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Activists resisting home demolitions face 'IDF Price Tag' attack

On Monday night, the IDF demolished Palestinian homes closely identified with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Resistance and acts of solidarity will continue, but even resistance cannot keep pace with the massive Price Tag assault that is the Israeli Occupation. 

Salim Shawamreh stands on the ruins of his demolished home (photo: Jeff Halper)

By Jeff Halper

It has become commonplace among violent West Bank settlers to randomly attack Palestinian mosques, homes, olive orchards and individuals in order to send a message to other Israelis. They are called “Price Tag” attacks, after the “signature” the settlers leave scrawled on the walls of the burnt-out buildings. In the dark of night this past Monday, January 23, the IDF carried out its own Price Tag assault on ICAHD, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

At 11:30 p.m. on that cold, rainy night, I got a panicky phone call from Salim Shawamreh, a Palestinian man from the West Bank town of Anata whose home has been demolished by the Israeli authorities four times and rebuilt as an act of resistance each time by ICAHD. “Army bulldozers are approaching my home,” he cried. “Now they’re beginning to demolish it!”

As has become routine, I alerted our activists, plus journalists and foreign diplomats, and we rushed out to Anata. We knew we could not save the homes, but we could resist; stand in solidarity with the families, soaked, with their belongings, in the rain; document what was happening and broadcast this latest war crime to the world. It was another of those thousands of attacks on Palestinians that occur daily but never reach the newspapers – probably because there are so many and they are so routine by now that they are not, in fact, “news.”

By the time we reached Salim’s house – which we rebuilt in 2003 and have called Beit Arabiya ever since, the “house of Arabiya,” home to Salim’s wife and mother of their seven children – it was gone. Salim himself was afraid to go down the hill to see it because of the soldiers, but I ran down. Even in the dark and rain I could see the ruins of the home, and the family’s belongings that had been thrown out. But I couldn’t tarry. The bulldozers had moved up the hill and were in the process of demolishing a Jahalin Bedouin enclave there – part of the Jahalin tribe that was being removed and relocated on top of the Jerusalem garbage dump near Abu Dis.

Our activists were already there, scuffling with the army and trying to reach the bulldozer to hamper its destruction. The soldiers, claiming that this was a “closed military area” but unable to produce any proper military order, attacked the activists physically and verbally. Itay Epshtain, ICAHD’s Co-Director, was hit with a gun and thrown to the ground. All the while, the soldiers cursed at “the anarchists and leftists.” One yelled at Rabbi Arik Aschermann from Rabbis For Human Rights to take of his skullcap because “he was a disgrace to Judaism.” But it was the women who received the most violent verbal abuse, in addition to physical. “May the Arabs here rape you!” one soldier yelled at an activist.

In the end, Beit Arabiya, six Jahalin homes and most of their animal pens were demolished before the army left. The bulldozer, protected by dozens of troops, belonged to a commercial contractor who was paid well for the demolitions by the Civil Administration, Israel’s military government in the West Bank that uses the word “civil” to downplay its military connections, and to make it appear that demolitions of “illegal” Palestinian homes are simply part of “proper administration.”

After staying with the families and promising to rebuild, we finally left to send out press releases; put out information on our website and social media; and begin mobilizing activists abroad and, through them, governments and UN bodies. Only when we returned early in the morning did we learn that yet another house had been demolished: that of the Abu Omar family, a family of 17 people who lived in a home that had been demolished last year, which ICAHD had rebuilt in our 2011 summer rebuilding camp. We had thought the bulldozer and soldiers had left for the Border Police base on the hill opposite Beit Arabiya and the Jahalin, but in fact they had only gone around Anata. At 3:30 a.m. they pounced on the Abu Omar family, forced them out of their home, removed their belongings and demolished it. The family was so dazed by the sudden violence, terror, confusion and need to protect the terrified children that they hadn’t even thought of phoning us.

The IDF attack on three sites that for years have been identified with ICAHD’s resistance activities was clearly an official, government-sponsored, violent Price Tag assault on Palestinians in order to “send a message” to ICAHD. Out of the tens of thousands of demolition orders outstanding in the Occupied Territory, they chose these three. In fact, the “message” had already been delivered. Already at the second demolition of Beit Arabiya in 1999, Micha Yakhin, the Civil Administration official responsible for overseeing the demolitions in that part of the West Bank, told me: “We will demolish every home you rebuild.”

ICAHD has rebuilt 185 demolished Palestinian homes in the past 15 years, all as acts of political resistance – not humanitarian gestures – all funded by donations. We will rebuild the homes demolished Monday night as well. The coming together of Palestinian families and community members, Israeli activists and international peace-makers to rebuild homes is one of the most significant forms of resistance, solidarity and mobilization. But Israel demolished 200 homes last year alone in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, of more than 26,000 Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territory since 1967. Resistance cannot keep pace with the massive Price Tag assault that is the Israeli Occupation.

Jeff Halper is the Director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached here

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    1. Brian P. Smith

      I’ve just shared this page on Facebook with the following caption:-

      I challenge any of my Zionist friends to read this and still say that what was done is right! No “but look at what the Palestinian terrorists do” or anything like that. Just tell me you can justify this act of thuggery to an innocent Palestinian family in the middle of the night! I have met this man, he spoke at Greenbelt last year. He is not a terrorist, he is a man who wants to live in peace on land he owns.

      Just waiting for the fireworks now!!!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Michael W.

      Can one oppose specific acts by the occupation force while still supporting the occupation (for security reasons)/specific measure dealing with security?

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      Proving the truth of the earlier article here – nothing of this appears in the press. Entire communities are obliterated. To silence.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Michael W.

      Aristeides, doesn’t this appear in the Israeli press?

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Michael – I can’t read the Hebrew press. I haven’t seen it in any of the English language sources I’ve looked at.

      It sure as hell isn’t in the US press.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Danny

      I can’t understand the dichotomy of Israeli Jews who, on the one hand, obsess over the holocaust as if it happened yesterday, while on the other, condone what their government is doing to innocent people 15 minutes away from their homes. That is inexcusable! As an Israeli Jew, I am ashamed of Israel in much the same way some Germans were ashamed of their country during WW2.

      Reply to Comment
    7. John Crane

      The home at Beit Aribya, before its destruction, can be seen in my short documentary, “jerusalem Journal,” at http://vimeo.com/26809902

      Reply to Comment
    8. aristeides

      I just put “Jahalin Bedouin” into Google News and got 2 hits – this site and the IACHD site.

      Reply to Comment
    9. sh

      Disgraceful that these horrors become so commonplace that they are not reported in the mainstream press. And thank heaven for +972 and Jeff Halper. I’m incapable of saying anything rational about it. Here are links to a couple of photo reports and a clip.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Gayle Ruedi

      I was on the ICAHD study tour in November 2010 and we had the privilege of visiting Beit Arabiya. We received hospitality from Salim and Arabiyah as we ate an evening meal they had prepared and learned of their daily struggle with the Israeli Occupation. My heart is broken to get this news. I will be sending a donation to ICAHD for the re-building of Beit Arabiya.


      Reply to Comment