Israel’s long campaign of home demolitions back in the spotlight

Israel’s long campaign of home demolitions back in the spotlight

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A Palestinian boy looks on as municipality workers demolish a house in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Tzur Baher. (AP Photo)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has announced its plans to investigate war crimes committed by Israelis and yet, despite that, Israel continues to commit war crimes and violate international laws such as the Fourth Geneva Convention.
These crimes don’t just involve what Israel has called the “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinian targets it has asserted but never proven were involved in “terrorism,” but also even more heinous crimes that have wider repercussions for a large population of civilians: The destruction of homes and eviction of civilians specifically because of their religion.
According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Israel’s government set a record for destroying the largest number of non-Jewish homes in occupied East Jerusalem last year. The group said Israel demolished 169 housing units in the city in 2019 — more than in any year since 2004, when it started keeping records. The second-highest number of homes demolished on Israeli orders was 92 in 2016.
The demolitions left 328 Palestinians homeless, 182 of them minors, according to the B’Tselem report released on Tuesday. In 42 cases, the homeowners were forced to demolish their own houses to avoid the hefty levies the city charges for doing the work itself. This is the highest number of such demolitions B’Tselem has recorded since it began keeping track. 
The rights group also reported this week that an additional 96 non-residential structures were demolished in East Jerusalem in the past year, 13 by the owners and the rest by the city.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Israel demolished another 256 homes in 2019, leaving 349 Palestinians homeless, including 160 minors.
Ordering the destruction of 425 homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank in a year may not seem like much but, according to another Israeli organization, Peace Now, there are a total of 40,000 homes owned by Palestinians that have been designated by Israel to be illegally built and so are also facing the threat of demolition.
The destruction of properties and eviction of non-Jewish families is a war crime, but obviously it is not Israel’s only war crime. Last week, B’Tselem issued another report stating that, in 2019, Israeli security forces killed 133 Palestinians, including 28 minors. These killings are not a “record,” though, just the continuation of an ugly policy by Israel’s apartheid government.
B’Tselem has been fearless in recording these atrocities despite coming under attack from Israelis and extremist American Jews, who seek to silence criticism and prevent the reporting of these statistics. When B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad addressed the UN in October 2018 and criticized Israel’s actions, Israeli ambassador Danny Danon made it quite clear what the government thinks of citizens who publicly report such facts. “Mr. El-Ad, you are an Israeli citizen who is serving our enemies. They’re using you against us. The soldiers of the (Israel Defense Forces) are protecting you and you are here to incriminate them,” Danon said. “Shame on you. Shame on you, you lousy collaborator.”
Israel hopes that, if these crimes are not spoken about or reported by the mainstream news media, it will be as if they never happened. But they did happen, and they continue to happen.
In the Gaza Strip alone, Israeli forces killed 104 Palestinians, including seven women and 22 minors, in 2019, B’Tselem reported. And, when you compile the statistics for all the years since 1967, there is clear evidence for the ICC to pursue.
One can argue that these Israeli atrocities against Palestinians parallel those committed against Jews in Germany in the early 1930s, at the start of the Nazi regime. For example, over a two-day period in November 1938, Germans rampaged through Jewish neighborhoods with the support of the government and vandalized homes, synagogues, businesses and schools. It was an atrocity that has come to be known as “Kristallnacht,” referencing the shattered glass from broken windows that littered the streets. This outrageous violation of human rights was rightly described as a pogrom by the victims and the mainstream news media in the West. It resulted in the deaths of more than 100 Jews and 30,000 others being forced from their homes.

Israel hopes that, if these crimes are not spoken about or reported by the mainstream news media, it will be as if they never happened.

Ray Hanania

It is hard not to compare the two events. The Germans, in one big sweep, destroyed hundreds of buildings and evicted thousands of people because of their religion. Israel has been doing the same to Palestinians over the course of more than 70 years.
Israel has not destroyed thousands of Palestinian homes in a single night; instead it has done it gradually over many years. Tens of thousands of properties have been destroyed by Israel, not just in East Jerusalem but in Palestinian cities, towns and villages. Many more people have been forced to flee from their homes.
Point this out to Israelis and they will express outrage at the comparison. The consequences of the Israeli government’s actions are “less,” they will argue. In Israel’s world, “less” seems to make it right. But not in the world of the ICC.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania
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