On Demolishing Homes and Drifting Right

Abby Zimet

Visiting the Middle East this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the evidently unwarranted Israeli demolition of 55 Palestinian apartments in Jerusalem "unhelpful." This is a start, though given everything else of an unhelpful nature unfolding in the Middle East these days, it's a damn small start.

During her visit, Clinton called the Palestinian Authority the "only
legitimate government of the Palestinian people" and repeated the American vow to distribute $900 million in aid only to the PA, even though Hamas legally rules Gaza and PA President Mahmoud Abbas has steadily lost support to Hamas. Clinton also met with hard-liner Benjamin Netanyahu, even though he opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports an ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements widely acknowledged to render the prospect of peace increasingly unlikely.

All this, after Israel issued orders to demolish five buildings holding 55 Palestinian apartments in east Jerusalem, claiming they were built illegally. Palestinians say they cannot get proper building permits
from Israeli authorities intent on limiting their access to the disputed city.

"Clearly, this kind of activity is unhelpful," Clinton said of the planned demolitions. For good if somewhat irrelevant measure, she added that such actions violate a
U.S.-backed "road map" that Israel has consistently ignored at every turn for several years now.

Clinton's right. Destroying buildings where ordinary Palestinian families live, for no apparent reason other than either meaningless bureaucracy or political malevolence, is unhelpful. So was the Israeli killling of hundreds of children in Gaza. And using white phosphorus there. And shooting at ambulances. And blocking humanitarian aid. And continuing to build and support illegal settlements that do nothing to bolster Israeli "security" but which inflame a long-simmering Palestinian anger at having lost seemingly everything – land, rights, identity – and yet somehow continuing to lose even more. There is much here that is unhelpful, and will remain so until the U.S., as the largest power broker in the region, boycotts, divests and sanctions Israel to pressure it to end its abuses.


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Until that happens, Israel seems to drift further and further rightward. As the intractable Netanyahu prepares to form a coalition government, Alternet reports on a disturbing development: growing acceptance of what was once deemed the racist notion of expulsion, or "transfer" of Palestinians to some other, as yet-unnamed place.

Transfer. For Jews, the word has to conjure up the Holocaust. The ghetto. The trains. The camps. The connection is inescapable for any of us, which is all of us, observant or no, who have grown up with it, read of it, heard tell of it, felt our history resonate within us. To round up a people and ship them out: Is this what Israel has become?

The United States has given Israel too much money and support and military hardware over too much time not to  bear some moral and political responsibility for what has been done with it. Many of us grieve over the Israeli occupation and the harm it has brought to so many in the name of a false security. But grief has accomplished little. Action – in the form of economic sanctions and international pressure – might bring a return to the peace table.

Anything less is unhelpful.  

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