Demolished Palestinian home becomes conflict symbol

A Palestinians searches through rubble of his destroyed homes hit by Israeli strikes.

The pile of rubble that Latifa Naji used to call home has become an unlikely symbol in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The two-storey cement house in the Al-Amari refugee camp in the occupied West Bank has been demolished by the Israeli army four times, most recently this month, as punishment for attacks carried out by the widowed 71-year-old's sons.

For Palestinians, the desire to keep rebuilding symbolises an ability to withstand Israeli collective punishment and a refusal to be forced from their homes.

For Israelis, it is evidence of the widespread support among Palestinians for attacks like those in which Naji's sons were implicated.

The Palestinian Authority led by president Mahmud Abbas paid for the Najis' home to be rebuilt each time it was razed, one of a raft of benefits it provides to the families of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Naji, more often called Umm Yusef Abu Hamid, currently has six of her 10 sons behind bars over attacks on Israelis, while a seventh was killed.

The 71-year-old says she doesn't regret her children's choices.

"There is no mother alive who wants her sons so far away from her but this is their path and they chose it," she said.

"Every (Palestinian) house has a prisoner, every house has a martyr," she said. "But we are suffering a little more."

Israel has controlled the West Bank since seizing it in the Six-Day War of 1967, with nearly three million Palestinian residents living alongside roughly 400,000 Israelis residing in settlements considered illegal under international law.

Israel routinely demolishes the homes of Palestinians who carry out attacks against Israelis.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued that the tactic is a tool to prevent suicide attacks.

"Suicides by their nature, they do not particularly care if they die, but they care if, in some cases and often many cases, if their homes are demolished afterward or sealed," he said in 2014.

Human rights groups say the tactic amounts to collective punishment and don't actually deter attacks.

Israel has demolished six Palestinian homes this year in reprisal for attacks, Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq said.

"The demolition of the Abu Hamid family home comes in the context of a systematic Israeli policy, in which all arms of the Israeli state take part... so that Palestinians are forced to leave their place of residence to be replaced by settlers," said Al-Haq's Tahsin Alian.

Umm Yusef says every demolition makes her more determined to stay.

"The collective punishments only make families stronger and more steadfast," she told AFP in a temporary home, surrounded by pictures of her 10 sons and late husband.

Four of her offspring were sentenced to life in prison in the early 2000s after admitting carrying out attacks against Israelis.

Another is being held without trial, while a sixth, a Hamas militant, was killed in the 1990s -- prompting the Israeli army to first demolish the house.

In May 2018, a seventh son, Islam, threw a concrete block from the roof of his building onto soldiers as they carried out a raid inside the camp.

Ronen Lubarsky, a 20-year-old soldier, was killed and in July an Israeli military court sentenced Islam to life in prison for murder.

In theory, the camp is in a part of the West Bank under full Palestinian control but the Israeli army routinely carries out raids there.

In December 2018, troops entered the camp to demolish the house and the Israeli army later released a video showing Islam re-enacting the attack for investigators.

The Palestinian government pledged to rebuild and work started until the Israeli army again returned on October 24.

Umm Yusef said an Israeli officer called her days before the latest demolition telling her the land technically belonged to Israel.

The army confirmed that the demolition was carried out in accordance with a regulation that means that the "rights of the home and the real estate are transferred to the military command and that use of this land or construction on it is prohibited."

"Construction began on the building, despite the order being in place, and the re-demolition took place under the same order," the army said.

Umm Yusef says the home will again be rebuilt with the support of the Palestinian Authority.

"I will not cry for stones that have been destroyed," she said.

"The stones of the house aren't more valuable than our children, or our lands or our country."

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