Creating new perspectives since 2009

Homes destroyed, land stolen, lives shattered

January 25, 2014 at 4:31 am

Criminal demolition in the OPTs

Within the catalogue of criminality that is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the destruction of Palestinian homes must rank as one of the most cynical and heinous. “Some 90,000 people are currently reported to be at risk of displacement as a result of Israeli policies such as restrictive and discriminatory planning, the revocation of residency rights, the expansion of settlements and the construction of the West Bank Separation Wall.”1 All, let us note and explore further, with the tacit engagement of America, which bankrolls the entire operation.

A home should be a refuge from the world, safe and secure, but this simple image of normality is unknown to many Palestinians living under the brutal illegal occupation by Israel. “The Israeli practice of demolishing homes, basic infrastructure and sources of livelihoods continues to devastate Palestinian families and communities in East Jerusalem and the 60 per cent of the West Bank controlled by Israel, known as Area C. Many of the people affected already live in poverty, and demolitions are a leading cause of their on-going displacement and dispossession in the West Bank.”2

Last year (2011) saw more homes demolished than in the previous six years, and record numbers of people made homeless and displaced: “By November 2011 Israeli authorities had demolished 467 Palestinian homes and other buildings in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), displacing 869 people.”3 The UN puts the figure even higher, at 1000. (HRWHD) Alongside the illegal destruction of Palestinian homes, the settlement expansion has accelerated and with it, according to Human Rights Watch, “an escalation of violence perpetrated by settlers.”

The total number of recorded house demolitions since the occupation began in 1967 is estimated to be “24,813”.4 With Palestinians perversely being forced to either demolish their own home or face a charge for the IDF to do it, some homeowners undertake the task themselves: “It [the family] is liable for the costs of the house demolition which can run up to tens of thousands of dollars. To avoid these costs, Palestinians subject to administrative house demolitions may ‘opt’ to undertake the demolition of their own home -it is not known how many Palestinians choose this route.”5 These ‘homemade’ demolitions will not be included in the (IAK) figure quoted, making the actual total much higher. Let us ponder for a moment on the absurdity of living under the cloud of an illegal authority that forces families to bulldoze their own home.

Lives demolished

The impact on the families whose homes are demolished and the effects, immediate and long-term, are devastating. Children are particularly vulnerable, as too are pregnant women and the elderly. Families are displaced and separated, children made homeless, frightened and unsettled for years. “Children who have had their home demolished fare significantly worse on a range of mental health indicators, including: withdrawal, somatic complaints, depression/anxiety, social difficulties, higher rates of delusional, obsessive, compulsive and psychotic thoughts, attention behavior – even six months after the demolition. They cry more, are afraid to go to school, feel they are not loved or that others are bad to them, feel guilty, nervous and are very tense.” (BH)

House demolitions add to the numbers of Palestinian refugees, who constitute the largest single group of refugees in the world: “In 2007, there were an estimated seven million Palestinian refugees worldwide and 450,000 internally displaced in Israel and the OPT.” (BH)

Propaganda permitting violence

As well as the demolition of homes, places of work, businesses and sources of livelihood are destroyed, in addition to basic groundwork, including “wells, rainwater harvesting cisterns, and other essential structures”. (HRHD) When in the West Bank in 2009 I witnessed numerous roadside market stalls outside Hebron being demolished. I counted eight smashed to ruin or in the process of being destroyed at the hands of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). “Most demolitions in 2011 affected livelihood structures, negatively affecting the sources of income and living standards of some 1,300 people.”6 The reason given? “Palestinians set up shop without the required official permits.” (ISOPT)

Israeli explanations justifying demolitions are of no consequence, serving only as propaganda, seeking to justify the unjust, the illegal, the inhumane. The nonsense of permits tramples on sanity. It is the Israeli authorities (in particular the IDF) who grant, or refuse to grant, permits for various aspects of daily life: housing, importing goods, travel, trading and infrastructure development, such as water pipes, electrical lines, communication, etc. The IDF claims that it only destroys homes which are built without a permit (13%), or for “military reasons” (41%); this is disingenuous nonsense.

This bureaucratic maze of madness, established, maintained and administered as an instrument of control, adds to the armoury employed by Israel to bring Palestinians to their knees. There exists a system of “military law (that) systematically deprives Palestinians of their rights and denies them the ability to have any real effect on shaping the policy regarding the land space in which they live and with respect to their rights.”7

The two-tier legal structure installed by the occupying force is designed and implemented to maximise the suffering of the Palestinians, leaving them with no choice but to live outside the system. “Israel’s discriminatory planning restrictions result in the lack of building permits for the Palestinian population in the West Bank forcing them to build without permits and live under the constant threat of eviction and demolition.” (ISOPT)

Flouting conventions.

Whilst Palestinian homes and essential structures are destroyed, Israelis living comfortably and secure within the illegal settlements are allowed to flout the law. Peace Now has documented “a dramatic increase in the number of new illegal buildings in the settlements, construction is proceeding according to plans that were never approved by the IDF. At least 507 unapproved housing units are currently being built in 29 settlements”. These (Israeli) developments are not subject to a demolition order, even though they are building without the necessary permits which are supposedly “compulsory” under Israeli law. “House demolitions exercised exclusively against Palestinians have displaced thousands of families, while neglecting to enforce the planning laws on Israeli settlers.” (ISOPT) Contradictions abound, exposing the IDF’s actions as a web of dishonesty and deception.

Israel has no legitimacy in establishing such regulations or requirements for permits. No right, under international law, to build in the occupied territories or to create subsidised settler ghettos, or to destroy the structures of those who do so without their permission. Full and complete domination of Palestinians is the Israeli aim, with all land under Israeli control; as the unlamented Israeli leader Menachem Begin once said, “The return of even one bit of earth to the Arab would be a betrayal of the nation.”

The demolition of homes, infrastructure and places of livelihood, are illegal under international law. “The systematic policy of house demolitions carried out against Palestinian residents in Jerusalem contravenes the 4th Geneva Convention which forbids ‘any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons’ except where such destruction is rendered ‘absolutely necessary’ by military operations.”8 Furthermore, “extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly constitutes a grave breach to the Convention, which can theoretically be prosecuted under the universal jurisdiction of States party to the convention.”9 Theory needs to turn into action, collective complacency giving way to international outrage; the law needs to be implemented and enforcedaw.

Add to the above a raft of relevant articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), where we find “Article 9, 1 State Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his/her parents against their will; Articles 24, 1: States Parties recognize the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. Article 27, 1: States Parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. Article 31: The right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts, and crucially, Article 38: State parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for rules of international humanitarian law applicable to them in armed conflicts which are relevant to the child.”10 All are implicitly relevant in the impact of house demolitions on children.  A plethora of International law engulfs Israel. What is required and most urgently is the implementation and enforcement of the law.

Quiet please, Ethnic transfer

The demolition policy is a tool of terror in a planned campaign, with the clear intention of subjugation, control and intimidation. House demolitions are tied-in with the overall strategy of expansion by Israel and the realisation of imperialist goals; “the grand design of Judaic-Zionist expansionist doctrine is to seize all the oil-rich lands from the shores of the Euphrates to the banks of the Nile”.11 This includes the continuing illegal settlement building, violence at the hands of settlers and the IDF. “Israel has continued to flout agreements for a moratorium on illegal construction in Israeli settlements, evictions of Palestinian families to make way for incoming settlers continue apace,”12 and “throughout the eastern half of the city [Jerusalem] nonstop pressure is applied as part of ‘silent transfer’.” (GHD)

The “silent transfer” is far from quiet or peaceful. It is the violent, forced eviction and displacement of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. It refers to the technique by the IDF of disempowering the Palestinians and extinguishing all hope by making daily life tortuous, leading to the voluntary “transfer” of East Jerusalem citizens out of the city into the West Bank. “The increasing rate of settlement expansion and house demolitions is pushing Palestinians to the brink, destroying their livelihoods and prospects for a just and durable peace.” (HRWHD) Just after Christmas last year, “Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat announced plans to strip IDs from 70,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and transfer them to the West Bank civil administration. Though not a physical transfer, this stripping of IDs will mark the largest en masse stripping of citizenship rights, since 1967.” The process of ethnic cleansing continues apace in Jerusalem; it is illegal, so implement and enforce the law.

Intimidation, unjust house building controls, the theft and rationing of water and the issuing of demolition notices constitute a methodology of suffering underpinning the policy of “silent transfer” in East Jerusalem. “Once [Palestinians] leave, they rescind their rights to Jerusalem ID papers, destroying any hopes of employment in Israel proper – effectively keeping them caged in the poverty of the West Bank forever.” (GHD) Homes, infrastructure and businesses are demolished within East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank: “the rate and the method of house demolitions show that this is more a policy of gradual ethnic cleansing than anything else, with clear political and strategic purposes.”13

Everything Israel does inside the OPTs forms a constituent part of an overall plan, a vision of total domination. Demolitions are no exception to this rule. “Each demolition is a microcosm of the occupation: why they are demolishing a particular house in a particular area exposes how the wider occupation works and how the process of house demolitions is contributing to the wider occupation. We want to unmask the way Israel frames the occupation as a conflict of security. The policy of house demolitions shows exactly the opposite. In more than 90% of the cases the families whose house was demolished didn’t have a security record. House demolitions go hand in hand with land expropriation for settlements expansion.”14

Settlement building is illegal under international law: so implement and enforce the law.

American partners in crime

Israel disregards international law, with the support and involvement of its chief ally and partner in crime, America. Every time a Caterpillar bulldozer from the US storehouse of suffering smashes into a Palestinian home, Israel commits another illegal act and the US corporate giant is an accessory to a crime, causing ever more human agony and distress. “Caterpillar [has a] long history of complicity in widespread human rights violations within the occupied Palestinian Territories. Caterpillar routinely provides Israel with equipment designed specifically for military use knowing it is used to demolish Palestinian homes, to kill and injure Palestinian and international civilians, to destroy olive trees and farmland, and to facilitate expropriation of Palestinian territory through construction of Jewish-only settlements and Israel’s apartheid wall.”15

America is the supplier of all that destroys and contaminates in the OPTs, from white phosphorous bombs burning the children of Gaza to Caterpillar bulldozers demolishing their homes. “The U.S. is providing Israel with at least $8.2 million each day” (IAK) in military aid alone. Amnesty International’s report Fuelling Conflict states, “transferring weapons to a consistent violator of human rights is illegal under international law.” Norman Finkelstein, referring to Amnesty’s findings, says”Israel is a consistent violator of human rights, [emphasis mine] and therefore there has to be a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.” The consistent supplying of arms by America to Israel maintains and sustains the occupation; “the US is by far the biggest supplier of weapons to Israel; supplying those weapons to Israel is not only illegal under international law, it’s illegal under domestic US law.”16.” So, implement and enforce the law, international and domestic, within America and the OPTs.

Those sitting in comfort, shrouded in complacency, within the White House know well what US corporations are supporting, where US arms are deployed and what consecutive US administrations’ silence is allowing to continue. By its support the US is condoning the steady on-going demolition of homes and the destruction of lives. And what words of condemnation and righteousness issue from the Obama administration, which only pays lip-service to justice, the rule of law and the truth. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “described the demolitions as ‘unhelpful’, noting that they violated Israel’s obligations under the US ‘road map’ for peace.”17 The US “road map for peace” is a blood-soaked road of shame leading directly and swiftly nowhere. Do not pass go, do not rebuild your homes, do not re-establish your homeland and do not for a moment believe in justice, the legitimacy of international law, where America/Israel is concerned, or the promise of freedom. At the hands of a broker, whose vision is not of peace ‑ “the US has blocked the two state-vision supported by virtually the entire world since the mid 1970s”18 ‑ but of extended hegemony and dominance, throughout the Middle East and the world.

Any “road map” to peace could be navigated swiftly and traversed gently were America to withdraw the manifest support it gives to Israel; the diplomatic, economic and military tools that are fuelling the illegal occupation and causing untold suffering to the Palestinian people.

The days are numbered for such tyranny and injustice; even the world’s richest, most heavily armed nation cannot stand for long in the face of the emerging world superpower, that of the people of the world. A growing wind of change builds in strength daily around the globe, shining light into the darkest corners ‑ and there are few darker than Israel ‑ sustaining all those who call for justice, freedom and unity. All that would pervert and soil the life of men women and children everywhere shall be exposed and seen for what it is. Goodness will out, justice shall be done. So implement and enforce the law.

Graham is Director of The Create Trust, a UK registered charity, supporting fundamental social change and the human rights of individuals in acute need.

E: [email protected]

[2] (UNRWA)
[3] (HRWIP)
[4] (IAK)
[5] Broken Homes. Addressing the Impact of house demolitions on Palestinian children and families. (BH) Save The Children (UK)
[6] Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Syrian Golan. Report of the Secretary-General (ISOPT)
[8] (ICAHD) – House Demolitions and International Law
[12] The Guardian. 15th July 2010 (GHD)
[14] with Angela Goldstein
[17] March 2009
[18] Noam Chomsky. Hegemony or Survival, Americas quest for Global Dominance.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.