By Kim Bullimore
On Tuesday, the Israeli military demolished the dreams of a family of five in the Palestinian village of Azzoun Atma. At 8.30am, on January 11, more than 100 Israeli soldiers surrounded their home, forced them onto the street and then locked them in the neighouring house for the next three and half hours. As “the most moral army in the world” stood guard around the neighbouring house, ensuring the family could do nothing to stop what was about to happen, a heavily armoured Caterpillar bulldozer smashed down the walls of the home they had lived in for more than 8 years. The Israeli occupation forces then made their way to the other side of the village and demolished a farm house belonging to another family, along with their agricultural pens.
The day after the demolition of their dreams, myself and my team mates from the International Women’s Peace Service visited the family to take a report. As we walked around what was once the home of the family we could see, even among the destruction and rubble which lay before us, the loving care they had put into their home. The trees in front of their home were pruned, shaped and manicured. Stepping through the rubble, their garden which was located at the back of their small home, was neat, green and well cared for. In the drive way of the neighbouring house, where they were locked and which belonged to the parents of the husband of the family, there was well-worn, but well-cared for modern style furniture which has subsequently been rescued from the demolished wreckage nearby.
The family’s “crime” was that they built their home on their own land without the permit of the Israeli military occupation administration, which is known in the Orwellian parlance of the Israeli state and its occupation forces, as the “Israeli Civil Administration”.
The administration which was established by the Israeli military to administer the Palestinian territories that Israel illegal seized in 1967 claims to administer the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the interests of the Palestinian population. According to Israeli Military decree 947 which established the administration: “We hereby establish a Civil Administration in the region [West Bank and Gaza]. The Civil Administration shall run all regional civil matters, correspondingly to this [military] degree, for the wellbeing and for the sake of [the local] population and with the purpose of providing and operating the public services, considering the need to maintain a proper governance and public order”.
However, rather caring for the “well being” of the Palestinian population or governing in their interest, the Israel military occupation administration has actively enacted policies which seeks to ethnic cleanse the people they are occupying, an act which is illegal under international law. Not only has Israel, as an “Occupying Power”, violated the Fourth Geneva Convention (which outlines the role and responsibilities of an occupying power) by engaging in illegal detentions, extra-judicial killings, the transfer of settler populations in to an Occupied Territory and the transfer of the resident indigenous population out of the Occupied Territory, it has also systematically violated Article 53 of the Convention, which prohibits an “occupying power” from destroying the personal property of the people they occupy.
Since its 1967 seizure of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Israel has systematically demolished between 18,000 and 24,000 Palestinian homes (icahd.org). The majority of these homes have been destroyed under the guise of an Orwellian system of “building permits”, which seeks to establish a faux legal system which prevents the Palestinian population from building homes and infrastructure. This system allows the Israeli military occupation administration to establish a “legal” precedent to demolish any Palestinian house and infrastructure built without its permission, in order to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, the Zionist state demolished more than 600 Palestinian homes in the Mughrabi Quarter in order to build a plaza in front of the Western (Wailing) Wall in Occupied East Jerusalem. The Israeli state went onto demolish more than 6,000 other homes, including four entire villages in the Latrun area, which is now known as “Canada” Park (icahd.org). The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) note that in 1971, another 2000 homes were demolished in Gaza under the instructions of Ariel Sharon, who was at the time, the Commander of the South Command. The houses, which were located in the different refugee camps in Gaza were demolished to enable military control of the region. According to ICAHD, Israel destroyed another 2000 homes during the first intifada (1987-1993) and another 1700 during the Oslo Peace process between 1993 and 2000.
Since the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, ICAHD documents that Israel has carried out numerous military operations which have destroyed Palestinian residential homes. This has resulted in up to 5000 Palestinian homes being destroyed in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities, while at least 2500 were destroyed in Gaza. According to a 2010 survey done by the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (UN OCHA oPt) between January and July 2010, 199 Palestinian structures, including 59 homes were demolished, leaving 242 people homeless (icahd.org). UNOCHA notes that in 2009 the demolition of homes by the Israeli military left 891 Palestinians homeless, including 499 children. In 2004, international human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch estimated that at least 50,000 Palestinians have been made homeless by military home demolitions since 1967.
Since 1967, Israel and its military occupation administration have made it almost impossible for Palestinian families to obtain building permits to build or extend their homes. This has been particularly noticeable in Area C, where Azzoun Atma is located.
Azzoun Atma is a “seamline” village located in “Area C” between the 1967 Green Line and Israel’s Apartheid Wall. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords “Area C”, which covers 62 percent of the Occupied West Bank, is under full Israeli control. Area C is home to up to 150,000 Palestinians and contains not only the area necessary for the expansion of Palestinian population centres (more than 270 communities) but also contains the bulk of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land. However, according to UNOCHA oPt, the Israeli Civil Administration (ie. The Israeli Military Occupation Administration) have continually refused to allow Palestinians to build in 99 percent of region covered by Area C, only allowing construction in only 1 percent of the region.
Similarly, according to a 2008 study by Israeli group, Peace Now, between 2000 and 2007, 94% of all Palestinian permit applications for Area C were rejected by the Israeli “Civil Administration” (peacenow.org). During this period only 91 permits were granted. However, Peace Now noted that during that same time the number of building permits granted to settlers in illegal Jewish settlements located in Area C totaled 18, 472. According to Peace Now, during this period, the Israeli occupation forces demolished 33 percent of almost 5000 supposedly “illegal” Palestinians houses and structures, while in contrast only 7 percent of the 2,900 cases of illegal settler construction which had been place under demolition orders were torn down.
The demolition of the home belonging to the family in Azzoun Atma on January 11 had nothing to do with the lack of a “legal” building permit. Instead, it was the act of settler-colonial state which seeks to permanently cleanse the land they have occupied of its indigenous inhabitants. Not only did Israel, in the words of one member of the family, seek to “destroy our dreams” by demolishing the houses in Azzoun Atma, the Zionist state also sought to destroy the dreams of an entire people by systematically restricting their right to decent housing with the aim of pushing them of their land permanently.
However, despite, the hardships faced under Israel’s brutal military occupation, the Palestinian people living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have continued to hold on the principle of “sumoud” (steadfastness) in the face of the human rights violations visited upon them. In Palestine, resistance comes in many forms. Not only will the family in Azzoun Atma rebuild the home of their dreams, so will thousands of other Palestinian families who have also experienced the same devastating destruction. As the slogans of resistance scrawled on Israel’s apartheid wall testify: “to exist is to resist”.
– Kim Bullimore is currently living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, where she is a human rights volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service: www.iwps.info. She writes regularly on the Palestine-Israel conflict for the Australian newspaper, Direct Action: www.directaction.org.au. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogspot.com.