It’s been said that the “home is where the heart is.” Try telling this to Israeli demolition teams, who come protected by hundreds of troops, to destroy Palestinian homes. The US has been critical. Yet, the Israeli government — enjoying impunity since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli Occupation began on September 28, 2000 — continues. Perhaps, the only upside to the latest acts of destruction is that the recent campaign doesn’t have a barbaric theme to it. Consider that the last campaign of demolishing homes was called, “Operation Enjoyable Song.”
During “Operation Enjoyable Song,” more than 32 shelters were demolished – housing some 400 people. At the time, it was the worst single act of destruction on Palestinians since the uprising began.. That the civilized world remains silent as Palestinian civilians go homeless is difficult enough to comprehend, though nothing new. That the Israeli government seems to think that making more Palestinians homeless builds trust and enhances an imaginary “cease-fire” is astonishing.
Sadly, home demolitions have been used as a form of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing for many years. Even the Oslo Accords represented no reprieve for the destruction of Palestinian homes. In many cases, the demolitions accelerated.
The pretext has generally been that the homes are built without permits. Thus, the Israeli Army could work within some sort of “legal context.” Forget the fact that Palestinians trying to obtain permits is like pulling teeth. Forget the fact that the price of a building permit could cost as much as $20,000 and take five years to obtain. Forget the fact that Palestinians are often living in severely-cramped spaces. Palestinians are not given permits because they “violate existing zoning laws.” Such adherence to laws by Israel is admirable, except for the fact that there have always been political motivations behind the policy.
Almost all the homes that have been demolished, or have received demolition orders, are situated near existing illegal Jewish settlements or by-pass roads. The demolitions result in areas that prevent territorial contiguity between Palestinian population centers or neighboring Israeli military installations. The logic can be quite astonishing, at times. Consider that in many cases, Palestinian homes have been demolished for being built too close to a Jewish edifice — a structure which did not even exist when the Palestinian home was first constructed.
While Israel has targeted Palestinian homes for destruction, Israel has authorized massive housing construction, tax incentives, and roads and related infrastructure for illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Even as thousands of completed units have stood empty, the Israeli Housing Ministry has authorized the building of more illegal settlements. Note that the Ministry admitted that almost a quarter of all units built by the government in the West Bank between 1989 and 1992 had never been occupied.
Like the seizure of Palestinian ID cards in Jerusalem, house demolitions have served as another form of ethnic cleansing. The Israeli rationale is: Lay as many facts on the ground before any potential final status negotiations, and it is believed that the Palestinians will get much less than what they are expecting as a matter of right and law.
Homes have also been demolished as punishment, as “Operation Enjoyable Song” demonstrated a few months ago. It was certainly a measure widely used during the First Intifada [1988-1993]. In fact, during its first four years, 786 homes were destroyed as reprisals against those who took part in the uprising. It is also standard for the homes of the families of Palestinian suicide bombers to be destroyed, though they had nothing to do with their sons’ decisions. One can only imagine the outrage that we, as Americans, would have felt, if bulldozers went to the home of Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh, and demolished the home of his parents and siblings. Why make the whole family pay for the actions of an adult child?
With regard to Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that no resident of an occupied territory “may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.” It explicitly forbids collective punishment.
Unfortunately, the Fourth Geneva Convention has never mattered to Israel. UN resolutions have never mattered to Israel. Condemnations by human rights organizations have never mattered to Israel.
Many Israelis have repeated the tiring propaganda that Palestinians teach hate to their children. But I wonder if hate really needs to be taught to a child who is forced to become homeless?
Sherri Muzher is a Freelance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, and Former Executive Director of the Council for Palestinian Restitution and Repatriation.