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Stop demolitions of Palestinian homes

by Cesar Chelala

NEW YORK — Systematic home demolitions, severe travel restrictions, curfews and town blockades are cruel occupation policies aimed at intimidating Palestinians and making them leave their lands. Since the start of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands in 1967, more than 10,000 homes have been demolished, only 600 of which have been occupied by people accused of security offenses. Unjustified demolition of Palestinian homes — which has increased in intensity since the last intifada — have had a serious negative impact on their health and quality of life, and will have serious consequences for the moral character of the state of Israel itself.

On Jan. 3, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher repeated the Bush administration’s position that although the U.S. recognizes Israel’s “need to take legitimate antiterrorist action, steps such as the displacement of people through the demolition of homes and property exacerbate the humanitarian situation and undermine trust and confidence.” In spite of that statement, demolitions have continued unabated.

Israeli soldiers are now demolishing whole towns and subdivisions. This is the case with Nazlat Issa in the West Bank and Raffah in Gaza. Demolitions are also carried out in Israel itself, such as that of a housing development in the Palestinian town of Kufer Kassem. The only accusation against the homeowners was that they lacked a building permit, which is unattainable.

A similar case is that of Salim Shawamreh, whose house was demolished for the fourth time by the Israeli Civil Authority on April 2. He was accused of lacking two signatures in his building permit application. When Shawamreh returned to the Civil Authority with his petition signed by all his neighbors, the Civil Authority responded by “losing” his paperwork. Moreover, international law prohibits the demolition of civilian homes by an occupying power.

In many cases, several homes have been rebuilt with the help of Israelis appalled at the behavior of their own government, only to be destroyed again, sometimes three or four times. As Jeff Halper, the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions has stated, “The bulldozer has become as much a symbol of Israel’s occupation as the rifle and the tank.”

In addition, the Israeli government has spent over $3 billion dollars in the construction of highways and security roads — which cannot be used by the Palestinians. As a result, the occupied territories have turned into virtual prisons for ordinary Palestinians.

To make their life even more difficult, since 1967 more than 500,000 olive trees — the main source of income for thousands of families — have been uprooted by the Israeli Army. At present, 80 percent of the West Bank water goes to Israel and Jewish settlements.

Palestinians cannot drill for water without Israeli permission, and they are not even allowed to build reservoirs to collect rain water. As a result of these systematic policies of intimidation, between 150,000 and 250,000 Palestinians have been terrorized into leaving their homes during the past two years of the intifada.

A small but growing organization in Israel, Rebuilding Homes, has for the last few years, been trying to counteract this brutal policy of occupation. Members of this group have been actively rebuilding Palestinians’ homes in a remarkable act of solidarity.

As Halper has stated, “By doing so we, as Israeli Jews, are saying to the Palestinians: We acknowledge your existence as a people and your right to be in this country. We want to share this country with you, based on the right of both our peoples. We seek a common future based on a just peace. We refuse to be enemies.”

If only those words were heard, and heeded, by the Israeli leadership.