Saturday, October 24, 2020

Israel beating its own records: largest demolition of Palestinian homes since 1967

By Patty Diphusa - July 29, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [House Demolition] [Jerusalem]

Wadi Hummus, located in the Palestinian Sur Baher neighbourhood southeast of Jerusalem lies only 20 kilometres south of Ramallah. However, without a car, getting there takes nearly three hours and three different means of public transportation. 

Sur Baher, which is located in Area “A” under the Oslo Agreements and is regulated by the Palestinian Authority (PA), unfortunately made headlines last week when the neighbourhood became the scenario for the biggest illegal demolition by Israeli forces since 1967. 

Two inhabited buildings and one under construction were demolished as the Israeli Supreme Court  gave the green light for the destruction of over 16 residential buildings consisting of 100 apartments.

What was left the following day was a cloud of dust reluctant to fade away, a bunch of journalists scattered around the demolition area, a group of Israeli soldiers gripping their weapons, and the remnants of, until some hours before, the homes of Palestinian families of which they will never return to.

Israeli forces destroying Palestinian homes: a trend on the rise

Although destroying Palestinian homes has become a trend within Israeli politics, the case of Sur Baher is particularly alarming both for its size and circumstance.

Israel stated the apartment buildings in Sur Baher posed a threat to Israel’s security for their close proximity to what Israel calls the “security barrier”. Many Palestinians and those opposed to the occupation refer to it as the “apartheid wall”.

Marwa, a neighbour whose house is meters away from one of the destroyed buildings, invited Palestine Monitor into her home to talk after she made sure the journalists were not Israelis.

Marwa narrated how the events unfolded the early morning of 22 June. “They [Israeli forces] came at 03:00 AM and started to kick the people out of the inhabited houses,” Marwa said, explaining the heavy use of violence inflicted by the Israeli forces trying to evacuate the buildings. “The repression they used did not differentiate between victims, as parents rushed their children to hospitals because of the use of tear gas.” 

The apparent lack of empathy shown by Israeli forces was not only seen through the violent methods used to disperse the residents but also after the “successful” demolition of one of the buildings. In a video circulating on major news media, Israeli officers cheer and congratulate each other as the building was razed.

After the clearance, Marwa explained that “more soldiers opened the fence, came in with machines and started placing the dynamite that was to be used for demolishing the other buildings a few hours later”.  

Fatwa, another resident who lives in the same building as Marwa, added that when the Israeli forces were deployed “they surrounded our house and stopped us from leaving or moving”. Children were terrified Fatwa said. When asked about what she told her kids about the demolitions, her seven-year-old daughter is quick to answer: “they are building a swimming-pool so I can swim!” she replied with excitement. 

The circumstances that make this case even more dangerous for the status of future Palestinian homes is that Sur Baher is located under area “A” according to the Oslo Agreements and therefore under the PA control. Thus, residents like Marwa whose building permits were approved by the PA, now fear demolitions will be executed amid fulfilling legal requirements.

“We do not know if our house is also in danger. We do not know if in the future we are going to end up like them,” Marwa said, referring to the families whose homes were demolished. 

When asked about the families who were evicted, both women replied that they were not sure where they had relocated, but most certainly were staying with relatives and friends of the village. 

As such, the social tissue of Palestinian hospitality has become a means of survival from the increasing Israeli state-sponsored violence and home demolitions. Fouad, a local taxi driver also suggested that the victims of the illegal demolitions were relying on their loved ones in the small town.

Activist under attack: punched, choked and dragged by the hair

Although the Palestinian families who lost their homes were the most affected by the latest events, international activists have received their share of unjustified violence in the wake of the demolitions. 

Palestine Monitor spoke with Ivan Rivera, a 30-year-old activist from Barcelona who, for security concerns, requested the name of his organisation remain undisclosed. 

Rivera explained that he and five other activists chained themselves inside the soon-to-be-demolished houses with the resident families. At around 03:00 AM on 22 July Israeli forces arrived.

“The deployment of soldiers, machinery and police was spectacular,” Rivera said. “Not even locals and journalists who are used to these measures had ever seen anything like it in the town.”

Between 16:00 and 16:30 the Israeli forces entered the houses the activists were in. Rivera said the first thing they did was evict the families, who according to the activist, resisted peacefully by sitting on the floor. Rivera explained that the “Israeli officials started taking [the family members] out one by one and carrying them on their backs; as we were chained to the houses we were the last ones to remain inside”.

Once the activists were the only ones left inside the houses, Rivera felt that as there were no witnesses to hold Israeli forces accountable they responded with whatever force they deemed appropriate. 

“The disproportionate violence exercised against us was brutal, we had never experienced something like this,” Rivera said. “Before trying to unchain us they starting punching and hitting us, one of the officials hit me with his weapon in the face,” Rivera was left with a visible wound next to his left eye. 

Rivera said his fellow activists did not fare any better. He explained that one of them ended up with a broken rib as “Israeli forces pushed him against the dining table” and another one was “choked with her kufiyah and dragged her by her hair down the stairs”. 

In total, four of the six international activists had to be hospitalised. There were no medical or paramedic services available amid the massive display of force.

Rivera insisted the excessive force used by the Israeli military was not unusual, but “part of a generalised policy of repression and growing exercise of violence as part of a systematic plan”.

While part of the international community continues to release announcements rejecting the demolitions, these statements do not protect Palestinian families from the danger of losing their homes. Israel carries on its program of Judaisation of Jerusalem amid contradiction with international law. But, as Marwa summed it up, “what can we do, that is what Israel is”.

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