‘Townsmen, wake from your sleep!’ It was 2.30 in the morning and the desperate calls from the city mosques broke the night silence. The residents of my city were being summoned to protect a home from being demolished. Heavily armed soldiers and police on horseback surrounded the area. Spectators watched helplessly as the bulldozer crashed into a family’s home, dismembering it, room by room.
This happened two years ago. However, it’s nothing new. For decades, the Israeli government has demolished Arab homes in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT), Gaza and East Jerusalem.
The numbers are staggering. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) figures show that between 1967 and 2011, over 26,000 Palestinian homes in the oPT have been demolished. Last year, 622 structures were demolished; of these 222 were homes – resulting in the displacement of 1,094 people, including 609 children under the age of 18. The remaining structures were related to livelihood (water storage and agricultural structures). Compare that to the figures for 2010 – 439 structures, 140 of them homes, and 606 displaced people. Additionally, hundreds of homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel were demolished last year. And there are tens of thousands of demolition orders still standing.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) states, ‘The demolition of Palestinian homes is politically motivated and strategically informed.’ Israel’s goal is to group the four million West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza residents into enclaves as a means of land expropriation, in order to over the West Bank through settlement expansion. In other words, push the Palestinians from the lands they have owned for centuries.
The Bedouin community, citizens of Israel, is especially vulnerable. Betrayed by their government, the homes of 30,000 – 45,000 people are currently under threat of demolition, and plans are underway to relocate the residents, changing their semi-nomadic lifestyle, and confiscate their lands. Over the past couple of days, the village of Al Arakib has been destroyed, as have been houses in the village of Lakiyya.
Palestinian rights to adequate housing and to a decent standard of living, and the right to live without fear of house demolitions (which are considered a war crime), are protected by international human rights laws. Additionally, Israel, as an occupying power, is obligated to abide by its legal obligations and responsibilities towards Palestinian citizens.
In spite of this, Israel’s control of the oPT is far-reaching. Through an extensive military infrastructure, apartheid roads, settlements, land expropriation, and house evictions and demolitions, Israel controls 60 per cent of the West Bank – all of it acquired illegally while international governments quietly watch on.
The settlement system, and resulting home demolitions, has had a horrific effect on the rights of the Palestinians. ‘A man’s home is his wife’s castle’ (Alexander Chase) well describes the Palestinian family. Not only do home demolitions cause a deterioration of living conditions, they also have devastating effects on women and children.
When a Palestinian woman loses her home, she loses her centre, her identity as a wife and mother. The stress on a marriage and family caused by living in a relative’s house for an endless period of time is unimaginable. Women’s stress is magnified when their control over the domestic sphere disappears.
Children do not fare much better. School life becomes disrupted, and everything familiar fades away. Living in strange, crowded homes, many are absorbed by trauma, tension and depression. Israel’s pretenses for home demolitions do not stand on solid ground. Collective punishment – to punish an extended family for an act or suspected act against Israel – is illegal. Military operations – the destruction of property and force displacement – is illegal unless absolutely necessary. Unlicenced homes – well, 94 per cent of building permit applications in the West Bank have been rejected in recent years. As families grow, people are forced to build and hope for the best.
Palestine is divided into three areas: Area A is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority; Area B is partially controlled by the Palestinian Authority; and Area C is completely controlled by Israel. Therefore, Israel controls the issuance of building permits in East Jerusalem and Area C. Israel’s discriminatory zoning policy dictates that Palestinians can build in 13 per cent of East Jerusalem, and in only one per cent of Area C. Both areas are already very crowded.
Israel must be forced to abide by international human rights laws. Why are the cries of people all over the world, including its own citizens, who have taken to the streets in protest, and have risked death by bravely blocking the path of bulldozers, falling on deaf ears?
Why do foreign governments, especially the in US, place a light slap on Israel’s hand and gently whisper condemnations, while supporting it with $8.2 million per day in military aid? US companies, such as Caterpillar, have turned homes that were once filled with laughter into slabs of concrete covered with tears.
There is no place for light slaps and fake condemnations. ICAHD says that demolitions are ‘Israel’s most heinous practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPT).’ Until talk is turned into action, Palestinians will not be able to live in peace, freedom and dignity.
How would you feel if a bulldozer showed up at YOUR front door in the middle of the night?
A version of this article originally appeared on World Pulse, an action media network powered by women from 185 countries. worldpulse.com