“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.
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. Between 1967 and 2011, over 26,000 Palestinian homes in the OPT have been demolished. In 2011, 622 structures were demolished, of these 222 were homes resulting in the displacement of 1094 people, 609 children under the age of 18. The remaining structures were related to livelihood (water storage and agricultural structures). Compare that to 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 demolitions orders still standing.
According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, “The demolition of Palestinian homes is politically motivated and strategically informed.” Israel’s goal is to group the 4 million West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza residents into enclaves as a means of land expropriation in order to Judaize 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 under threat of demolition, and plans are in the works to relocate the residents, changing their semi-nomadic lifestyle, and confiscate their lands.
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 40% of the West Bank – all of it acquired illegally while the international governments quietly watch.
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 center, 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. Unlicensed homes – well, 94% of building permit applications in the West Bank were rejected in recent years. As families grow, people are forced to build, and hope for the best.
It’s simple. Israel must be forced to abide by international human rights laws. Why isn’t Israel paying attention to people all over the world, including its own citizens, who have taken to the streets in protest, and have bravely blocked the path of bulldozers? Why do foreign governments, especially the United States, place a light slap on Israel’s hand and gently whisper condemnations? The light slap should be harder, and the whispers should be shouts backed by actions until the Palestinians are 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?
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2012 Assignments: Op-Eds