Thursday, August 19, 2010

Demolitions, dispossession, displacement

With the tacit agreement of the US administration, Netanyahu has recently okayed increased home demolitions throughout the West Bank, followed by the destruction of an entire village in the Negev. Demolitions, dispossession and displacement by Israel continue both beyond and within the "green line."

The first report and analysis below is authored by Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions; the second is by Haia Noah, an researcher and activist with the Negev Civil Equality and Coexistence Forum.

Rela Mazali



Jeff Halper

August 11, 2010

Yesterday, the day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, at 2:30 in the morning, workers sent by the Israeli authorities, protected by dozens of police, destroyed the tombstones in the last portion of the Mamilla cemetery, an historic Muslim burial ground with graves going back to the 7th Century, hitherto left untouched. The government of Israel has always been fully cognizant of the sanctity and historic significance of the site. Already in 1948, when control of the cemetery reverted to Israel, the Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized Mamilla "to be one of the most prominent Muslim cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim warriors of [Saladin's] armies are interred along with many Muslim scholars. Israel will always know to protect and respect this site." For all that, and despite (proper) Israeli outrage when Jewish cemeteries are desecrated anywhere in the world, the dismantlement of the Mamilla cemetery has been systematic. In the 1960s "Independence
Park" was built over a portion of it; subsequently an urban road was built through it, major electrical cables were laid over graves and a parking lot constructed over yet another piece. Now some 1,500 Muslim graves have been cleared in several nighttime operations to make way for…..a $100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human Dignity, a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. (Ironically, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the Wiesenthal Center's Director, appeared on Fox News to express his opposition to the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, because the site of the 9/11 attack "is a cemetery.")

The month-long period between Netanyahu's July 6th visit to Washington and the start of Ramadan has provided Israel with a window to "clear the table" after a frustrating hiatus on home demolitions imposed by the "old," mildly critical Obama Administration – although there is no guarantee that Israel will not demolish during Ramadan, especially if it wants to exploit the period until the November elections, knowing that until then Obama will not overtly oppose anything it does in the Occupied Territories. In fact, the process of demolishing Palestinian homes never ceased. On June 6th, for example, a year after the demolition of more than 65 structures and the forced displacement of more than 120 people, including 66 children, nine families of Khirbet Ar Ras Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, totaling 70 people, received a new round of "evacuation orders." A week later the Israeli High Court ordered the Civil Administration to "step up enforcement against illegal
structures" in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

And so, on July 13th, upon Netanyahu's return (Palestinian homes are not demolished without an OK from the Prime Minister's Office), three homes were demolished in the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, followed by three more homes in Beit Hanina. The Jerusalem Municipality also announced the planned demolition of 19 more homes in Issawiya this month. In the West Bank, the Israeli "Civil" Administration demolished 55 structures belonging to 22 Palestinian families in the Hmayer area of Al Farisiye in the northern Jordan Valley, including 22 residential tents and 30 other structures used to shelter animals and store agricultural equipment. According to the UN's Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): "This week [July 14-20, the week of Netanyahu's return from Washington] there was a significant increase in the number of demolitions in Area C, with at least 86 structures demolished in the Jordan Valley and the southern West Bank, including Bethlehem and
Hebron districts. In 2010, at least 230 Palestinian structures have been demolished in Area C, forcibly displacing 1100 people, including 400 children. Approximately 600 others have been otherwise affected." Two-thirds of the demolitions for 2010 have occurred since Netanyahu's meeting with Obama. More than 3,000 demolition orders are outstanding in the West Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

The demolition of homes is, of course, only a small, if painful, part of the destruction Israel wreaks daily on the Palestinian population. Over the past few weeks a violent campaign has been waged against Palestinian farmers in one of the most fertile agricultural areas of the West Bank, the Baka Valley, steadily being encroached upon by large suburbs of the settlement of Kiryat Arba, in Hebron. Israel already takes 85% of the West Bank's water for its own use, either for settlements (settlers use five times more water per capita as do Palestinians, and Ma'aleh Adumim is currently building a water park in addition to its four municipal swimming pools and the huge fountains constantly flowing in the city center) or to be pumped into Israel proper – all in flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an Occupying Power from using the resources of an occupied territory.

Accusing the farmers of "stealing water" – their own water – the Israel water company Mekorot, supported by the Civil Administration and the IDF, has in recent weeks destroyed dozens of wells, some of them ancient, and reservoirs used to collect rain water, which is also "illegal." Hundreds of hectares of agricultural land have dried up as irrigation pipes have been pulled out and confiscated by the Civil Administration. Fields of tomatoes, beans, eggplants and cucumbers are dying just before they can be harvested, and the grape industry in this rich valley is threatened with destruction. "I'm watching my life dry up before my eyes," Ata Jaber, a Palestinian farmer who has had his home demolished twice, most of whose land lies buried under the Givat Harsina neighborhood of Kiryat Arba and whose plastic drip irrigation pipes are destroyed annually by the Civil Administration just before he can harvest. "I had hoped to sell my crop for at least $2000 before Ramadan,
but all is gone."

(You can see a BBC report on the destruction of Palestinian reservoirs on YouTube <Earth Report - 2003 - Conflict over water in Israel/Palestine> and a heart-rending scene filmed just a week ago when Ata's cousin was arrested in front of his small child for resisting the destruction of his water system <Hebron Palestinian Child's Torment Caught On TV>.)

Settlements continue to be built, of course. The much-trumpeted "settlement freeze" amounted to no less than a temporary lull in construction. (Indeed, Netanyahu never used the word "freeze"; in Hebrew he refers only to a "pause.") According to the August report of Peace Now's Settlement Watch, at least 600 housing units have started to be built during the freeze, in over 60 different settlements – meaning that the rate of construction is about half of that during the same period in an average year when there is no freeze. Given that the approval process has never been halted – the Israeli government announced the planned building of 1600 housing units in the settlements when Vice President Biden was visiting, if you recall – making up for lost time when the "freeze" ends in late September will be an easy task. According to Ha'aretz, some 2,700 housing units are waiting to be constructed.

The fact that the so-called settlement freeze did not really end settlement construction is obvious. The American government seems ready to accept lip-service only from Israel, as against overt and brutal threats towards the Palestinians if they do not acquiesce to the charade. Palestinian negotiators revealed last week the Obama Administration threatened to cut all ties with the Palestinian Authority, political and financial, if they continued to insist on a genuine freeze on settlements or even clear parameters on what the sides will negotiate. (Netanyahu refuses to accept even the elementary principle of the 1967 borders being the basis of talks.)

Just as destructive of any real peace process, however, is the fact that the focus on settlement freeze deflects attention from attempts by Israel to create "irreversible facts on the ground" which will defeat the very process of negotiation. Even if Israel did respect a settlement freeze, there is no demand, no expectation, absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing to build the Wall (the enclosing of the Shuafat refugee camp inside Jerusalem and the town of Anata is being completed in these very days, and the village of Wallajeh, some of which spills into Jerusalem, is losing its lands, ancient olive trees and homes even as we speak). Nothing is preventing Israel from continuing to impoverish and imprison the Palestinian population through its twenty-year economic "closure," including the siege on Gaza, having reduced the Palestinian economy to ashes. Nothing stands in the way of completing a system of parallel (though not equal in size and quality) apartheid highways
big ones, going through Palestinian lands, for Israelis; narrow ones for Palestinians. Nothing keeps Israel from expelling Palestinian from their homes so that Jewish settlers can move in – on July 29th nine families living in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, returning home at night from a wedding, found themselves locked out of their homes by settlers and prevented from entering by the police. (Palestinians, of course, have no legal recourse to reclaiming their properties, whole villages, towns and urban neighborhoods, farms, factories and commercial buildings, confiscated from them in 1948 and after.)

Nothing prevents Israel from terrorizing the Palestinian population, whether by its own army or the surrogate militia founded by the US and run by the Palestinian Authority to pacify its own population, whether by settlers who shoot and beat Palestinians and burn their crops with no fear of arrest, or by undercover agents, aided by thousands of Palestinian forced to become collaborators, many simply so that their children could receive medical care or so they could have a roof over their heads; whether by expulsion or the myriad administrative constraints of an invisible yet Kafkaesque system of total control and intimidation. Nothing opposes Israel's boycott of the Palestinian people, isolated from the world by Israeli-controlled borders, or policies that effectively boycott Palestinian schools and universities by preventing their proper functioning. And nothing, absolutely nothing, stops Israel from demolishing Palestinian homes – 24,000 in the Occupied Territories since 1967,
and counting.

Perhaps this way of welcoming Ramadan comes at no surprise in terms of the Occupied Territories. It took on an entirely different cast when, on July 26th, more than 1,300 Israeli Border Police, the shock-troops of the police's Yassam "special operations" unit and regular police, accompanied by helicopters, descended upon the Bedouin village of al-Arakib, just north of Beer-Sheva, a community within Israel inhabited by Israeli citizens. Forty-five homes were demolished, 300 people forcibly displaced. One of the most grotesque and dismaying parts of this operation was the use of Israeli Jewish high school students, volunteers with the civil guard, to remove the belongings of their fellow citizens from their homes before the demolition. Besides reports of vandalism and contempt for their victims the students were photographed lounging in the residents' furniture in plain sight of its owners. Finally, when the bulldozers began demolishing the homes, the volunteers cheered and
celebrated. Over the next week, as Israeli activists helped the residents pick up the pieces and rebuild their homes, the Jewish National Fund, the Israeli Land Authority, the Ministry of the Interior and the "Green Patrol" of the Ministry of Agriculture (established by Ariel Sharon to prevent Bedouin "take-over" of the Negev) sent in police and bulldozers and had the village demolished twice more.

Although al-Arakib is one of 44 "unrecognized" Bedouin villages in the Negev – of which only eleven have even rudimentary education and medical services, no electricity, extremely limited access to water and none have paved roads (see – it is nevertheless populated by Israeli citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli army. While demolitions of Arab homes within Israel is not a new phenomenon – last year the Israeli government demolished three times more houses of Israeli (Arab) citizens inside Israel as it did in the Occupied Territories (the destruction of up to 8,000 homes in the Gaza invasion aside) – it signifies that the term "occupation" cannot be restricted to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza (and the Golan Heights) alone. The situation of Arab citizens of Israel is almost as insecure as that of the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, and their exclusion from Israeli society almost as complete. While around 1,000 cities,
towns and agricultural villages have been established in Israel since 1948 exclusively for Jews, not a single new Arab settlement has been established, with the exception of seven housing projects for Bedouins in the Negev where none of the residents are allowed to farm or own animals. Indeed, regulations and zoning prohibit Palestinian citizens of Israel from living on 96% of the country's land, which is reserved for Jews only.

The message of the bulldozers is clear: Israel has created one bi-national entity between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which one population (the Jews) has separated itself from the other (the Arabs) and instituted a regime of permanent domination. That is precisely the definition of apartheid. And the message is delivered clearly in the weeks and days leading up to Ramadan. It is papered over with fine words. Netanyahu issued a statement saying: "We mark this important month amid attempts to achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians and to advance peace treaties with our Arab neighbors. I know you are partners in this goal and I ask for your support both in prayers and in any other joint effort to really create a peaceful and harmonious coexistence." Obama and Clinton also sent their greetings to the Muslim world, Obama observing that Ramadan "remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and
the dignity of all human beings." Both the White House and the State Department will hold Iftar meals. But the bulldozers and other expressions of apartheid and warehousing tell a much different story.

(Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at <>.)

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions is based in Jerusalem and has chapters in the United Kingdom and the United States.

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Who wants to set fire to the Negev?

By Haia Noah

"No state representative is getting involved in the irrational saga rolling over the backs of children and people whose rights have been trampled, people forgotten by the welfare authorities. Despite the demolitions, no representative of the state in charge of citizens' welfare comes to examine the goings on." Haia Noah calls the state to order following the destruction of the village of el-Arakeeb.

Published on the Ynet news portal, 9 August 2010

The very same scenes replay, again: again a convey of police cars swoops down on some tabernacles made of wooden poles and covered with plastic sheeting, green or black, the only refuge in the Northern Negev from the sun and the hot and somewhat hellacious weather. After the Bedouin village of el-Arakeeb was demolished a week before, great forces came again last week to destroy. To destroy everything.

Again the women huddle in the remote area, and the line of men facing the policemen. Again the crying of the children and the shouting of the women, and again the arguments made by the men to the policemen. Again it is the same state clerk who orchestrates the horrific activity, claiming that the evacuation is being done lawfully. And again old Ismail asks: what sort of law is that? What law? He stands guard over the generator, to keep it from being taken as well. And another woman, whose tears mingle with the Negev dust, shouts in despair, throat parched: is this a state?

Yes, again it is the few against the many, against better odds in police forces, and the YASAM, the special police forces, and the policemen are tough and have no mercy. As if this were a natural cycle which must occur, a force of reality.

The horrific thing was that front-line policemen seemed to be enjoying the job they were doing. You can see it in their eyes, and you can see it in their treatment of the Arabs and the Jews on site. As far as they are concerned, this time there was no discrimination between Arabs and Jews. Everyone was beaten. We were all their enemy. The briefings were successful, the right people were chosen for the job.

I was there over the week, and was on the receiving end of some of the enthusiastic policemen yesterday morning. I will, of course, file a complaint with MACHASH, Police Investigation Department, but I am not naïve enough to think anything will come of it. But it is our civic duty! We must do this so that police violence will not swallow us all. So that it will not turn us into a state where the police dominates its citizens.

The police formed a cordon before us, gave us two minutes to disperse, and then one minute. Before thirty seconds went by they attacked anyone in the area. Most of us ran away. I was behind a camera and did not notice – and within a moment was thrown to the ground by the policemen and felt bad. I tried to say something to the policemen, but they must have assumed I was pretending. They demanded that I get up, but I could not.

I had a hard time breathing and lost consciousness. The policemen held onto me and dragged me. My arms clearly show the marks of this police action. I told them that I feel bad, but it did not help. They demanded that I get up and leave. I did not manage to stand up, although I tried. Finally I made it into an upright position and leaned on one of the vehicles, and then a rude policeman came, held onto me, and pushed me before I managed to collect myself. He cursed me thoroughly, using words I have no desire to repeat. I am sure that if I had used such defamation of his mother, who may be as old as I, I would swiftly be removed from the rolls of the living!

I recovered after a moment, and asked for his name and badge number. He refused to respond, but his friends, standing around him, chose to cast about the names of singers. One said his name was Eyal Golan [famous singer]. I told them that they had a duty to carry identification badges, but it was useless. This whole time they were pushing me toward the Wadi. It took me a while to recover, and then I found out that Awad Abu Farih, who has been a friend of mine for 15 years, had been beaten in his stomach and testicles, apparently by one of the commanders. Others were beaten during the evacuation and felt bad in yesterday's great heat.

I saw the director of the [Land Use] Oversight Unit, Cesar by name, shout at Awad: "You made a rude gesture to me (demonstrating it) and said you'd rebuilt, so this is our response."

A petty clerk, glad to do his work and settling his personal accounts with dozens of families that he had left in the beating sun, taking personal revenge for a gesture which may or may not have been made when tempers flared. A clerk or policeman who goes home, to his family, and tells his children about another successful day at work? That he has the power to destroy? A clerk who is just obeying orders? Did you think it would come to this? That a time would come when state clerks, policemen or others, would obey terrible orders and think that it is fine and right to act this way?

The process rolls on, seemingly held by the clerk and the police, and no state representative gets involved in the irrational saga which is trampling children, adults, people whose rights have been stomped upon, who have been forgotten by the welfare authorities. Despite the demolitions, no state representative responsible for citizen welfare comes to see what is happening. The state has abandoned us, Arabs and Jews in the Negev, to the brutal forces of District Commander Danino and his policemen. Enough! Maybe someone with sober vision will come and dig a way out of the vicious circle?

Who is behind the campaign of destruction in the Negev? Is this a government decision, slam-bang and the Bedouins will be gone? Are the police forces serving the Jewish National Fund [which was appointed by Israel's government to control much of the land in Israel] instead of the citizens as a whole? Are they motivated by lust for land?

Who is trying to set fire to the Negev?

Haia Noah is an activist in the Negev Civil Equality and Coexistence Forum.

This article originally appeared on the Ynet news portal on August 9th, 2010:,7340,L-3930888,00.html

- translated by Dena Shunra []

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