By Eileen Fleming in Jerusalem
On April 3, 2008, the Associated Press in Jerusalem reported, "An Israeli wrecking crew knocked down Shadi Hamdan’s home in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem in just a couple of hours, reducing the upholsterer’s savings to a pile of grey rubble…Since 2004, Israel has leveled more than 300 homes in Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, citing a lack of building permits. However, critics say the permits are virtually impossible to obtain and consider the demolitions part of a decades-old policy to limit Palestinian population growth in the disputed city."
"Were Israelis and Palestinians to have an equal chance to get a building permit … it wouldn’t be a human rights issue. It’s a human rights issue because it’s intentional and purposeful housing discrimination."- Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights
The Hamden home was first demolished by Israel in 2005 but volunteers rebuilt it last July. "Former Jerusalem city council member and Meir Margalit, one of Hamdan’s supporters, said his group won’t be deterred and plans to rebuild again."
The AP failed to report that Meir’s group is ICAHD/ Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, a non-violent civil do something group opposed to the occupation of Palestine and which resists by standing up to the bulldozers that demolish and then rebuilding what Israel had destroyed.
The AP also failed to report the on site arrest of Prof. Jeff Halper, American Israeli, Founder and Coordinator of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions. Jeff was arrested once again for trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. On April 3rd, it was a close friend of Jeff’s and last summer’s crew of ICAHD volunteers who had rebuilt the Hamdan home.
"In a telephone interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), Halper, said that the Israeli occupation Jerusalem municipality had carried out the demolition…"As Israelis, we are privileged," he told AKI. "They (police) are not going to shoot us if we resist the demolition, but if a Palestinian had done it, they would have certainly shot him."
While in Jerusalem on July 16, 2007, I witnessed twenty five ICAHD volunteers, internationals, Israelis and Palestinians who become a community upon the rocky barren land of the Hamdan clan as they broke ground and laid the foundation. The ICAHD crew was intent upon handing the keys of the once again rebuilt home over to Hassan Yussef Hamdan and his family within two weeks. That mission was accomplished on schedule.
The land has legally been owned by the Hamdan clan -with the deeds filled out in Hassan Yussef’s great-grandfather’s name- during the Ottoman Empire.
The oldest son, Mohammed’s grandmother, Um Mohammad addressed the media on ICAHD’s summer kick off commitment to rebuild 300 of the – so far 18,000 Palestinian homes the Israeli government has destroyed- and which have resulted in creating 18,000 homeless families who legally own their land but are denied the right to build upon it.
The diminutive woman’s Arabic was translated into English by Nadia, another ICAHD volunteer, while the foundation of the house was being laid, "We own twenty-five pieces of land, twenty-five meters is one piece. After building our home here, we received papers demanding we demolish our own home. We got a lawyer in Tel Aviv, and after paying $10,000.00 she did nothing. The soldiers came under our window and we hired another lawyer and had to pay 70,000 shekels within two hours to hold off the soldiers. The soldiers came back two more times, after more negotiations the soldiers came back a third time and destroyed our home."
ICAHD spokesmen, Meir Margalit admitted, "We are here because we are embarrassed and ashamed of our government. A decent person cannot handle what this government puts innocent people through. We are doing this for both sides; for the innocent families and to keep the moral values of Judaism alive."
According to international law, the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids home demolitions in occupied territories and demands that the occupiers maintain the status quo and not pilfer the resources of the indigenous population.
But last Wednesday, in the ‘Holy’ Land, a crane-mounted jackhammer tore down the Hamdan’s home that had broken ground on July 16, 2007.
On that day of a beginning again, American Israeli, Aviva Joseph spoke, "We are here building on the 9th day of Av, the day the Jewish Temple was destroyed…I was born in Chile into an Orthodox Zionist home. Both my parents are Holocaust survivors. When I was ten I use to go to Bethlehem, but after the first intifada, things began closing down; physical walls and psychological walls. I lived in Gilo, some call it a settlement, some a neighborhood and I lived in a small box with my own myth. Now I live in California and things you see from there you can’t see here and other things you must come here to see what cannot be seen anywhere else. I love Israel but until I began listening to the voices of the marginalized did I see I was living my own myth. The work is not just in the head, but in the heart; opening both sides to a new paradigm with compassion. It must be like hydrogen and oxygen the sides coming together; who could have thought that would make water?"
Ashraf Abu Moch, Israeli Palestinian and ICAHD volunteer is famous for saying, "We all need a psychiatrist, but we cannot afford one, so we do activism."
It was in December 2005, that I first met Jeff in his ICAHD office on Ben Yehuda Street, in West Jerusalem next door to the Burger King.
Jeff is from Hibbing, Minnesota and knew Bob Dylan when he was still Zimmerman. Jeff smiled when he told me, "It was during the Vietnam years that I told my grandmother that I was moving to Israel and she replied, ‘That is no place for a nice Jewish boy!’
Jeff continued, "Israel has no constitution but has a Declaration of Independence which promised that Israel would abide by conditions and UN resolutions. They have not fulfilled the agreement which was the basis of their independence."
The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was signed May 14, 1948 the day the British Mandate over Palestine expired. The USA recognized Israel that very night and the USSR three days later. The Declaration affirms that the state of Israel:
"Will be based on freedom, justice, and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion…and will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture: it will safeguard the Holy places of all religions, and it will be faithful to the principals of the Charter of the United Nations."
Jeff also spoke during December 2005’s Holy Land Trust’s Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance Conference, in Bethlehem. Israel denied entry to Ghandian activists from India and many internationals for having histories of speaking up for human rights for Palestinians.
Jeff informed the conference crowd, "We really are only but actors in a play. When we wake up to that, and become an active participant in the human drama and pursue justice, things must change because injustice is unsustainable…One out of three Israeli children lives below the poverty line. It’s probably about 80% for Palestinians. Jews are like everyone else, those who have been abused grow up to be abusers. Things here have been turned on their head: its victim mentality and denial about the occupation. Once Israelis accept the fact that they are occupiers they will have to admit their State Terrorism."
During other interviews and conferences Jeff said, "It was at the time when the Oslo peace plan collapsed and the occupation reasserted itself. Many Israeli peace activists began asking Palestinians what the best way to engage with each other was and the answer was blowing in the wind: ‘STOP the home demolitions!’
"Since 1967 the Israeli government has destroyed over 18,000 Palestinian homes. 95% of the cases have nothing to do with security. All these homes are on Palestinian private property. The Israeli government will not grant permits for them to build on their own land, and in reality are quietly transferring the Palestinians administratively from the land. They make conditions so intolerable that the Palestinians give up and leave and this is exactly what they are after. Not only do the Palestinians receive no warning when their homes are to be destroyed they are fined $1,500.00!
"I’ll get a call at 5 AM from a Palestinian telling me the bulldozers have arrived and we activists go out and engage in civil disobedience by standing up to the bulldozers. We also raise funds to rebuild these homes right where they had been before.
"The reasons for the demolitions are: for The Wall, to establish illegal settlements, build roads and because the Israeli government wants to keep Palestinians confined to the islands [areas A and B] in the West Bank and so Palestinian land remain under the control of the Israeli government."
"When you incorporate occupied territories, highways, settlements and use resources it is all illegal according to the Fourth Geneva Convention which states the status quo must be retained so that negotiations can happen. Unilateral actions are illegal. The occupying power is responsible for those under its control.
"Tony Blair said 70% of all the conflicts in the world can be traced back to the Israeli Palestinian conflict. What gives us hope is that as this conflict worsens maybe Europe will figure out that American policies are against their interests and intervene…This conflict impacts the global community and especially everyone in the USA.
"If we do fix this conflict it would be a tremendous step forward in global reconciliation…This whole issue is based on Human Rights and it is a global issue requiring global intervention.
"It has been said that the Israelis do not love this land, they just want to possess it. There have been three stages to make this occupation permanent. The first was to establish the facts on the ground; the settlements. There are ½ million Israeli’s and four million Palestinians here. They have been forced into Bantustan; truncated mini states; prison states. It is apartheid and Bush and Hillary are both willing collaborators.
"Israel is not a democracy, it is an ethnocracy: full rights to Jews, but not Palestinians.
"In 1977, Sharon came in with a mandate, money and resources to make the Israeli presence in the West Bank irreversible. The second stage began in April 2004 when America approved the Apartheid/Convergence/Realignment Plan and eight settlement blocs. This is just like South Africa! The Bush Sharon letter exchange guaranteed that the USA considers the settlements non-negotiable. The Convergence Plan and The Wall create the borders and that is what defines Bantustans. Congress ratified the Bush plan and only Senator Byrd of West Virginia voted no and nine House Representatives.
"Israel has set up a matrix of control; a thick web of settlements guaranteed to make the occupation permanent by establishing facts on the ground. Israel denies there is an occupation, so everything is reduced to terrorism. It is our job to insist upon the human rights issue, for occupied people have International Law on their side."
I asked Jeff if the settlements were in actuality colonies; meaning foreigners had invaded and set up residence in another’s territory. He agreed and added that, "When Jerusalem was controlled by Jordan, the East side was 6 sq. km. Since 1967, Israel has added 64 km. The West side was 38 sq. km until ’67 and is now 108 sq. km’s. Israel plans to develop 17 settlements. Israeli policy is to maintain a 72% Jewish and 28% Arab population. Palestinians cannot get building permits to build upon their legally owned land. The Arab land has been re-zoned as green space, and the green space will be re-zoned for the settlements. Every single Palestinian home in Jerusalem has a demolition order. The entire West Bank has been zoned as agricultural land by Israel, and that will also be re-zoned again for more settlements."
Orwellian doublespeak has also been employed by the US government and in the media to turn the illegal colonies: for all the settlements are considered illegal according to International Law, into "neighborhoods".
Linking the settlements in a ring around the Old City of Jerusalem, the Eastern Ring Road has bridges for Israelis but Palestinians are denied access and must drive through sewage and tunnels. During an ICAHD bus tour, I rode past acres of olive trees that had been chopped off by the Israeli army, on our way to another repeatedly built house; The Beit Arabiya Peace House.
On the way, Jeff said, "I don’t just have a political problem with this Judiaization of the Old City, it is ecologically and environmentally offensive."
I also find it spiritually impoverished. The raping and pillaging of what is claimed holy ground refutes and denies the biblical meaning of dominion. The ancients understood dominion meant to nurture, love and protect and the destruction of Palestinian homes, the stealing and destroying of their legal property, is an abomination unto God and crime against humanity.
The Beit Arabiya Peace House, is at the crossroads of Areas A, B and C and has been demolished and rebuilt at least four times by now. The owner received his fifth demolition order in 2006.
Beit Arabiya is the name of the home of the Arabiya family with seven children. Their home has been rebuilt by the efforts of ICAHD and the JCHR/Jurist Center for Human Rights, a Palestinian NGO focused on legal advocacy for Palestinians in the Jerusalem area.
The home has become a meeting place for Israelis, Palestinian and International peace activists and is the cornerstone and intersecting point of Areas A, B, and C. The smallest of the three is Area A, which is under Palestinian authority. Areas B and C are under Israeli control. Since 1967 over 18,000 Palestinian families in the occupied territories have been left homeless due to home demolitions.
According to Jeff Halper, the reasons for these home demolitions are purely political: to confine the 3 ½ million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza into small, crowded, impoverished and disconnected enclaves.
Upon the wall of the Beit Arabyia home was a mural donated by the North American Workers against the US occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The mural depicts Rachel Corrie, the American who was run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza when she stood up to defend the home of a pharmacist with five children. Also depicted is the pregnant Palestinian woman of ten who too was run over by a Caterpillar in Gaza. The angelic images of the two women float above a depiction of a US made Caterpillar bulldozer tipped to one side and flanked by tanks and weapons of destruction. On both sides of the weapons of destruction are many people. A railroad track reminds the viewer that prior to 1948, Jews and Palestinians once worked together in peaceful solidarity to build a railroad.
The Arabyia home/Peace Center is the cornerstone of the village of Anata and the Shufat refugee camp, in the very area where the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century B.C. critiqued the violent conflicts in the Mid East, which were already old news: "I hear violence and destruction in the city, sickness and wounds are all I see." [Jeremiah 6:7]
Mohammad Alatar, film producer of "The Ironwall" addressed our group after we broke bread and ate a typical Palestinian feast prepared by the Arabiya family: "I am a Muslim Palestinian American and when my son asked me who my hero was I took three days to think about it. I told him my hero is Jesus, because he took a stand and he died for it. What really needs to be done is for the churches to be like Jesus; to challenge the Israeli occupation and address the apartheid practices as moral issues. Even if every church divested and boycotted Israel it would not harm Israel. After the US and Russia, Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. It is a moral issue that the churches must address."
In 2005, Jeff told me that every time he is arrested and sentenced to community service for his ICAHD actions, he tells "the judge I am serving the community but they just don’t get it!…The Israeli government simply does not want to take responsibility and the US government ignores the situation.
"Look, Christ was all about justice and love. Jesus was no magician and his message has been lost by Christian Zionists who want Armageddon. They have taken Jesus’ teachings and turned them into a travesty by justifying the occupation.
"Do you know why Israel does not want to become America’s 51st state? Because then they would only have two senators!"
-Eileen Fleming is a reporter and editor of www.WeAreWideAwake.org. She is the author of "Keep Hope Alive" and "Memoirs of a Nice Irish American ‘Girl’s’ Life in Occupied Territory." She is also the producer "30 Minutes With Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu." She contributed this article to the PalestineChronicle.com.