One of too many scenes of destruction across Israel. A.P. photo.
Facing multiple corruption charges and a tight upcoming election, Netanyahu has as usual turned to strident fear-mongering and racist nationalism, warning he alone can save Israel from the Arab threat and proclaiming that Israel officially - not just de facto - belongs to only its Jewish citizens. The election furor has helped obscure an alarming trend: Israel's increasingly flagrant calls for apartheid have led to a new "moral low ground" in an ethnic cleansing campaign that has seen record levels of Palestinian land stolen and homes demolished. Numbers tell the tale. In the last five years, Israel's forced demolitions, notably of Bedouin homes in the Negev, have tripled. In 2018, says a report by the Palestinian Abdullah Al-Hurani Center, Israel destroyed 538 "illegally built" Palestinian homes, as well as 12 schools and kindergartens, in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem; the carnage left over 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, homeless. To make the process as evil as possible, Israel's Civil Administration often issues the orders less than 30 days before the demolition date to cut short the possibility of an appeal.
The destruction of homes is just part of Israel's relentless and escalating campaign of Palestinian dispossession. It includes the theft through military acquisition of vast swaths of land that inevitably, illegally go to settlers - who then build communities that bar Palestinians from living there. Since 1969, a new study shows, over 1,150 seizure orders have resulted in an estimated 25,000 acres being turned over to build 45 settlements boasting thousands of homes, all for Jews alone. Unsurprisingly, the declared purpose for such seizure, "security and military needs," masks a duplicitous military bureaucracy that twists existing laws into unrecognizable shapes in order to facilitate the growth of illegal settlements. Especially since the rise of Likud in the 1970s, those allocations have spiked, with almost three-quarters of seizures going to settlements - a process, most of the world continues to fruitlessly point out, that violates the Geneva Convention and other international laws.
The inexorable, unconscionable theft of place - both land and home - is most visible in East Jerusalem, which since 1967 has seen the number of Palestinians increase five-fold even as the city is increasingly controlled by Jewish officials and settlers intent on driving them out. Since the start of the Occupation, Israel has built roughly 55,000 homes for Jews; fewer than 600 were built, mostly 40 years ago, for the now 380,000 Palestinians who make up 40% of the population. Thanks to Byzantine rules by which Israel rejects almost all Palestinian requests for building permits - which can cost $30,000 - about half of those who manage to put a modest roof over their heads do so without licensing; thus, the mass demolition of "illegal homes" in what many bitterly call the "city of destruction." Since 1967, Israel has destroyed at least 5,000 Palestinian homes; in the past 15 years, over 800, and last year, at least 63, with the dispossessed, for lack of better options, often setting up camp in the rubble. Others lose homes not to demolition but newly brazen theft by settler: Last week, settlers seized the home of an elderly Palestinian couple who were out grocery shopping; when Palestinian youths tried to protect the home, Israeli forces teargassed and detained them.
In an uncommonly cruel twist, even by Israeli standards, more and more Palestinians are faced with an impossible choice: Destroy their own homes, or pay the oppressor ruinous charges of up to $36,000 to do it for them. Across the Occupied Territories, an estimated 100 homes were razed by their owners in the last few years, including one by a man on his wedding day. Since the start of this year, says Israeli rights group B’Tselem, at least 13 Palestinians in East Jerusalem destroyed their own homes. One was mechanic Mustafa Subah, who after a 15-year, $110,000 legal battle, took on the mournful task of single-handedly dismantling his own home and that of his daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren. They have moved into a relative's cramped house; Mustafa, his wife and three younger children are squeezed into the two rooms of a tiny-but-still-standing structure, waiting, anguished, to hear if they'll have to raze that too. Mustafa is, he says, "a quiet man," but Israel has "turned me into a criminal." He laments his lost home - "It wasn't a big house, only something to shelter people" - and issues a plaintive, universal, soul-wrenching cry: "I say, let us live."
"You demolish your home. With your own hands, you bulldoze a life’s project. All your memories and all the fruits of your labor and your savings (become) heaps of rubble... Then you turn to the adjacent house of your daughter, your son-in-law and your grandchildren, and you demolish it, too, with your own hands. You ravage your past and your children’s future. It’s all done according to the law, by the book. And all of it reflects the policy of occupation in Jerusalem: Embitter the lives of the Palestinian residents...treat them with a heavy hand, torment them....This is the epitome of the occupation and the epitome of apartheid." - Gideon Levy on the awful, room by room destruction.
Photo by Mussa Qawasma
Mustafa Subah in the ruins of his home. Photo by Alex Levac