SILWAN, West Bank, March 2 -- The first indication the al-Abbasi family had that their two-bedroom bungalow was being torn down came early this morning when an Israeli battering ram knocked down their front door.
Ghadir Abbasi, mother of six children, all under the age of 10, said their house was surrounded by soldiers and the family told to gather in the living room while a crew, all wearing bright yellow vests, began to carry the family's belongings outside and dumped them in the yard.
Then, the family was ordered outside while the task was completed.
As neighbours and a handful of journalists and human rights workers arrived, the army had cordoned off the area within 25 metres of the house. Along the front stood 10 imposing police (nine men and one woman) dressed in the black uniform that denotes a special task force charged with carrying out such demolitions.
Wielding truncheons and tear gas launchers -- several wore black balaclavas -- they kept all family and onlookers at bay while the yellow vests were loaded into a bus and driven off and a large steam shovel (equipped with a huge jackhammer in place of a bucket) lumbered into position.
With its loud staccato bursts echoing through the valley just below Jerusalem's Old City walls, the hammer undermined the foundation of the house then tore away at the walls of the concrete and plaster structure. Down went the family's satellite dish, then its rooftop water tank. Wall after wall was pulled down and, within 25 minutes, it was over.
The bulldozer retreated, then drove slowly up the road and out of sight. The regular army units dispersed in their jeeps, followed, finally, by the intimidating black-uniformed force, leaving the family and neighbours to come and look over the rubble left behind.
Mahmoud al-Abbasi and his father, Yusef, had built the modest home two years ago even though their application for a building permit had not yet been granted. Yusef owned the land free and clear, he said, but couldn't buy a permit.
"What could we do?" Mrs. Al-Abbasi asks. "We needed somewhere to live." [The family had outgrown the house of Mahmoud's parents.]/p>
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights, says almost no Arab families are granted permits to build or enlarge homes in the municipality of Jerusalem.
The al-Abbasi family thought they had dodged the bullet. For two years, they lived comfortably in the house they built with their own hands, until this morning's knock on the door.