. But the Palestinian neighborhood, he stated, “looks like the Third World.”

Mr. Sandouka employed a lawyer and prayed. But he was at work a number of months in the past when somebody knocked on his door once more. This time, his spouse informed him, crying, it was a police officer.

The knock at the door is just not at all times only a knock.

Badr Abu Alia, 50, was woke up round 2 a.m. by the sounds of troopers breaking into his neighbor’s dwelling in Al Mughrayyir, a village on a ridge in the West Bank.

When they bought to his door, a well-recognized ritual ensued: His youngsters have been rousted from mattress. Everyone was herded exterior. The troopers collected IDs, defined nothing and ransacked the home. They left two hours later, taking with them a youngster from subsequent door, blindfolded.

He had taken half in a protest 4 days earlier, when an Israeli sniper shot and killed a teenager who was wandering amongst the rock-throwers and spent tear-gas canisters.

Al Mughrayyir was one of the few villages nonetheless mounting common Friday protests. They started after settlers lower off entry to some of the villagers’ farmland. The boy’s demise turned a brand new rallying cry.

The military says it raids Palestinian properties at evening as a result of it’s safer, and ransacks them to seek for weapons, in routine crackdowns aimed at holding militance in test.

But the raids additionally encourage militance.

Mr. Abu Alia seethed as he described seeing his son exterior in the darkish, “afraid, crying because of the soldiers, and I can do nothing to protect him.”

“It makes you want to take revenge, to defend yourself,” he went on. “But we have nothing to defend ourselves with.”

Stone-throwing should suffice, he stated. “We can’t take an M-16 and go kill every settler. All we have are those stones. A bullet can kill you instantly. A little stone won’t do much. But at least I’m sending a message.”

Settlers ship messages, too. They have lower down a whole lot of Al Mughrayyir’s olive bushes — very important sources of earnings and ties to the land — torched a mosque, vandalized vehicles. In 2019, one was accused of fatally capturing a villager in the again. The case stays open.

For Majeda al-Rajaby the ache of occupation by no means goes away. It slices straight by means of her household.

A twice-divorced instructor, Ms. al-Rajaby, 45, is split from her 5 youngsters by the other ways Israel treats Palestinians relying on the place they’re from.

She grew up in the West Bank, in Hebron. But each her ex-husbands have been Jerusalem residents, permitting them to journey anyplace an Israeli citizen might go. The youngsters have been entitled to the blue IDs of Jerusalem residents, too. Hers remained West Bank inexperienced.

Both her husbands lived in Shuafat refugee camp, a lawless slum inside the Jerusalem metropolis limits however simply exterior Israel’s safety barrier. West Bankers aren’t allowed to dwell there, however the rule is just not enforced.

She had thought she was marrying up. Instead, she stated her husbands “always made me feel inferior.”

After the second divorce, she was left on her personal, together with her inexperienced ID, to lift all 5 youngsters with their blue IDs. The distinction may very well be life-threatening.

When a daughter by accident inhaled housecleaning chemical substances, Ms. al-Rajaby tried to race her to the closest hospital, in Jerusalem. Soldiers refused to let her in. As a instructor in Shuafat, she had a allow to enter Jerusalem, however solely till 7 p.m. It was 8:00.

Her youngsters are older now, however the distinction is simply as keenly felt: Ms. al-Rajaby permits herself to be excluded from joyful moments and rites of passage so her youngsters can get pleasure from benefits unavailable to her.

She stays behind on the Palestinian facet of the safety barrier whereas they head off to Jaffa or Haifa, or on shortcuts to Hebron by means of Jerusalem, a route forbidden to her. “West Banker,” they tease her, waving goodbye.

One daughter is 21 now and engaged and goes on jaunts into Israel together with her fiancé’s mom. “I should be with them,” Ms. al-Rajaby stated.

Last summer season, Ms. al-Rajaby moved out of Shuafat to a safer neighborhood simply exterior the Jerusalem metropolis limits, in the West Bank. That means her youngsters may lose their blue IDs if Israel decided that their main residence was together with her.

“I’m not allowed to live there,” she stated of Shuafat, “and my daughters are not allowed to live here.”

Constrained as she is, Ms. al-Rajaby needs much more for her youngsters than freedom to maneuver about Israel.

In 2006, her daughter Rana, then 7, was burned in a cooking accident. An Italian charity paid for therapy at a hospital in Padua. Mother and baby stayed for 3 months.

The expertise opened Ms. al-Rajaby’s eyes. She noticed inexperienced parks, youngsters in good garments, ladies driving vehicles.

“It was the moment of my liberation,” she stated. “I started thinking: ‘Why do they have this? Why don’t we?’”

Today, she urges all her youngsters to see the world, and holds out hope that they may to migrate.

“Why,” she requested, “should someone keep living under the mercy of people who have no mercy?”

Try as they may to make their lodging with Israel, Palestinians typically discover themselves caught in the occupation’s gears.

Majed Omar as soon as earned a superb dwelling as a building employee inside Israel. But in 2013, his youthful brother was noticed crossing by means of a niche in Israel’s safety barrier. A soldier shot him in the leg.

Mr. Omar, 45, was collateral injury. Israel revoked his work allow simply in case he had concepts about taking revenge — one thing Israel says occurs too typically.

He sat unemployed for 14 months. When Israel reissued his allow, it solely allowed him to work in the fast-growing West Bank settlements, the place staff are paid half as a lot, searched every morning and supervised by armed guards all day.

Which is how he got here to be the foreman on a crew that remodels Jewish properties and expands Israeli buildings on land the Palestinians have lengthy demanded as half of their hoped-for state.

In a small manner, it’s like digging his personal grave, Mr. Omar stated. “But we’re living in a time when everyone sees what’s wrong and still does it.”

Violence is commonly sudden and transient. But the nagging dread it instills could be simply as debilitating.

Nael al-Azza, 40, is haunted by the Israeli checkpoint he should cross by means of whereas commuting between his dwelling in Bethlehem and his job in Ramallah.

At dwelling, he lives behind partitions and cultivates a lush herb and vegetable backyard in the yard. But nothing protects him on his drive to work, not even his place as a supervisor in the Palestinian firefighting and ambulance service.

Recently, he stated, a soldier at the checkpoint stopped him, informed him to roll down his window, requested if he had a weapon. He stated no. She opened his passenger door to have a look, then slammed it shut, laborious.

He needed to object. But he stopped himself, he stated: Too many confrontations with troopers finish with Palestinians being shot.

“If I want to defend my property and my self-respect, there’s a price for that,” he stated.

His commute is a 14-mile journey as the crow flies, however a 33-mile route, as a result of Palestinians are diverted in a large loop round Jerusalem alongside a tortuous two-lane highway of steep switchbacks. Even so, it must take much less an hour — however typically takes two or three, as a result of of the checkpoint.

The Israelis take into account the checkpoint important to seek for fleeing attackers or unlawful weapons or to chop the West Bank in two in case of unrest. Palestinians name it a choke level that may be shut off on a soldier’s whim. It can be a friction level, motorists and troopers every imagining themselves as the different’s goal.

Idling and inching alongside, Mr. al-Azza in contrast site visitors to blood circulation. Searching one automobile can imply an hour’s delay. The troopers are so younger, he stated, “They don’t feel the weight of stopping 5,000 cars.”

He thinks solely of these delayed. “When they impede your movement and cause you to fail at your job, you feel like you’ve lost your value and meaning,” he stated.

A number of nights every week, delays power him to sleep at work and accept video calls together with his three youngsters.

On weekend outings, the checkpoint takes a special toll on his household.

“I try to keep my kids from speaking about the conflict,” he stated. “But they see and experience things I have no answer for. When we’re driving, we turn the music on. But when we reach the checkpoint, I turn it off. I don’t know why. I’ll see them in the mirror: All of a sudden, they sit upright and look anxious — until we cross and I turn the music back on.”

Deadly situations continuously play out in Mr. al-Azza’s head: What if a tire blew out or his engine stalled? What if a younger soldier, skilled to reply immediately, misconstrued it as a menace?

“It’s not possible to put it out of mind,” he stated. “When you’re hungry, you think about food.”

No Palestinian is insulated from the occupation’s attain — not even in the well-to-do, privileged “bubble” of Ramallah, the place Israeli troopers are seldom seen.

Everyone Sondos Mleitat is aware of bears the scars of some trauma. Her personal: Hiding together with her little brother, then 5, when Israeli tanks rolled into Nablus, the place she was raised.

In the darkish, she stated, he pulled all his eyelashes out, one after the other.

Today, Ms. Mleitat, 30, runs a web site connecting Palestinians with psychotherapists.

Instead of reckoning with their lingering wounds, she stated, folks search security in social conformity, in faith, in the approval gleaned from Facebook and Instagram likes. But all of these, she stated, solely reinforce the occupation’s suffocating results.

“This is all about control,” she stated. “People are going through a type of taming or domestication. They just surrender to it and feel they can’t change anything.”

After her uncle was killed by Israeli troopers at a protest, she stated, his youthful brother was pushed into marriage at 18 “to protect him from going down the same path.”

But a nation of individuals who attain maturity pondering solely about settling down, she stated, is just not a nation that can obtain independence.

“They think they’re getting out of this bubble, but they’re not,” she stated.

Mr. Sandouka earns about $1,800 in a superb month. He hoped the lawyer may quash the demolition order. “I thought they would just give us a fine,” he stated.

Then he bought one other panicked name from dwelling: “The police were there, making my family cry.”

Khalas, he stated, sufficient. He would tear it down himself.

Early on a Monday, his sons took turns with a borrowed jackhammer. They nearly appeared to be having enjoyable, like wrecking a sand fort.

Finished, their moods darkened. “It’s like we’re lighting ourselves on fire,” stated Mousa, 15.

“They want the land,” stated Muataz, 22. “They want all of us to leave Jerusalem.”

In 2020, 119 Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem have been demolished, 79 of them by their house owners.

When all was rubble, Mr. Sandouka lit a cigarette and held it with three beefy fingers because it burned. His pants filthy with the mud of his household’s life collectively, he climbed atop the particles, despatched pictures to the police and contemplated his choices.

Moving to the West Bank, and sacrificing Jerusalem residency, was unthinkable. Moving elsewhere in Jerusalem was unaffordable.

A good friend provided a pair of spare rooms as a short lived refuge. Mr. Sandouka’s spouse demanded permanency.

“She told me if I don’t buy her a home, that’s it — everyone can go their separate ways,” he stated.

He turned his eyes uphill towards the Old City.

“These people work little by little,” he stated. “It’s like a lion that eats one, and then another. It eventually eats everything around it.”



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