Thursday, July 31, 2014

Home demolitions

Last night, some of us ISMers went to a town called Idna, have supper with a group called Women in Hebron. They are a non-profit fair trade co-operative that makes hand-made embroidery, as well as keffiyahs (Palestinian scarves) and wool blankets. The women hosted us and served us a delicious supper, comprised of sticky rice and chicken, and different types of salad.

After supper, we went for a drive in the countryside. We met a few Palestinian villagers. The countryside in Palestine is beautiful- very rocky and hilly. One can see shepherds with flocks, and people riding donkeys.

I've never lived in the countryside and personally wouldn't want to- here or in Canada, or anywhere else. I'm city slicker. However, millions of people across the world live in rural areas, either by necessity or by choice.

One of the issues that Palestinian villagers face that rural dwellers in Canada don't- are home demolitions. The Israeli Government is infamous for destroying many thousands of Palestinian homes. We came across two demolished houses, and met a family who have received a notice on July 3rd, that their home will be destroyed.

Homes are demolished for a variety of reasons. Sometimes a demolition is a form of collective punishment on the family of someone who went out and killed Israelis. In the West Bank, rarely is this the case... and of course, the homes of families of Israelis who do such things to Palestinians are not demolished. Nor should they be. A person who goes out and murders innocent people, whether the perpetrator is Israeli or Palestinian, alone should face punishment. Destroying the home of his or her family is wrong. Yet Palestinian families are the only ones who face such collective punishment.

Most Palestinian homes that are demolished however are not because someone in them went out and killed Israelis. Most demolitions happen because a house was built "illegally". Of course, this applies to most Palestinian homes, because Israel makes it very difficult for people to get permits. This happens also in East Jerusalem.

Many Palestinian homes also have been demolished to make way for Israel's "security fence". The barrier is often called a "separation fence", but it is really more about annexation. It cuts into the West Bank, and takes large parts of land into Israel. It was built allegedly as a defensive measure against suicide bombers (who did several years ago launch attacks that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians... while at at the same time the Israeli army was killing thousands of Palestinians- also mostly civilians- in its attacks. One form of murder was termed as "terrorism" by the Western media, the other as "self-defence". You can guess which was called which), but instead of "separating" the West Bank from Israel, it stole and continues to steal large parts of land from Palestinians. Homes that are too close to the barrier also are destroyed.

A house demolition would be a traumatic thing for anyone. The Israeli Government seems to go out of its way to add as much suffering and humiliation as possible.

A Palestinian family who are facing such a calamity are given a notice that their home will be demolished and why, but one piece of information that is missing, is when. A demolition can happen a few days, a few weeks, a few months after. No one really knows, and that seems to be the point. People are kept in suspense and fear.

When a demolition takes place, a bulldozer shows up, with several armed soldiers. According to Palestinians we spoke to, a family is given a few minutes, sometimes as little as two, to get what they can out of the building. The soldiers are armed with teargas, sound bombs, and ammunition ("rubber" and live), in case people try to protest what is about to happen to them.

Sometimes, to spare the soldier and bulldozer driver from stress, the demolitions happen in the morning, when the men are off at work and women are either walking kids to school or are in the market. A family will sometimes come home and see there is nothing left of the building.

A demolition is not cheap, and families will be ordered to pay a fine to cover the cost of their livelihood being destroyed. There have been cases where Palestinians have had to destroy their own houses, so they could be spared from the fees.

Such injustices and abuses happen here on a systematic and regular basis. They cause anger, which sometimes leads to extremism and which sometimes manifests itself in acts of violence when people join armed groups and carry out attacks against Israelis. These attacks, though I do not support them, are relatively few in the West Bank. Most of the violence is carried out by the Israeli army and settlers against Palestinians. The violence manifests itself in overt forms like settler attacks and shootings of demonstrators, and also in less noticeable forms (for the Western media); like house demolitions, checkpoints, and other ways used to make life as difficult for the Palestinians here as possible.

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