By Stuart Littlewood – London
God whispered in the Church of England’s ear and it dumped its shares in Caterpillar. This House of God had about £2.5m invested in a company that manufactures one of Israel’s weapons of mass misery and destruction. After saying for years that they couldn’t see anything unethical about it, Church bosses finally agreed with the rest of us that Caterpillar’s D-9 bulldozer, which is used in the Holy Land for the ugly purpose of demolishing Palestinian homes, uprooting olive groves and destroying civilian infrastructure, is more like a vicious weapon in Israel’s hands than a civil engineering tool.
Caterpillar simply didn’t look good on the Church’s ethical investments list any more.
The wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes, and Caterpillar’s part in it, has been going on for a very long time. At the Jenin refugee camp in March/April 2002 Israel’s massive, armoured D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers – driven by army reservists – worked non-stop for three days and nights. More than 300 homes in the densely packed camp were flattened. The bulldozer drivers were instant heroes and showered with medals for valour.
One such driver did not get down from the cab of his Caterpillar for 75 hours straight.
“For three days I just erased and erased… the entire area. I took down any house from which there was shooting. To take it down, I would take down several more. The soldiers warned with a speaker, that the tenants must leave before I came in, but I did not give anyone a chance. I did not wait… I would just ram the house with full power, to bring it down as fast as possible. I wanted to get to the other houses. To get as many as possible. Others may have restrained themselves, or so they say. Who are they kidding? Anyone who was there, and saw our soldiers in the houses, would understand they were in a death trap… I didn’t give a damn about the Palestinians, but I didn’t just ruin with no reason. It was all under orders.
“Many people where inside houses we set to demolish. They would come out of the houses we where working on. I didn’t see, with my own eyes, people dying under the blade of the D-9. and I didn’t see house falling down on live people. But if there were any, I wouldn’t care at all. I am sure people died inside these houses, but it was difficult to see, there was lots of dust everywhere, and we worked a lot at night. I found joy with every house that came down, because I knew they didn’t mind dying, but they cared for their homes. If you knocked down a house, you buried 40 or 50 people for generations. If I am sorry for anything, it is for not tearing the whole camp down…”
This was the largest single orgy of destruction carried out by the Israeli army, according to Amnesty International. The al-Hawashin quarter was completely destroyed and two further areas of the refugee camp were partially destroyed, leaving more than 800 families, totaling some 4,000 people, homeless.
House demolition has been a central plank in Israel’s solution to the ‘Arab problem’ from the start, and the bulldozers have been highly successful in dislocating Palestinian society and tearing communities apart.
ICAHD reports that between 1948 and the 1960s Israel systematically demolished 418 Palestinian villages inside what has become the State of Israel. Residents who were put to flight could not return and their lands were turned over to the Jewish population.
The Israeli township of Sderot, which the world is meant to feel sorry for, is built on stolen lands belonging to a Palestinian village that was ethnically cleansed and erased.
At the start of the Occupation in 1967 demolition was carried across the ‘Green Line’ into the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Since then some 12,000 Palestinian dwellings have been destroyed, many of them the homes of people who had fled from the bulldozers in 1948.
Dozens of ancient homes were destroyed in the Mughrabi Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to make room for a plaza for the Wailing Wall.
In 1971 Ariel Sharon, then in charge of Southern Command, cleared 2,000 houses in the Gaza refugee camps to facilitate military control. After becoming Prime Minister in 2001 he oversaw the demolition of another 1500 homes in Gaza.
At least 2,000 houses in the Occupied Territories were destroyed in a bid to quell the first Intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nearly 1,700 more were demolished by the Civil Administration during the Oslo peace process (1993-2000).
Since the start of the second Intifada in September 2000, the Israeli military has destroyed 4,000 to 5,000 Palestinian homes, including hundreds in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities of the West Bank, and more than 2,500 in Gaza. Tens of thousands of other homes have been left uninhabitable. Altogether around 50,000 people were left homeless. Hundreds of shops, workshops, factories and public buildings, including Palestinian Authority ministry offices in all the West Bank cities, have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
Figures suggest that 60% of the Palestinian homes demolished in the Occupied Territories were bulldozed as part of military “clearing operations”, 25% for being “illegal” (not having permits), and 15% for collective punishment. Amnesty International says that more as than 3,000 hectares of cultivated land were cleared during this time. Wells, water storage pools and water pumps which provided water for drinking, irrigation and other needs for thousands of people, have also been destroyed, along with miles of irrigation networks.
None of this takes account of the wanton and incalculable destruction caused by the relentless blitzing of Gaza last month…
When homes are demolished for ‘military reasons’ or as acts of deterrence and collective punishment, there is no process – no formal demolition order, no warning, no time to remove furniture or personal belongings, and often barely time to escape the building falling down around the victim’s ears.
Demolition orders, when issued, are delivered haphazardly. A building inspector may knock on the door and hand it to anyone who answers, including small children. More often it is slipped into the doorframe or left under a stone near the house. Palestinians frequently complain that they never receive the order before the bulldozers arrive and are thus denied recourse to the courts.
What took the Church of England so long to catch onto the Caterpillar scandal?
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.