Since its creation in 1948, Israel has pursued an aggressively expansionist policy creating new facts on the ground. The aim is to tighten grip on the land it has illegally occupied from the Palestinians.
The first priority of the Zionist invaders was to get hold of a ‘core territory’ around which to build the Zionist State. Between 1912 and 1948, the Jewish population of Palestine increased from 6 percent to 30 percent. This phenomenal growth was not the result of natural progression. It was achieved in connivance with the British mandate authority by smuggling tens of thousands of Jews from Europe into Palestine to populate the ‘core territory.’
During the second world war, David Ben Gurion, who became the Israel’s first prime minister, had pointedly refused an appeal to save 100,000 Hungarian Jews from extermination at the hands of the Nazis. Ben Gurion said he would rather have one healthy goat than 100,000 elderly and sick Jews in Palestine.
Since its creation, Israel has expanded rapidly. Soon after the June 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, the former Israeli defence minister, while showing a visiting group of Jews from the west around, said that his generation had expanded the boundaries of Israel this far. Now it was for the next generation to realize the dream of Israel - from the Euphrates to the Nile - he said. He also admitted that 385 Arab villages occupied in 1948 had been completely obliterated.
Dayan’s successors are furiously expanding Jewish settlements. This policy goes hand in hand with demolition of Palestinian homes. Since the occupation of the West Bank, Ghazzah and Jerusalem in June 1967, tens of thousands of Israelis have occupied Palestinian land and homes or built new ones in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Similarly, thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished.
The hopes aroused following the signing of the Oslo accords in September 1993 and the subsequent agreement two years later, that no more demolitions would occur, have not been realised. Oslo II, signed in September 1995, expressly forbids such destruction (Provision 1 (c) of Article XII of Oslo II). Yet according to the Israeli defence minister Yitzhak Mordechai, more than 513 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the West Bank and Jerusalem since September 1993 - 268 under the supposedly friendly Labour government and an additional 245 under the Likud since coming to power in June 1996.
This policy continues. The Israeli defence ministry said in May that there were 860 outstanding demolition orders on homes in the West Bank. This has climbed to well over 1,000, according to the Jerusalem-based Society for the Protection of Palestinian Rights and the Environment (LAWE). The Israeli occupation authority in the West Bank, euphemistically called the civil administration, has confirmed that 140 Palestinian homes were demolished in 1996. In the first seven months of 1997, another 90 houses were demolished. During Benjamin Netanyahu’s premiership (from May 1996), 520 houses have been demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The demolition policy is predicated on two arguments, both false. First, that these houses were built without obtaining a legal permit. Second, homes of Islamic activists involved in the resistance are demolished as a deterrent.
Since Israel occupied the West Bank and Ghazzah in 1967, there have been wholesale changes to laws regulating municipalities. The Israelis have unilaterally removed the Palestinians and taken over all administrative control. Their policy is to confine Palestinians to a limited space and make life so unbearable that they are forced to move out.
Palestinians are not issued building permits even if they apply. Given the natural increase in their population over 30 years, they are forced to build new homes. While bible-swinging, Uzi-toting Israeli settlers are free to build settlements anywhere, grabbing land from the Palestinians, the original inhabitants are refused building permission even in their own villages.
Most demolitions are carried out to inflict maximum suffering and dislocation. The case of Salaame and Hamdi, who had four children, is illustrative. Salaame was eight months pregnant and had lived in their new house in the West Bank for two years. Yet they received a demolition order because it was built ‘without a permit.’ No amount of pleading in the court could persuade the judges. They heard the case for 20 minutes, conferred for one more minute and then justice Barak issued the order to demolish their home.
Since the July 30 bombing in Jerusalem, Israel has stepped up its demolition policy even more aggressively. Between August and mid-November, 63 houses were demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, leaving more than 150 people homeless. On December 15, the homes of Yusuf al-Shuli and Tawfik Abu Yassin in Assira Shamaliya village were bulldozed. Both were accused of the July 30 bombing. The homes of Mowaoyia Zarara and Bashar Sawalha were bricked up at the same time. During the intifadah years (1987-1993), about 1,000 houses were demolished, most of them of Islamic activists.
The situation in the West Bank has been further complicated by the signing of the Interim Agreement (Oslo II) in 1995. That Agreement divided the West Bank into three zones. The first of these - the smallest, accounting for only 3 percent of the West Bank - is Area A, where the Palestinian self-rule authority has full civilian and security jurisdiction. Area A constitutes basically the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarem, Ramallah, Qalqiliya, and Hebron (of which 20 percent is still occupied by the Israeli military).
The second zone, Area B, comprises most villages, and covers another 24 percent of the West Bank. Here, the Palestinian Authority has control over civilian matters, including the issuing of building permits, while Israel maintains security control. The third zone, Area C, covers the remaining 73 percent of the West Bank, and is under full Israeli occupation. It is important to note that many populated areas fall within Area C. For example, neighbourhoods which have grown outside of the strictly-defined Israeli municipal boundaries often lie in Area C.
The Interim Agreement has created a situation where most Palestinians are living in the fragmented enclaves of Areas A and B. Israel seems to have taken its control of Area C, which was to be temporary, as a green light to prevent Palestinian expansion out of those enclaves. House demolitions play an important role in enforcing this.
Other instruments used are settlement expansion, land confiscation, and by-pass road construction, which have continued, unabated, since the signing of the Oslo Accord in September 1995. The restriction of Palestinian growth is mirrored by an expansion of the Israeli Jewish settler presence in the West Bank, which grew by 48 percent under the Labour government alone. Todate, more than 155,000 settlers have moved into the West Bank.
Almost all of the homes which have been demolished or are threatened with demolition are near by-pass roads or settlements, or lie in the path of their expansion. Israel is using house demolition as a means of eliminating, as much as possible, a Palestinian presence in areas which it seeks to retain in any final status arrangement with the Palestinian Authority.
This is even more acute in Jerusalem where the zionists are vigorously changing the landscape. The zionist mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, a Likud member, has said that 6500 units are planned for Jewish settlers at Jabal Abu Ghneim (the zionists insist on calling it Har Homa), in addition to 2100 in other settlements. In contrast, only 400 units are being planned for Palestinians in Jerusalem. Municipal funding for housing for Palestinians has almost never been implemented.
Olmert claims that there are 2600 ‘illegally’ constructed homes in East Jerusalem, illegal because the Israelis say so (not international law) and building permits are rarely issued by the municipality. He is using this number to embark on a demolition campaign against Palestinian homes in the city. Since August, 13 homes have already been demolished.
In addition, confiscations through the use of the Absentee Properties law continue in and around the old city, resulting in a loss of about 50 Arab owned houses in the Old City alone. The plans currently under study to rebuild the ‘City of David,’ essentially the Arab village of Silwan, will mean increased attempts to take over Arab owned land and property.
Muslimedia: January 1-15, 1998