[News] Palestine - The Message of the Bulldozers

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Aug 16 12:52:13 EDT 2010


August 16, 2010

Ramadan Kareem: From the Netanyahu and Obama Administrations

The Message of the Bulldozers


On the day before the Muslim holy month of 
Ramadan began, at 2:30 in the morning, workers 
sent by the Israeli authorities, protected by 
dozens of police, destroyed the tombstones in the 
last portion of the Mamilla cemetery, an historic 
Muslim burial ground with graves going back to 
the 7th Century, hitherto left untouched. The 
government of Israel has always been fully 
cognizant of the sanctity and historic 
significance of the site. Already in 1948, when 
control of the cemetery reverted to Israel, the 
Israeli Religious Affairs Ministry recognized 
Mamilla “to be one of the most prominent Muslim 
cemeteries, where seventy thousand Muslim 
warriors of [Saladin’s] armies are interred along 
with many Muslim scholars. Israel will always 
know to protect and respect this site.” For all 
that, and despite (proper) Israeli outrage when 
Jewish cemeteries are desecrated anywhere in the 
world, the dismantlement of the Mamilla cemetery 
has been systematic. In the 1960s “Independence 
Park” was built over a portion of it; 
subsequently an urban road was built through it, 
major electrical cables were laid over graves and 
a parking lot constructed over yet another piece. 
Now some 1,500 Muslim graves have been cleared in 
several nighttime operations to make way for
$100 million Museum of Tolerance and Human 
Dignity, a project of the Simon Wiesenthal Center 
in Los Angeles. (Ironically, Rabbi Marvin Hier, 
the Wiesenthal Center’s Director, appeared on Fox 
News to express his opposition to the 
construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in 
Manhattan, because the site of the 9/11 attack “is a cemetery.”)

The month-long period between Netanyahu’s July 
6th visit to Washington and the start of Ramadan 
has provided Israel with a window to “clear the 
table” after a frustrating hiatus on home 
demolitions imposed by the “old,” mildly critical 
Obama Administration – although there is no 
guarantee that Israel will not demolish during 
Ramadan, especially if it wants to exploit the 
period until the November elections, knowing that 
until then Obama will not overtly oppose anything 
it does in the Occupied Territories. In fact, the 
process of demolishing Palestinian homes never 
ceased. On June 6th, for example, a year after 
the demolition of more than 65 structures and the 
forced displacement of more than 120 people, 
including 66 children, nine families of Khirbet 
Ar Ras Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, totaling 70 
people, received a new round of “evacuation 
orders.” A week later the Israeli High Court 
ordered the Civil Administration to “step up 
enforcement against illegal Palestinian 
structures” in Area C, the 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

And so, on July 13th, upon Netanyahu’s return 
(Palestinian homes are not demolished without an 
OK from the Prime Minister’s Office), three homes 
were demolished in the Palestinian East Jerusalem 
neighborhood of Issawiya, followed by three more 
homes in Beit Hanina. The Jerusalem Municipality 
also announced the planned demolition of 19 more 
homes in Issawiya this month. In the West Bank, 
the Israeli “Civil” Administration demolished 55 
structures belonging to 22 Palestinian families 
in the Hmayer area of Al Farisiye in the northern 
Jordan Valley, including 22 residential tents and 
30 other structures used to shelter animals and 
store agricultural equipment. According to the 
UN’s Office of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA): “This 
week [July 14-20, the week of Netanyahu’s return 
from Washington] there was a significant increase 
in the number of demolitions in Area C, with at 
least 86 structures demolished in the Jordan 
Valley and the southern West Bank, including 
Bethlehem and Hebron districts. In 2010, at least 
230 Palestinian structures have been demolished 
in Area C, forcibly displacing 1100 people, 
including 400 children. Approximately 600 others 
have been otherwise affected.” Two-thirds of the 
demolitions for 2010 have occurred since 
Netanyahu’s meeting with Obama. More than 3,000 
demolition orders are outstanding in the West 
Bank, and up to 15,000 in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

The demolition of homes is, of course, only a 
small, if painful, part of the destruction Israel 
wreaks daily on the Palestinian population. Over 
the past few weeks a violent campaign has been 
waged against Palestinian farmers in one of the 
most fertile agricultural areas of the West Bank, 
the Baka Valley, steadily being encroached upon 
by large suburbs of the settlement of Kiryat 
Arba, in Hebron. Israel already takes 85% of the 
West Bank’s water for its own use, either for 
settlements (settlers use five times more water 
per capita as do Palestinians, and Ma’aleh Adumim 
is currently building a water park in addition to 
its four municipal swimming pools and the huge 
fountains constantly flowing in the city center) 
or to be pumped into Israel proper – all in 
flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva 
Convention, which prohibits an Occupying Power 
from using the resources of an occupied territory.

Accusing the farmers of “stealing water” – their 
own water – the Israel water company Mekorot, 
supported by the Civil Administration and the 
IDF, has in recent weeks destroyed dozens of 
wells, some of them ancient, and reservoirs used 
to collect rain water, which is also “illegal.” 
Hundreds of hectares of agricultural land have 
dried up as irrigation pipes have been pulled out 
and confiscated by the Civil Administration. 
Fields of tomatoes, beans, eggplants and 
cucumbers are dying just before they can be 
harvested, and the grape industry in this rich 
valley is threatened with destruction. “I’m 
watching my life dry up before my eyes,” Ata 
Jaber, a Palestinian farmer who has had his home 
demolished twice, most of whose land lies buried 
under the Givat Harsina neighborhood of Kiryat 
Arba and whose plastic drip irrigation pipes are 
destroyed annually by the Civil Administration 
just before he can harvest. “I had hoped to sell 
my crop for at least $2000 before Ramadan, but all is gone.”

Settlements continue to be built, of course. The 
much-trumpeted “settlement freeze” amounted to no 
less than a temporary lull in construction. 
(Indeed, Netanyahu never used the word “freeze”; 
in Hebrew he refers only to a “pause.”) According 
to the August report of Peace Now’s Settlement 
Watch, at least 600 housing units have started to 
be built during the freeze, in over 60 different 
settlements – meaning that the rate of 
construction is about half of that during the 
same period in an average year when there is no 
freeze. Given that the approval process has never 
been halted – the Israeli government announced 
the planned building of 1600 housing units in the 
settlements when Vice President Biden was 
visiting, if you recall – making up for lost time 
when the “freeze” ends in late September will be 
an easy task. According to Ha’aretz, some 2,700 
housing units are waiting to be constructed.

The fact that the so-called settlement freeze did 
not really end settlement construction is 
obvious. The American government seems ready to 
accept lip-service only from Israel, as against 
overt and brutal threats towards the Palestinians 
if they do not acquiesce to the charade. 
Palestinian negotiators revealed last week the 
Obama Administration threatened to cut all ties 
with the Palestinian Authority, political and 
financial, if they continued to insist on a 
genuine freeze on settlements or even clear 
parameters on what the sides will negotiate. 
(Netanyahu refuses to accept even the elementary 
principle of the 1967 borders being the basis of talks.)

Just as destructive of any real peace process, 
however, is the fact that the focus on settlement 
freeze deflects attention from attempts by Israel 
to create “irreversible facts on the ground” 
which will defeat the very process of 
negotiation. Even if Israel did respect a 
settlement freeze, there is no demand, no 
expectation, absolutely nothing to prevent it 
from continuing to build the Wall (the enclosing 
of the Shuafat refugee camp inside Jerusalem and 
the town of Anata is being completed in these 
very days, and the village of Wallajeh, some of 
which spills into Jerusalem, is losing its lands, 
ancient olive trees and homes even as we speak). 
Nothing is preventing Israel from continuing to 
impoverish and imprison the Palestinian 
population through its twenty-year economic 
“closure,” including the siege on Gaza, having 
reduced the Palestinian economy to ashes. Nothing 
stands in the way of completing a system of 
parallel (though not equal in size and quality) 
apartheid highways, big ones, going through 
Palestinian lands, for Israelis; narrow ones for 
Palestinians. Nothing keeps Israel from expelling 
Palestinian from their homes so that Jewish 
settlers can move in – on July 29th nine families 
living in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, 
returning home at night from a wedding, found 
themselves locked out of their homes by settlers 
and prevented from entering by the police. 
(Palestinians, of course, have no legal recourse 
to reclaiming their properties, whole villages, 
towns and urban neighborhoods, farms, factories 
and commercial buildings, confiscated from them in 1948 and after.)

Nothing prevents Israel from terrorizing the 
Palestinian population, whether by its own army 
or the surrogate militia founded by the US and 
run by the Palestinian Authority to pacify its 
own population, whether by settlers who shoot and 
beat Palestinians and burn their crops with no 
fear of arrest, or by undercover agents, aided by 
thousands of Palestinian forced to become 
collaborators, many simply so that their children 
could receive medical care or so they could have 
a roof over their heads; whether by expulsion or 
the myriad administrative constraints of an 
invisible yet Kafkaesque system of total control 
and intimidation. Nothing opposes Israel’s 
boycott of the Palestinian people, isolated from 
the world by Israeli-controlled borders, or 
policies that effectively boycott Palestinian 
schools and universities by preventing their 
proper functioning. And nothing, absolutely 
nothing, stops Israel from demolishing 
Palestinian homes – 24,000 in the Occupied 
Territories since 1967, and counting.

Perhaps this way of welcoming Ramadan comes at no 
surprise in terms of the Occupied Territories. It 
took on an entirely different cast when, on July 
26th, more than 1,300 Israeli Border Police, the 
shock-troops of the police’s Yassam “special 
operations” unit and regular police, accompanied 
by helicopters, descended upon the Bedouin 
village of al-Arakib, just north of Beer-Sheva, a 
community within Israel inhabited by Israeli 
citizens. Forty-five homes were demolished, 300 
people forcibly displaced. One of the most 
grotesque and dismaying parts of this operation 
was the use of Israeli Jewish high school 
students, volunteers with the civil guard, to 
remove the belongings of their fellow citizens 
from their homes before the demolition. Besides 
reports of vandalism and contempt for their 
victims the students were photographed lounging 
in the residents’ furniture in plain sight of its 
owners. Finally, when the bulldozers began 
demolishing the homes, the volunteers cheered and 
celebrated. Over the next week, as Israeli 
activists helped the residents pick up the pieces 
and rebuild their homes, the Jewish National 
Fund, the Israeli Land Authority, the Ministry of 
the Interior and the “Green Patrol” of the 
Ministry of Agriculture (established by Ariel 
Sharon to prevent Bedouin “take-over” of the 
Negev) sent in police and bulldozers and had the village demolished twice more.

Although al-Arakib is one of 44 “unrecognized” 
Bedouin villages in the Negev – of which only 
eleven have even rudimentary education and 
medical services, no electricity, extremely 
limited access to water and none have paved roads 
– it is nevertheless populated by Israeli 
citizens, some of whom serve in the Israeli army. 
While demolitions of Arab homes within Israel is 
not a new phenomenon – last year the Israeli 
government demolished three times more houses of 
Israeli (Arab) citizens inside Israel as it did 
in the Occupied Territories (the destruction of 
up to 8,000 homes in the Gaza invasion aside) – 
it signifies that the term “occupation” cannot be 
restricted to the West Bank, East Jerusalem and 
Gaza (and the Golan Heights) alone. The situation 
of Arab citizens of Israel is almost as insecure 
as that of the Palestinians of the Occupied 
Territories, and their exclusion from Israeli 
society almost as complete. While around 1,000 
cities, towns and agricultural villages have been 
established in Israel since 1948 exclusively for 
Jews, not a single new Arab settlement has been 
established, with the exception of seven housing 
projects for Bedouins in the Negev where none of 
the residents are allowed to farm or own animals. 
Indeed, regulations and zoning prohibit 
Palestinian citizens of Israel from living on 96% 
of the country’s land, which is reserved for Jews only.

The message of the bulldozers is clear: Israel 
has created one bi-national entity between the 
Mediterranean and the Jordan River in which one 
population (the Jews) has separated itself from 
the other (the Arabs) and instituted a regime of 
permanent domination. That is precisely the 
definition of apartheid. And the message is 
delivered clearly in the weeks and days leading 
up to Ramadan. It is papered over with fine 
words. Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “We 
mark this important month amid attempts to 
achieve direct peace talks with the Palestinians 
and to advance peace treaties with our Arab 
neighbors. I know you are partners in this goal 
and I ask for your support both in prayers and in 
any other joint effort to really create a 
peaceful and harmonious coexistence.” Obama and 
Clinton also sent their greetings to the Muslim 
world, Obama observing that Ramadan “remind us of 
the principles that we hold in common, and 
Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, 
tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings." 
Both the White House and the State Department 
will hold Iftar meals. But the bulldozers and 
other expressions of apartheid and warehousing tell a much different story.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the 
<http://www.icahd.org>Israeli Committee Against 
House Demolitions. He can be reached at <mailto:jeff at icahd.org>jeff at icahd.org.

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