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House demolitions: Zionism's constant background noise

Hardly a day goes by without the State of Israel demolishing an Arab home between the Jordan River and the sea. The hum of bulldozers is the constant background noise of Zionism. Listen to it for a few moments.

By Idan Landau, translated from Hebrew by Ofer Neiman

House demolition in Anata, Northern Jerusalem, April 14, 2008 (Photo: Meged Gozani/Activestills.org)

When people summarize the Zionist project, with the fanfare of victory or the gloom of defeat, one thing will be certain, they will be puzzled over one strange mystery. How could so many people associate Zionism with creation and construction, and not with regression and destruction. After all, in parallel with the endless construction frenzy, especially beyond the green line, the hum of bulldozers has always been audible: beating, breaking, shattering. Housing projects for new Jewish immigrants were built in record speed. Build-your-own-house neighborhoods, neighborhoods for IDF career officers, commuter suburbs, and luxury residential towers popped up everywhere; and at the very same time, the angel of Zionist history left more and more piles of ruin and devastation behind.

The demolition policy has, of course, been the Arabs’ share. From time to time, the state demolishes a tiny shred of a Jewish outpost in the occupied territories; just going through the motions, while bowing sanctimoniously to the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ). Let no one compare the master race, whose members have the benefit of myriad legal options when building their house, to the enslaved race, whose members are denied access to land, everywhere, by mountains of legal barriers; those who wish and even succeed in building their home on stolen land, to those who wish and fail to build their home on their own private land; those whose house will be protected by the sovereign through a reign of terror imposed on their neighbors, to those who can only dream of having the sovereign’s protection.

And perhaps those analysts in the future will inquire further as to why so few Israelis knew about this devastation at all, even though it took place constantly, week by week. Hardly a day goes by between the Jordan River and the sea, without a demolition of an Arab home by the State of Israel. And they will be baffled by the short Israeli memory, a memory that had forgotten long ago that the foreign British rule had committed the same crimes against us. And the greatest mystery of all will regard those who had known, yet had always assumed that the demolition policy was right, appropriate, legally justified; those who had assumed, with unquestionable simplicity, that half of the population between the river and the sea, which happens to be the Arabic-speaking half, was also delinquent by nature, simply unable to abide by the laws of planning and construction; and not only that, the other half also suffered from such staggering folly and shortsightedness, that it brought those endless demolitions upon itself, impoverishing itself to perdition in the process. After all, would there be anything simpler than lawful planning, and lawful submission of plans, and lawful attainment of permits, followed by construction? In short, is there anything simpler than being Jewish?

Yes, that is what law-abiding Israelis think to themselves, and someone will be perplexed by this as well one day. Let us now put all this perplexity aside, and get back to the dismal reality of rubble and furniture lying upside down. It happens all the time, with hardly any media coverage; reports go through one ear and come out through the other. The hum of bulldozers is the constant background noise of Zionism. Listen to it for a few moments.


The demolition of the el-Arabiyeh family home in Anata exceeds all the terrible things I have seen in my 17 years in Rabbis for Human Rights. The sight of a boy or a girl coming back from school and discovering that their house was demolished is something I would not wish my worst enemies to see.
(Rabbi Arik Asherman)

* * *

Excluding bodily and psychological harm, no graver cruelty can be inflicted on people than the demolition of their home. The financial consequence for most people is the loss of most of the capital they had accrued throughout their lives; being pushed back 20-30 years as far as their financial independence is concerned. But the demolition amounts of course to much more than that. It’s a demolition of the personal, intimate space where one’s most precious memories were formed; for a child – it is the space where all her/his intimate memories were formed. Every little detail of the house, seemingly trivial to the outside observer, is loaded with intensive meaning to those living in it. The tree in the backyard, the angle formed by shadows penetrating the room, the cracked door frame, the personal arrangement of clothes or toys. All these are wiped out in a brutal instant when the bulldozer goes over your house, and you are bound to feel disconnected – sheer detachment and floating in an alienating, impersonal space; this word, which has undergone such appalling devaluation in our language – “Trauma” – describes the situation precisely.

* * *

The State of Israel demolishes, time and time again. Here is a sequence of such demolitions, a devastating sequence, from the beginning of the year up to the past few days. It is impossible to document everything. Hundreds of photos, of every single house demolished by the state in the past six months, cannot be uploaded. One must perceive the catastrophe, but it is imperceptible. For now, we will settle for a sample. Hail the demolishing hero.

The State of Israel demolished the house of Rafat Issawi, in order to pressure his brother Samer, who went on hunger strike, Issawiya, East Jerusalem, Jan 4 2013, (photo: Activestills/Shiraz Grinbaum)


The State of Israel demolished four houses and left 36 people homeless, Um el-Kheir, South Hebron Hills, Jan 14 2013, (photo: Activestills/Keren Manor) 


The State of Israel demolished 70 structures and left an unknown number of people homeless, Jan 17 2013, Hamam el-Maleh, Jordan Valley, (photo: Activestills/Ahmed el-Bazz)

The State of Israel demolished 55 structures, leaving 187 people homeless, El-Maita, Jordan Valley Jan 20 2013, (photo: Activestills/Keren Manor)   

The State of Israel demolished two houses and left 30 people homeless, Feb. 5 2013, Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem. (photo: WAFA)

The State of Israel demolished the Abu-Saffa family house, leaving 12 people homeless, Feb 18, Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem. (photo: PNN.)

The State of Israel demolished a restaurant, Beit Jalla, Apr 18 2013. (photo: Anne Paq/Activestills)

The State of Israel demolished parts of the Jaradat family house, a-Tur, East Jerusalem, Apr 24 2013 (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills)

The State of Israel demolished the Sabah family house and left two parents and five children homeless, Shuafat Refugee Camp, May 20 2013. (photo: Tali Maier/Activestills)

The State of Israel demolished 15 structures and left tens of Bedouins homeless in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Atir, Negev (within the 67 borders), Mat 21 2013. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

The State of Israel demolished two apartments belonging to the el-Salaima family, leaving 13 people homeless, Beit Hanina, East Jerusalem, May 21 2013. (photo: Lazar Simeonov) 

* * *

In 2011 alone, Israel demolished around 1,000 houses in the Bedouin villages in the Negev. The Ministry of Interior refuses to disclose data for 2012.

In 2012 alone, Israel demolished around 600 buildings throughout the West Bank. As a result, 880 people, more than half of them children, have lost their homes. Around 90 percent of the demolitions were carried out in Area C, and the rest in East Jerusalem.

As of now, more than 400 houses in neighborhoods of East Jerusalem are under the threat of imminent demolition.

Since 1967, Israel has demolished more than 28,000 Palestinian buildings in the Occupied Territories.

37 percent of state owned land on the West Bank has been allotted to Jewish settlements since 1967. Over the same period, just 0.7 percent of this land has been allotted to Palestinians.

Since 1967, East Jerusalem’s Palestinian population has grown by almost 250,000; throughout the same period, only 3,900 building permits have been issued in that part of the city.

Nearly half of East Jerusalem still does not have zoning plans, after 46 years. 35 percent of the planning area has been designated as “open view areas,” on which construction is prohibited. Just 17 percent of Palestinian East Jerusalem is available to residents for housing and construction, and these land resources have been nearly exhausted. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have no legal way of building houses.  

Between 2005 and 2009, the construction of 18,000 housing units in Jerusalem was approved; just 13 percent of them were in Palestinian East Jerusalem.

In most parts of East Jerusalem, building density is restricted to 75 percent. In West Jerusalem, the rate goes up to 150 percent.

180,000 Palestinians who reside in Area C have to settle for just 0.5 percent of this area for legal construction.

In 2009-2010 just 13 out of 776 requests for building permits by Palestinians in Area C were approved, no more than 1.7 percent.

Demolition orders have been issued against the majority of the buildings in the 180-year-old village of Hirbet Susya, home to 250 people, and the same goes for the inhabitants of the Hirbet Dukaikah and Hirbet Zanuta (Hebrew), home to 550 people. The State of Israel intends to wipe out entire villages in Area C.

* * *

And what happens when you demolish the wrong house? Mistakes (by Jews) are paid for (by Arabs), and then you confess (to Jews) and get a warm embrace:

* * *

Your country lies desolate,

   Your cities are burned up with fire.

   Foreigners devour them in your presence,

   And it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers


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    1. Danny

      Indefensibly criminality by an indefensible criminal state that happens to have, for the moment, powerful friends.

      In the future, when justice catches up to Israel (and it will), Israelis will be stunned by the consequences of the despicable acts of their state.

      In my humble estimation, Israel owes the Palestinians restitution going back to 1948 in a staggering amount that probably exceeds $100 billion.

      Israel will probably be paying the Palestinians compensation well into the 22nd century.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        I’d prefer bulldozer noise over “Allah uakbar” screams any time.

        By the way, Israel would have to compensate Arabs only if other 42 000 000 world’s refugees are going to be compensated, which is highly unlikely.

        p.s. the fact that only Palestinian Arab refugees are granted refugee status beyond 1st generation is absolutely racist.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gearoid

          You disgusting coward.

          Let’s get your home demolished eh? I’m sure it’s nothing, if you’re so casual about it happening to thousands of Palestinians.

          I have no idea how to deal with such a disgusting human being. That you could look at this and spew more racist crap beggars the mind. Do you even have a soul? Or did you trade it for the certainty that you are “right”, no matter how horrible and cowardly the action taken is?

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Irrelevant ad-hominem mumbling.

            Omnia mea mecum porto.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            Homeless CHILDREN are irrelevant to you?

            That is what is being done in your name. May you pay for every action in this world or the next,three times over.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            No, silly. You mumbling is irrelevant.

            By the way, poor Allah – so much unthinkable cruelty is done in his name. By your logic he would never stop paying for that.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gearoid

            The response of an Islamophobic bigot.

            Also absolute nonsense unless you consider yourself a God.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The response of an Islamophobic bigot.

            Oh, I see. Unspeakable cruelty done in the name of Allah is good and acceptable and Allah should not be held responsible, while some cruelty supposedly done in my name should be my burden for few reincarnations.

            Truly, one of us is an idiot.

            >Also absolute nonsense unless you consider yourself a God.

            Well, almost.

            “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” (Genesis 3:22)

            Reply to Comment
    2. The video, above, explains Trespasser’s reaction: deflect at all costs.

      There is human dignity and it has been/is being violated massively. As tiny example, that family in the video whose house was “accidently” destroyed was undoubtedly given no real compensation at all. The law has been stillborn here.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >There is human dignity…

        The “human dignity” is not something standard/inherent/equivalent to all.

        In some societies (shall I point my finger?) basic “dignity” or “honour” requires that a female who dates males from another society should be killed. Or a heart of slain opponent can be consumed. Or child killers are national heroes.

        Reply to Comment
        • zafarov

          Another ad nauseum bit of Hasbara whatabouterry.

          Reply to Comment
        • William Burns

          You got some problem with Phineas? What are you, an anti-semite?

          Reply to Comment
    3. rsgengland

      Using the terms “master race” and “enslaved race”, conjures up memories of the near past in the form of Nazism.
      by the use of these terms,I wonder if this is what the author of the article is trying to imply.
      Either way, these terms are both racist in the context of the article, and lays the author open to the charges of racism that he is implying against Israel.
      Using the term Palestinian East Jerusalem is also a misnomer.
      Jerusalem has only ever been divided once; that was from 1948 to 1967 when Jordan invaded, occupied and annexed part of the city.
      It was called, and still is called, East Jerusalem.
      There was a significant Jewish population in East Jerusalem [including the OLD CITY] that were Ethnically Cleansed by the Jordanians during the war of 1948,
      making this area effectively “JEW FREE”/

      Reply to Comment
    4. Rudi Messiah

      good to see brave words like these.
      this is a dilemma that wont be ever solved. a Jewish (or Islamic or Christian) state can never treat its citizens equally whatever u try to change in laws and fix behavior or criticize. what is based on wrong will always be wrong no matter how u try to fix it.
      I respect the Israeli leftist groups and individual for saying the truth, but what they wish to happen can never be implemented on the ground. the only solution was and still is, a one secular democratic state. 2 states solution has already failed, which simply means war will be on until what I said happens.

      Reply to Comment
      • Shmuel

        “a Jewish (or Islamic or Christian) state can never treat its citizens equally”

        Britain is a Christian state. It’s state religion is Anglicanism. Are you saying they don’t treat their citizens equally??

        Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia are Islamic states. The charter of the PLO states that Palestine’s state religion is Islam.

        Yet self righteous leftists only ever single out the only Jewish state in the world in a negative way. This is in spite of centuries of discrimination against Jews by both christians and Muslims when Jews were minorities amongst them. Yet now that some Jews said ‘ENOUGH’ since you dislike us so much, we will live in our own state. Now you object to that too.

        You know what I think Rudi? I think that the old Jew hatred of SOME Christians and SOME Muslims, morphed into a new type of hatred. Now they hate Zionism which is the idea of Jews living in their own state. But just because you give it a different name, it does not mean that the new hatred is not the same as the old hatred.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Shmuel

      “You disgusting coward …”

      You are the disgusting coward Gearoid.

      When Israel bashers have no real facts, they use emotive arguments, out of context stories and lies.

      They appeal to base emotions rather than choose rational discussion about the root cause of this conflict.

      I’ll give them this though. It appeals to certain types of human beings and their propaganda IS effective. At least for a while …

      Reply to Comment
    6. One reacts to violations of dignity as one can. It makes no difference if the violated individual is labeled as coming from a people who violate dignity themselves. The person before me evokes the issue of dignity. To refuse to violate dignity is to say “that I will not become.”

      Again, the video relates a clear violation of dignity absent all cause–save being of the wrong label. No compensation was offered, I am sure. Is this what Israel wants to be?

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >It makes no difference if the violated individual is labelled as coming from a people who violate dignity themselves.

        It might not make difference for you, but it certainly makes some difference for me.

        People who support honour killings, cannibalism, suicide bombings or female genital mutilation are savages and should be treated accordingly.

        You see, it does not matter what horrifying deeds are done by some people, but rather how are they accepted by the society in a whole.

        For example, there are Jews and Arabs who are beating their wives. But in Arabs state it is not considered as a criminal offence (but rather a recommended course of action to deal with a disobeying wife), while in Israel such person is sent to prison immediately.

        >The person before me evokes the issue of dignity. To refuse to violate dignity is to say “that I will not become.”

        Theoretically. In the real world, however, things work a bit differently.

        >Again, the video relates a clear violation of dignity absent all cause–save being of the wrong label.

        Yeah. Such a shame that real world is not a fair place.

        >No compensation was offered, I am sure.

        You have no way of knowing that.

        >Is this what Israel wants to be?

        It is what Arabs had forced Israel to be.

        By events of 1517, 1660, 1834, 1838, 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, 1928, 1928, 1929, 1931, 1936, 1947, 1948, 1956, 1967, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978, 1981, 1989, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2008, 2011, 2012 and on some other occurrences.

        Now they are not happy with the outcome? Such a shame.

        Reply to Comment
    7. Tresspasser;

      A piece of hasbara filth. Worth no more than that.

      Reply to Comment
      • Nancy

        Dear missy
        The meaning of the word “Hasbarah” is “Explanation”. In other words, presenting perspective, context and another side of reality.

        You “progressives” could learn from it. All you guys ever do is present one side of the story in a zimplistic way. That is known as PROPAGANDA. You do know what that is? Of course you do ….

        For instance, you will never get + 972 magazine reporting on things like this:

        Arab Lynch Mob Attacks Jews in East Jerusalem


        Reply to Comment
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