And when the following news item arrived in my inbox I was more than usually interested. ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) took me to see Beit Arabiya, the much demolished and rebuilt Bedouin home, nearly six years ago. Of course, it has been bulldozed and rebuilt a few times since then.
I’m reproducing the whole thing so that you get the full flavour of Israel’s evil. And it’s from an impeccable Israeli source too.
You can also read it at http://www.icahd.org/?p=8107 .
ICAHD Peace Center ‘Beit Arabiya’ Demolished for the Fifth Time
02:15 , 24-01-12
Israeli authorities demolished Beit Arabiya (“Arabiya’s House”) last night (Monday, January 23rd) for the fifth time, along with structures in the East Anata Bedouin compound. Beit Arabiya, Located in the West Bank town of Anata (Area C) just to the northeast of Jerusalem, is a living symbol of resistance to Occupation and the desire for justice and peace.As its name suggests, Beit Arabiya is a home belonging to Arabiya Shawamreh, her husband Salim and their seven children, a Palestinian family whose home has been demolished four times by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt each time by ICAHD’s Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists, before being demolished again last night.
At around 11p.m. Monday, a bulldozer accompanied by a contingent of heavily armed Israeli soldiers appeared on the Anata hills, to promptly demolish Beit Arabiya, along with residential and agricultural structures in the nearby Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin compound. 3 family homes were demolished along with numerous animal pans, and 20 people including young children were displaced, left exposed to the harsh desert environment. While standing in solidarity with Palestinians, ICAHD staff and activists were repeatedly threatened by Israeli soldieries. ICAHD Co-Director Itay Epshtain was beaten and sustained minor injuries.
Beit Arabiya was issued a demolition order by Israeli authorities back in 1994, following their failure to grant a building permit. It has since been demolished four times, to be rebuilt by ICAHD activists. Following a reissue of the demolition order last Thursday, came last night’s fifth demolition. ICAHD Director, Dr. Jeff Halper, standing astride the ruins, vowed to support Salim and Arabiya in rebuilding their home. “We shall rebuild, we must rebuild forthwith, as an act of political defiance of the occupation and protracted oppression of Palestinians” said Halper.
Back in 2006 I arranged to go on one of ICAHD’s tours of house demolition sites, a programme for journalists and students then run by one of Jeff Halper’s colleagues, another amiable American known to everyone as “JJ”. I wrote it up for my book as follows…
The tour with JJ took us to Anata… If you thought Jenin was bad, you should see Anata. This is a blighted and doomed Palestinian township, not shell-blasted like Jenin but strangulated, poverty-stricken, earmarked for destruction and on its last legs. There were umpteen demolition orders on Palestinian homes, some newly built.
Not content with persecuting the Palestinians, the Israelis are driving the Bedouin out of the Negev desert. “They are destroying our homes and stealing our land and trying to concentrate us in small reservations in order to take our land and give it to Jewish settlers. Some of these so-called unrecognised villages predated the state of Israel. I wonder who needs recognition from whom,” said Talab al Sani’e, a Bedouin and a member of Israel’s Knesset. “Israel has created 140 Jewish towns and villages in the Negev. And now they want to destroy Bedouin villages.”
Israel stands accused of illegally confiscating more than 98% of Bedouin land and committing “ugly acts of racism” against Bedouins. Israeli aircraft sprayed herbicides over large areas of crops belonging to Bedouin tribes in the Negev for over 10 years. This was stopped after Bedouin leaders and human rights activists petitioned the Israeli High Court, citing the herbicides’ harmful effect on humans and animals. After the court ruling the Israeli Land Authority turned to using tractors to destroy the crops just before harvest time, according to Bedouin leaders. “They refuse to connect our villages with the national power grid, they refuse to connect us with the national water carrier, they refuse to allow us to open streets. Our children are denied schooling.”
Meeting and shaking hands with peace campaigner Jeff Halper, a professor of anthropology at Ben Gurion University and director of ICAHD, was for me a high point of my visit to the Holy Land. An American Jew, Jeff went to live in Israel in 1973 after attending rabbinical school. He had been a Vietnam war resister, and when he became an Israeli citizen he refused to bear arms during his military service and refused to serve in the Occupied Territories.
ICAHD works with other Israeli groups such as Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Tayyush and Gush Shalom, and with Palestinian organisations. ICAHD resists the demolition of Palestinian homes, with Jeff himself frequently confronting the bulldozers and Israeli soldiers. He and ICAHD organise Palestinians, Israelis and internationals in rebuilding some of the demolished homes to underline their political resistance to the Occupation. Their deep knowledge and research has successfully exposed the injustice.
He and his Palestinian counterpart Ghassan Andoni, a physics professor at Birzeit University and co-founder of the Palestinian Centre for Rapprochement between People, were both nominated for the 2006 Nobel peace prize. In response to the nomination Professor Halper said:
“I am chilled by the prospect of my country imposing a new apartheid regime on another people, by the prospect of my people, the Jews (of all people), becoming the new Afrikaners. I must also be concerned over the rising frustration and fury in the Arab and Muslim worlds, fueled in large measure by American and European support for Israel’s occupation policies that both deny the Palestinians their right of self-determination and turn my country into a pariah state.”
ICAHD, as Israelis, block the destructive bulldozers, chain themselves in the houses, conduct campaigns to mobilize opposition to the policy in Israel and abroad, turn to the courts and, when demolitions finally occur, join the Palestinians in rebuilding demolished homes to show solidarity and resistance. “We have come to see house demolitions as the very essence of the conflict between our two peoples: Israel’s exclusive claim to the entire country in the name of the Jewish people at the expense of another people living in the country… this is what gives the policy of house demolitions its special significance.
“When, as Israelis, we resist home demolitions and rebuild demolished homes as acts of civil disobedience, we are acknowledging the rights of both people to share the country. We are affirming our recognition that Palestinian claims carry equal authority to our own. And we are proclaiming loudly: We refuse to be enemies!”
God bless Jeff and ICAHD. If in Jerusalem be sure to visit this remarkable man and his organisation.
What it’s like to be on the receiving end of an Israeli demolition order
Here’s a further note from that visit to ICAHD… “Palestinians do not have the luxury of home-delivered mail (even in East Jerusalem), so demolition orders are distributed haphazardly. A building inspector may knock on the door and hand the order to anyone who answers, including small children. More often the order is slipped into the doorframe or left under a stone near the house. Palestinians frequently complain that they never received the order before the bulldozers moved in, and thus were denied recourse to the courts. In Jerusalem a favourite practice is to “deliver” an order at night by placing it somewhere near the targeted home, then arrive early in the morning with the Caterpillar.”
America and the rest of the West should understand clearly why Caterpillar has become the hated symbol of dispossession, ethnic cleansing and oppression, and has been the target of disinvestment campaigns.
Stuart Littlewood is an industrial marketing specialist turned writer-photographer. In 2005 he was invited to write and shoot pictures for a book about the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. ‘Radio Free Palestine’ was published in 2007. For details please see http://www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk/.
- The Author is a regular contributor to RamallahOnline.com. Find more Articles by Stuart Littlewood on RamallahOnline.