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Standing Up to Home Demolitions

25 July 2019

Her gates have sunk into the ground, He has smashed her bars to bits; Her king and her leaders are in exile, Instruction is no more; Her prophets, too, receive no vision from the Lord. (Lamentations 2:9)

These are the words of Eicha, our prophet of lamentations whose scroll of mourning we chant every year on the occasion of Tish’a B’av, the day Jews commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem. I recalled those pained and searing words this week as the Israeli army demolished homes of Jerusalemites.

Early on Monday morning, the Israeli Defense Forces began a 17-hour long operation—to demolish 13 residential buildings in the neighborhood of Wadi Hummus, in East Jerusalem. By the end, they had destroyed 72 housing units.

I urge you — take a moment and watch the footage of this demolition.

You will see an IDF bulldozer knocking in the roof of a house, until it crumples under the weight. After watching the residential building laden with explosives detonate and implode, an Israeli Border Police officer turns to his partner in crime, and exclaims, mazal tov! Imagine taking pride in the destruction of people’s homes.

“For your ruin is vast as the sea: Who can heal you?” (Lamentations 2:13)

Nothing illustrates better than this the phrase, “hakibbush mashkhit” – the common phrase uttered by those who realize the corrosive effect of Israel’s occupation on its democratic and humanistic norms. The occupation corrupts.

Wadi Hummus is located beyond the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, on the edge of the Sur Baher neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem. It is technically part of Area A of the West Bank, as designated by the Oslo Accords, and therefore falls under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Yet Wadi Hummus was included on the Israeli side of the separation barrier, and is thus physically separated from the rest of Area A in the West Bank. When the High Court of Justice ruled in favor of the state and allowed it to demolish these homes, it argued that they posed a “security threat” to the state of Israel: they were too close to Israel’s separation barrier.

But we know that Israel’s policy of home demolitions is not just about security. It is an ongoing policy that has been carried out for years that is part of a deliberate planning regime designed to prevent Palestinian demographic growth in East Jerusalem. We know this because our grantees have systematically documented Israel’s policies in East Jerusalem for decades, designed to secure a Jewish majority in the city by diminishing the possibility of Palestinian life and growth.

This has been done systematically. First, by denying Palestinians permits to build in East Jerusalem and subsequently demolishing the homes that they were denied permits to build. NIF grantee Ir Amim has been researching the policy of home demolitions in East Jerusalem for well over a decade. As Ir Amim’s Aviv Tatarsky told Haaretz, “In the name of the demographic war waged against East Jerusalem residents, the State of Israel is withholding approval of construction plans allowing those residents to legally build within the city.”

This is the frustrating and unjust cycle that prevents Palestinians from growing their communities. And the result is not just abstract. “I don’t know what to say” a 21-year old resident of Wadi Hummus, Louai Masouda, told the New York Times this week, “There are people with no homes now. Where can they live?”

Our grantee B’tselem has documented the numbers:

166. That is the number of people who have been left homeless as a result of Israel’s demolition of houses in East Jerusalem in 2019 alone.

90. That is the number of children who have been left homeless as a result of these demolitions in the same period of time.

Israel’s policy of home demolition is not the only form of displacement affecting the lives of Palestinians. It has been coupled with an equally odious system for revoking Palestinian residency in East Jerusalem—effectively a policy of “quiet deportation.”

This is what occupation looks like in East Jerusalem.

Israel’s demolition of unauthorized Palestinian structures has accelerated massively under President Donald Trump. That makes a lot of sense. Prime Minister Netanyahu and pro-annexationist government know a green light when they see one. Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy for negotiations, recently said, that he “hasn’t found anything to criticize” in Netanyahu’s policies.

But, of course, there are Israelis fighting back. They are fighting back by documenting these abuses, by shedding light on these policies. And they are fighting back by organizing in the streets. This week, our grantee Omdim B’Yachad (Standing Together) will demonstrate at the doorstep of Israel’s Prime Minister, bringing together Arabs and Jews and Israelis of all kinds to say in unison: “Enough to the demolition of homes.”

The New Israel Fund will stand by those Israelis who are holding up a torch, shining a light toward a different future.