FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Palestinians Face Home Demolitions Spree by Israel

In the first hours of dawn, Nader Elayan was woken by a call from a neighbor warning him to hurry to the house he had almost finished building. By the time he arrived, it was too late: a bulldozer was tearing down the walls. More than 100 Israeli security guards held back local residents.

The demolition, carried out four years ago, has left Mr Elayan, his wife, Fidaa, who is now pregnant, and their two young children with nowhere to live but a single room in his brother’s cramped home. It is the only land he owns and he had invested all his savings in building the now destroyed house.

Over the past few years, the Elayans’ fate has been shared by two dozen other families in the Palestinian village of Anata, on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. Hundreds more families have demolition orders hanging over their homes. “Not one person in my neighbourhood has a [building] permit,” Mr Elayan, 37, said.

The problem of house demolitions affects Palestinians throughout the occupied territories. But according to Hatem Abdelkader, an adviser to Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, the situation is particularly acute in the East Jerusalem area.

He noted that Israel’s policy of refusing building permits to many of the 250,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem has resulted in the classification of 20,000 city homes as illegal since the occupation began in 1967. Last year alone, the Jerusalem municipality issued more than 1,000 demolition orders for “illegal dwellings”. It is believed that three out of every four Palestinian homes in the city are now built without a permit.

“Illegal building is simply a pretext for destroying Palestinian families’ homes and lives,” says Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

“The demolitions are part of a policy to stop the natural expansion of Palestinian communities in and around Jerusalem, freeing up the maximum amount of land for use by Israeli settlers,” Halper continues. “The demolitions increase the pressure on Palestinians to move into the West Bank, so that they will lose their residency rights in the city.”

In an act of defiance, Halper’s organization and 40 international volunteers helped the Elayans to rebuild their home this week in an attempt to highlight what the committee calls the “quiet ethnic cleansing” of East Jerusalem. The work was carried out during a two-week summer camp funded by the Spanish government. Madrid also paid for 18 Spanish volunteers to participate.

“This is the first time a government has supported the rebuilding of an ‘illegal’ Palestinian home demolished by the Israeli authorities,” Halper says.

The issue of house demolitions is back in the spotlight now after two separate incidents in July in which Palestinians, both of whom were residents of Jerusalem, rampaged through the city in bulldozers, killing three Israelis and injuring many more. Although the two Palestinians were shot dead at the scene, Israeli officials, including Ehud Barak, the defence minister, are calling for their homes to be destroyed, making their families homeless, to deter others from following in their path.

Such punitive destruction of homes was stopped in 2005, under the threat of legal challenge, but not before some 270 homes were razed on security grounds in the first years of the intifada.

According to Halper, however, the use of demolitions against Palestinians accused of illegal building is a far more significant problem. “We estimate that there have been at least 18,000 homes destroyed during the four decades of occupation.”

In fact, Halper believes the true number of demolitions is likely to be double the official figure. Many razings are unrecorded, carried out by Palestinians themselves fearing a heavy fine if the Israeli army enforces the demolition order.

“Most demolitions are of multi-storey buildings that are home to several families, meaning that well in excess of 100,000 Palestinians may have been made homeless by Israeli administrative policies,” he said.

Since its founding a decade ago, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has rebuilt 150 Palestinian homes as part of its campaign to bring the issue of demolitions to the attention of Israeli Jews and the international community. It has been an uphill struggle, Mr Halper said. The European Union, which recently upgraded its relations with Israel, announced this month that it was withdrawing ICAHD’s funding.

But this year’s work camp may make the continuing demolition of homes in Anata a little harder, Halper reckons “it’s one thing to destroy a home supposedly built illegally by a Palestinian, but another to destroy one built with money provided by the Spanish government.”

Halper also believes that, by exposing such groups as the summer camp volunteers to the Palestinians’ plight, public perceptions may begin to change.

Alonso Santos, a 21-year-old architecture student from Madrid, said he learnt much from seeing at close hand Palestinian life under occupation.

“It was an eye-opener to realise that the principles of urban planning we are taught at the university are being used by the Israelis, but for exactly the opposite purpose from the one usually intended. The planning rules here are designed not to improve the Palestinians’ lives but to make them more miserable.”

The volunteers were hosted at a peace centre in Anata erected on the site of Salim Shawamreh’s home, which was demolished four times by Israeli authorities. Known as Arabiya House, after  Shawamreh’s wife, the building is decorated on one side with a mural depicting the death of Rachel Corrie, the US peace activist, by an Israeli bulldozer that had been demolishing homes in Gaza.

“Imagine your children leaving in the morning for school and returning later in the day to find their home, their whole world, has disappeared while they were gone,” Shawamreh said. “It’s happened to my children four times. It’s cruelty beyond words.”

Shawamreh, whose family were refugees from the northern Negev in 1948, said he and ICAHD established the peace centre to highlight the plight of the Palestinians in Anata. Today the house is overlooked by an Israeli police station across the valley, part of the advance growth of a large Jewish settlement, Maale Adumum, that Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups believe is cutting the West Bank in two.

The peace centre is also close both to the snaking route of Israel’s separation wall and to a new bypass road – part of what critics call an apartheid road system – being built to ensure that Jewish settlers can drive separately from Palestinians across the West Bank.

Arabiya House is under a temporary reprieve from demolition while Israeli courts determine its status.

Halper says the judges have been reluctant to confirm the destruction order because his group has threatened to take the case to the International Court of Justice if the ruling goes against it.

JONATHAN COOK is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.

This article originally appeared in The National (http://www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail