Demolitions and Repression

On July 3, after an Israeli from the settlement of Susiya in the southern West Bank was found murdered, and without any suspects being identified or arrested, the Israeli army unleashed an unprecedented campaign of revenge and ethnic cleansing against the entire civilian Palestinian population of the area.  (The same day the Israeli government authorized a wholescale campaign of assassinations as well.)  As this is being written (Thursday evening, the 5th of July), we are in the third day of this campaign.

The first 24 hours witnessed the demolition of at least five Palestinian homes in the city of Yata, which was completely sealed off to the outside world, leaving the army to act with impunity towards the civilian inhabitants.  Reports are that up to a thousand residents were forced from their homes before demolishing dozens of them.  The army also attacked residents in the entire rural area between Yata and the area around Jibna where the Palestinian “cave-dwellers” live.  Additional houses were demolished, wells and reservoirs destroyed and the agricultural infrastructure severely damaged.  Even the Channel 1 Israel news spoke of the army as acting out of “revenge.”  If this is so, the Israeli army, which once prided itself as a “defense” force whose moral code included “purity of arms,” has been reduced during the repression of the past months into a mere gang.  The fact that no outside observers were allowed into the entire West Bank south of Hebron during this 24-hour period, including journalist and human rights observers, and even the Red Cross was prevented from providing humanitarian aid to the hundreds of families affected, raises fears about acts of violence and intimidation committed with absolute impunity by an army against a defenseless civilian population (most of the area affected is in Israeli-controlled Area C).  Not only does international law forbid such actions, but the Fourth Geneva Convention requires Israel as an occupying power to protect the civilian population under its rule and provide for its welfare.

Among the families whose dwellings were destroyed was Rasmiya Nawaja Jamal, a woman in her 60s whose husband Mohammad was murdered by settlers from Susiya ten years ago (no one was ever tried).  Rasmiya, who ekes out a living as a shepherd, managed to raise 12 children on her own, the family living in an underground cave. Since her compound is situated close to Susiya, the family has endured harassment for many years, including settlers riding horses through her living area.  Two years ago the Israeli Civil Administration demolished the cave, claiming that the Nawaja family had no permit to live there.  Rasmiya then constructed an ingenious compound over her demolished cave, made of skeletons of automobiles. She and her smaller children lived in the shell of a mini-van, her son and his family lived in the cab of a truck, and a pick-up truck was converted into a stable. Rasmiya used the fenders to fence off her gardens, and even constructed a cooking area of solar panels.  On Tuesday morning the army returned and destroyed Rasmiya’s compound, as well as those of her neighbors, making more than 50 people homeless.  They also uprooted more than 1000 olive trees belonging to Rasmiya and her neighbors, and destroyed all their cisterns.

This morning we received word that Civil Administration bulldozers were destroying homes, farming structures and cisterns in the area of Jibna. This is where, two years ago, the Israeli army tried to force the area’s 3000 farming families out of their cave dwellings where they had lived for generations.  In October, 1999, the Israeli army declared their lands — some 100,000 dunams of land (25,000 acres) south of Hebron — as a “closed military area.”  (In fact, this was only one of 16 orders closing vast tracts of land throughout the West Bank at that time.)  The land, though semi-arid and rural, is home to an entire society of Palestinian farmers who had farmed and grazed that area for centuries, developing a unique culture around the many caves that dotted the mountainous landscape. The expulsion order affected, at that time, around 42 families, consisting of around 730 people (among them some 500 children), were violently and brutally driven from their homes.

They army claimed they needed the land for a “firing zone,” but in fact it is coveted because it connects the Israeli city of Arad with the settlements of the area and creates a corridor from Israel to Kiryat Arba and Hebron.  At that time ICAHD and other Israeli human rights organizations initiated an appeal to the Supreme Court, which ruled in March of 2000 that the families would be allowed to stay in their homes until the issue of their residence was resolved. Since that time, the Civil Administration has admitted it cannot find fault with the families’ claims to the land.  Today’s action, then, was intended to by-pass the Supreme Court by simply demolishing the houses under the guise of “security.” One of the caves, belonging to the family of Musa Jabarin, was demolished today, together with four  other houses, a number of cisterns and many farming structures essential for the economic survival of the community. Clothes, furniture, dead chickens, pieces of pens and chicken coops lie scattered over the ground.  (Pictures will be posted on the AIC website:  Many other families were ordered to remove their belongings and preparations were made to demolish their homes as well. But an appeal to the Attorney General’s Office has resulted in the Civil Administration being ordered to desist — at least for the time being.

It should be noted that according to Amnesty International Israel has demolished at least 7000 Palestinian homes since 1967, to which more than 500 have to added since the second Intifada began.

At a time when Sharon is being feted by the Chancellor of Germany and the President of France, Israel’s occupation and the actions it engenders stands in stark violation of international law.  Collective punishment is explicitly forbidden in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and the demolition of houses constitutes a grave violation of Article 53.  The increasing use of international courts to enforce accountability to human rights covenants (upon which Israel itself has signed) should put the Israeli government and its agents on notice that they may find themselves one day being tried for war and civil crimes.  Besides the simple injustice and moral indefensibility of such actions.

Contact your political representatives, write in your local newspapers, let your voice be hear in your community against this increasingly brutal Occupation which is destroying Palestinian and Israeli societies alike.

Jeff Halper (53) is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and a Professor of Anthropology at Ben Gurion University. He has lived in Israel since 1973.