An eviction in East Jerusalem lies at the center of a conflict that led to war between Israel and Hamas. But for millions of Palestinians, the routine indignities of occupation are part of daily life.
Israeli soldiers firing tear gas towards Palestinian protesters in the town of Kfar Qaddum. Samar Hazboun for The New York Times
JERUSALEM — Muhammad Sandouka built his home in the shadow of the Temple Mount before his second son, now 15, was born.
They demolished it together, after Israeli authorities decided that razing it would improve views of the Old City for tourists.
Mr. Sandouka, 42, a countertop installer, had been at work when an inspector confronted his wife with two options: Tear the house down, or the government would not only level it but also bill the Sandoukas $10,000 for its expenses.
Such is life for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation: always dreading the knock at the front door.
The looming removal of six Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem set off a round of protests that helped ignite the latest war between Israel and Gaza. But to the roughly three million Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war and has controlled through decades of failed peace talks, the story was exceptional only because it attracted an international spotlight.
For the most part, they endure the frights and indignities of the Israeli occupation in obscurity.
Even in supposedly quiet periods, when the world is not paying attention, Palestinians from all walks of life routinely experience exasperating impossibilities and petty humiliations, bureaucratic controls that force agonizing choices, and the fragility and cruelty of life under military rule, now in its second half-century.
Underneath that quiet, pressure builds.
If the eviction dispute in East Jerusalem struck a match, the occupation’s provocations ceaselessly pile up dry kindling. They are a constant and key driver of the conflict, giving Hamas an excuse to fire rockets or lone-wolf attackers grievances to channel into killings by knives or automobiles. And the provocations do not stop when the fighting ends.
Home on the Edge
No homeowner welcomes a visit from the code-enforcement officer. But it’s entirely different in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians find it nearly impossible to obtain building permits and most homes were built without them: The penalty is often demolition.
Mohammed Sandouka amid the ruins of his home in East Jerusalem. Dan Balilty for The New York Times
Mr. Sandouka grew up just downhill from the Old City’s eastern ramparts, in the valley dividing the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.
At 19, he married and moved into an old addition onto his father’s house, then began expanding it. New stone walls tripled the floor area. He laid tile, hung drywall and furnished a cozy kitchen. He spent around $150,000.
Children came, six in all. Ramadan brought picnickers to the green valley. The kids played host, delivering cold water or hot soup. His wife prepared feasts of maqluba (chicken and rice) and mansaf (lamb in yogurt sauce). He walked with his sons up to Al Aqsa, one of Islam’s holiest sites.
In 2016, city workers posted an address marker over Mr. Sandouka’s gate. It felt like legitimation.
But Israel was drifting steadily rightward. The state parks authority fell under the influence of settlers, who seek to expand Jewish control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Citing an old plan for a park encircling the Old City, the authority set about clearing one unpermitted house after another.
Now it was Mr. Sandouka’s turn.
Plans showed a corner of the house encroaching on a future tour-bus parking lot.
Mr. Sandouka’s children salvaging household items as their home is demolished. Dan Balilty for The New York Times
Zeev Hacohen, an authority official, said erasing Mr. Sandouka’s neighborhood was necessary to restore 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 said, “looks like the Third World.”
Mr. Sandouka hired a lawyer and prayed. But he was at work a few months ago when someone knocked on his door again. This time, his wife told him, crying, it was a police officer.
The Night Raid
The knock at the door is not always just a knock.
Badr Abu Alia, 50, was awakened around 2 a.m. by the sounds of soldiers breaking into his neighbor’s home in Al Mughrayyir, a village on a ridge in the West Bank.
When they got to his door, a familiar ritual ensued: His children were rousted from bed. Everyone was herded outside. The soldiers collected IDs, explained nothing and ransacked the house. They left two hours later, taking with them a teenager from next door, blindfolded.
He had taken part in a protest four days earlier, when an Israeli sniper shot and killed a teenager who was wandering among the rock-throwers and spent tear-gas canisters.