The night before President Obama’s State of our Union Address, Israeli authorities demolished the Beit Arabiya Peace Home for the fifth time.
Around about midnight on Monday, a bulldozer and a contingent of heavily armed Israeli soldiers once again demolished the home of Arabiya and Salim Shawamreh, and their seven children.
Also destroyed were residential and agricultural structures in the nearby Jahalin Bedouin compound and around eighty people including young children were displaced and left exposed in the desert on a cold rainy night.
Standing in solidarity with them were nonviolent Israeli and Palestinian activists who were threatened by the soldiers and Itay Epshtain, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions/ICAHD’s Co-Director, was also beaten.
Commenting on the upcoming visit by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing who was scheduled to visit the Beit Arabiya home, Itay Epshtain said, “It is our hope that while we cannot extend the same hospitality to the Special Raportueor, Prof. Raquel Rolnik will visit the ruins of Beit Arabiya and report on the utter cruelty and illegality of Israeli policies and practices, and that members of the international community will follow in her footsteps.”
While standing astride those ruins, ICAHD Director Dr. Jeff Halper, vowed, “We shall rebuild, we must rebuild as an act of political defiance of the occupation and protracted oppression of Palestinians.”
I once asked Jeff if the settlements were in actuality colonies- meaning foreigners had invaded and set up residence in another’s territory. Jeff 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.”
The US government and Media refer to the illegal colonies as “neighborhoods” but under international law all the settlements are considered illegal.
On my 2007 trip to Beit Arabiya, I rode upon roadways that link the settlements in a ring around the Old City of Jerusalem, and which Palestinians are denied access to. As we viewed acres of olive trees that had been chopped off by the Israeli army, Jeff Halper said, “I don’t just have a political problem with this Judiaization of the Old City, it is ecologically and environmentally offensive.”
I add it also is spiritually impoverished for 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 but the destruction of Palestinian homes, the stealing and destroying of their legal property, has got to be an abomination unto God as well as a crime against humanity.
Situated at the crossroads of Areas A, B and C, the Beit Arabiya home had been a meeting place for Israelis, Palestinian and International peace activists.
Area A, the smallest of the three is under Palestinian authority. Areas B and C are under Israeli control.
ICAHD has determined the reasons for home demolitions is political and intended to confine the 3 ½ million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza into small, crowded, impoverished and disconnected enclaves; bantustans.
ICAHD reported that in 2011, a total of 622 Palestinian structures were demolished by Israeli authorities, of which 36% (or 222) were family homes; the remainder were livelihood-related (including water storage and agricultural structures), resulting in 1,094 people displaced, almost double the number for 2010.
Israel currently controls 40% of the West Bank through 149 settlements and 102 outposts, housing more than 500,000 Jewish Israelis.
The Wall, home demolitions, forced evictions, land expropriation, settler violence, movement restrictions have all contributed to strangulating Palestinian communities and economy. While Palestinians live in chronic fear of displacement and dispersion, Israel secures its domination and control and US politicians turn a blind eye to the injustice.
In my minds eye, I can still see the mural that had been painted on the outer wall of the Beit Arabyia home by the North American Workers Against the USA occupation of Iraq and the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The mural depicted Rachel Corrie, the American who was run over by a USA made Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza when she stood up to defend the home of a pharmacist with five children just a few days before President Bush began bombing Baghdad. Also pictured was a pregnant Palestinian woman of ten who also had been run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer in Gaza. The angelic images of the two women floated above a depiction of a USA made Caterpillar bulldozer that had tipped to one side and was flanked by tanks and images of weapons of destruction and many people along a railroad track-a reminder that prior to 1948, Jews and Palestinians had worked together in peaceful solidarity to build a railroad.
The Arabyia home, Anata and the Shufat refugee camps are located in the very area where the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah once critiqued the violent conflicts in the Mid East, “I hear violence and destruction in the city, sickness and wounds are all I see.” [Jeremiah 6:7]
During my 2007 visit, Mohammad Alatar, film producer of “The Iron Wall” addressed my 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 USA and Russia, Israel is the third largest arms exporter in the world. It is a moral issue that the churches must address.”
The first time I heard Jeff Halper, ICAHD co-founder and Director speak was in December 2005 during Holy Land Trust’s Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance Conference, in Bethlehem. Jeff told 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.”
Halper, has been arrested by Israel more times than he can recall because of his nonviolent persistent resistance to the occupation of Palestine. Jeff once told me that every time he is arrested and sentenced to community service, 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 USA government ignores the situation.
“Look, Jesus 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!”
The Judaization of Palestine: 2011 Displacement Trends’ provides a political analysis of the root causes and consequences of Israel’s house demolition policy, focusing on the demolition of Palestinian homes and other structures in the Occupied West Bank. Click here to read the report.
For more information and coordination of visits to Beit Arabiya, please contact Itay Epshtain at [email protected] or +972-54-2623306