Solving the Refugee Issue: Jews Driving Palestinians into the Sea

The long-chanted mantra of the Israeli defense establishment and the right-wing in Israel has been that the Arabs are seeking to destroy the Jewish state and to drive its inhabitants into the sea. Well, it seems that this is truly a case of the kettle calling the pot black.

Less than one week ago, the Israeli Army carried out its most extensive destruction of civilian homes since the Intifada began, when it destroyed 58 homes in the Rafah Refugee Camp in southern Gaza, leaving over 700 people homeless. Now, just a few days later, and during a debate raging among Israeli politicians and calls for an investigation into the Rafah incident by Sharon’s war cabinet, the Jerusalem Mayor has decided to push forward, with new zeal, his own home demolition project and ordered the destruction of 13 homes in Issawiya é a poor Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. It is no secret that Mayor Olmert’s plan is to rid the holy city of its Palestinian residents and any symbols of Palestinian cultural or national identity in Jerusalem, as home demolitions have become a monthly occurrence in the city.

Usually at least 5 homes are destroyed at one time, though last summer there were 21 homes destroyed in one day. While this process is slower and more methodical, one cannot help but be reminded of Kristalnacht during World War II, when the Nazi government sought to erase all symbols and elements of Jewish culture and religion from Berlin.

Israeli policy is coordinated carefully, and it is this meticulous evil, which must be understood properly to fully appreciate the depths in which Sharon’s government operates. The peace process fell apart for numerous reasons, but one issue that was clearly a thorn in Israel’s side was that of the refugees. Now, and since the beginning of the Intifada, caught up in the general violence and state terrorism perpetrated by the Israeli occupation forces and settlers, is the unannounced policy of targeting the refugees. While launching attacks against camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria is beyond the radar screen for Israel’s politicians and generals (often the same), those refugees who are displaced in the West Bank and Gaza are easy targets for tanks, helicopters and bulldozers.

The homes destroyed in Rafah earlier this week were all located in the Rafah Refugee Camp é a poor, destitute place barely serviced by UNRWA (the UN agency responsible for providing services to Palestinian refugees) and where ongoing Israeli incursions, sniping and destruction takes place. This is not the first time homes in Rafah have been destroyed; it is just the largest operation to date. Earlier this summer, Mayor Olmert carried out similar destruction policies in the Shuafat Refugee Camp in Jerusalem. And, like its cousin in Rafah, the Jenin Refugee Camp has been hit continuously throughout the Intifada by tanks, helicopters and bulldozers. To date, none of these homes have been rebuilt, as the people have neither the money nor the resources to rebuild. They are left to live in tents or with other family members, exacerbating housing shortages and the services available for refugees and Palestinian people in general.

The excuse, of course, is defense é unnamed, unseen snipers using homes to shoot from. From personal experience I can attest that the Israeli army has a slew of high-tech video cameras at its disposal. How about some evidence?

Even the United States felt somewhat compelled to show its evidence concerning Osama Bin Laden to its allies. And Israel is demanding President Arafat to hold accountable those responsible for the arms ship. What about some accountability for Israel?

Or is it that the world is simply willing to ignore the solution to the Palestinian refugee problem that Israel is making happen on the ground é or rather, throwing them into the sea.

Adam Shapiro is an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement and resides in Ramallah, Palestine.