Homeless in their homeland

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As Israel continued to blame Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat for the violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli army bulldozers were busy this week demolishing more Arab homes in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied territories. 

This latest onslaught against natural demographic growth by the Palestinians began in the early hours of 9 July, when 15 army bulldozers, escorted by a contingent of heavily armed soldiers and border policemen, raided the Shufa’at refugee camp, north of Jerusalem.

The raid bore all the marks of a military operation. Heavily armed soldiers took positions at strategic locations and a helicopter gunship hovered above, seemingly at the ready in the event the beleaguered Palestinians resisted “operation peace for Jerusalem.” 

As the bulldozers rumbled menacingly toward their targets — 17 newly constructed homes for refugee families — the nearly distraught inhabitants tried desperately to prevent the bulldozers from shattering the humble concrete buildings they called their homes.

Leveling one house after another, the bulldozers wrought their destruction as the soldiers beat furious homeowners and angry protesters — Jews and Arabs alike — who gathered at the refugee camp to express their solidarity with the victims and indignation at army’s crime.

At one point, the driver of one of the bulldozers threatened to crush a Palestinian and an Israeli peace activist who lay down before the huge earth-moving machine in a desperate attempt to prevent the destruction of the houses.

At the end of the day, the 17 houses were reduced to rubble and an equal number of families made homeless under the Israel’s apartheid policy.

“I don’t know what to do, where will these children go now,” asked Jamal Subhi Al-Faqih, whom the soldiers prevented from salvaging his furniture and belongings.

“I can’t build a new house, I’m not even able to pay off my debts on the demolished home… There is so much oppression in this world.” 
The Israeli occupation authorities claimed the houses were built without licenses — a pretext routinely used by Jerusalem’s right- wing mayor, Ehud Olmert, to keep Arab demographic growth to the minimum.

The victims at Shufa’at acknowledge the fact that their homes were built without them obtaining a license beforehand. However, they insist that it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian in Jerusalem to extract such a permit from Olmert’s parsimonious hands.

“I applied for a license 15 years ago, but since I’m an Arab, not a Jew, they told me I would have to wait,” said Abdel-Rahman Alkam, one of the newly homeless. Alkam added that the Israeli municipal council’s response to his request convinced him that he would be lucky to receive the permit before he died.

Palestinian Authority official Yasser Abed- Rabbo described the demolition as “a nefarious and callous crime aimed at subjugating our people and breaking our will to survive and withstand oppression and persecution.”

“Destroying peoples’ homes is the ultimate violence, how can we convince those tormented people that peace with Israel is possible, these crimes are only deepening the hatred,” Abed-Rabbo said. 

Palestinian legislative council member Hatem Abdel-Qader, who also arrived at the scene to comfort the victims, dismissed the Israeli justification for demolishing the homes.

“The licence story is a big Israeli lie, and no body knows this fact better than the Israelis themselves, the naked truth is that they want the land to go to the Jews to expand Jewish settlements, and the Palestinians can go to hell.”

According to Palestinian and Israeli press sources, the wholesale destruction of the 17 houses at Shufa’at, along with the planned demolition of scores of other houses, is apparently aimed at confiscating the land where the demolished homes stood to allow for the expansion of the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeiv and create Jewish demographic continuity with the French Hill settlement north of Jerusalem.

Since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada last September, the Israeli army has destroyed some 600 Palestinian homes throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, mainly as a reprisal for the uprising.

The brutal measure resulted in thousands of men, women and children becoming refugees, some for the third time, and homeless in their own homeland.

The demolition of Palestinian homes has been “official policy” since the early days of the Israeli occupation in 1967, and human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 Palestinian homes have been destroyed since then.

So central to Israeli policy has the practice of demolishing Palestinian homes become, that even Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who is considered relatively dovish, didn’t object to the latest demolitions.

“These dramatic demolitions are not received well in the world, I’m afraid we will have a difficult time explaining them to the world,” said Peres.

The largely unmitigated Israeli repression of the entire Palestinian population is making it extremely difficult for Arafat to convince his people that they have anything to gain from the present so-called cease-fire. Indeed, with the Sharon government upholding its policy of subjugation, assassination, abduction and home demolition toward the Palestinian people, Arafat will be utterly unable, even if willing, to control the Palestinian public.

But weakening Arafat and eroding his authority may well be Sharon’s most effective policy for undermining the PA since it could perceivably enable the certified war criminal to declare that “Arafat doesn’t control his people” and eventually allow him to disengage from the peace process altogether.

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