Two Palestinian families have demolished their homes in a village on the outskirts of the Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, saying they would rather destroy them than face the prospect of Israeli settlers moving in.
Locals said the two families watched as bulldozers demolished their four homes in the Beit Hanina neighborhood on Thursday while friends and neighbors watched on a hillside as dust rose into the air.
Witnesses said that two mechanical diggers smashed through the ceilings, walls and floors of the two buildings for two hours in the area.
Jihad Shawamreh, 50, a taxi driver, said that he built his six-room house in 2000 and that his ex-wife Fawzia, their six children and other relatives lived there until Thursday.
The families argued they had bought the plots in good faith and believed they were the rightful owners.
"I built (my house) with my own hands. It is where I brought up my children. This is where they grew up," Shawamreh said, adding, "We took down the houses for fear of seeing settlers move in and having to see them inside the house."
Shawamreh said the demolition cost $8,200 and that he had turned down offers of money from Israeli settlers to leave the buildings standing.
Shawamreh's neighbor Zeinat Abu Rumeileh, 62, cried as she sat beside the other demolished home in a tent that she said had been provided by the Palestinian Authority.
"I am not able to watch," she said, weeping into a handkerchief, adding, "I was afraid, of course, but we didn't think that this would happen or even come close to happening."
The demolition came after Israel's Supreme Court ruled in January that the land on which the homes were constructed had been under Jewish ownership since 1974 and that documents presented by the Palestinian families to support their claims had been forged.
Tel Aviv has been occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem al-Quds, since taking the Palestinian territory by force in 1967. Ever since the occupation, it has been building settlements throughout the land in a move condemned by the United Nations and considered illegal under international law, which bans construction on occupied territory.
More than half a million Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built over the past decades.
The continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestine territories has created a major obstacle to the efforts to establish peace in the Middle East.
The Palestinian Authority wants the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinians state with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.
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