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Wave of ethnic cleansing clears Palestinian homes

By Sherri Muzher Special to The Detroit News July 17, 2001

It's been said the "home is where the heart is." Try telling this to Israeli demolition teams, who come protected by hundreds of troops to destroy Palestinian homes. The United States has been critical. Yet, the Israeli government -- enjoying impunity since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began on Sept. 28, 2000 -- continues.

During the last campaign of home demolition, called "Operation Enjoyable Song," more than 32 shelters were demolished -- housing some 400 people. At the time, it was the worst act of destruction since the uprising began. That the civilized world remains silent as Palestinian civilians go homeless is difficult enough to comprehend, though nothing new. That the Israeli government seems to think making more Palestinians homeless builds trust and enhances an imaginary "cease-fire" is astonishing.

Sadly, home demolitions have been used as a form of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing for many years. Even the Oslo Accords represented no reprieve for the destruction of Palestinian homes. In many cases, the demolitions accelerated.

The pretext has generally been that the homes are built without permits. Forget the fact that Palestinians trying to obtain permits is like pulling teeth. Forget the fact that a building permit could cost as much as $20,000 and take five years to obtain. Forget the fact that Palestinians are often living in severely cramped spaces. Palestinians are not given permits because they "violate existing zoning laws."

Such adherence to laws by Israel is admirable, except that it has always been politically motivated.

Almost all the homes that have been demolished, or have received demolition orders, are situated near existing illegal Jewish settlements or bypass roads. The demolitions result in areas that prevent territorial contiguity between Palestinian population centers or neighboring Israeli military installations.

The logic can be quite astonishing, at times. Consider that in many cases, Palestinian homes have been demolished for being built too close to a Jewish edifice -- a structure that did not even exist when the Palestinian home was first constructed.

While Israel has targeted Palestinian homes for destruction, Israel has authorized massive housing construction, tax incentives, and roads and related infrastructure for illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Even as thousands of completed units have stood empty, the Israeli Housing Ministry has authorized more illegal settlements. The ministry admitted that almost a quarter of all units built by the government in the West Bank between 1989 and 1992 had never been occupied.

Like the seizure of Palestinian ID cards in Jerusalem, house demolitions have served as another form of ethnic cleansing that is designed to keep the Palestinian population numbers down or force them to leave. The Israeli rationale is: Lay as many facts on the ground before any potential final status negotiations, and it is believed the Palestinians will get much less than what they are expecting as a matter of right and law.

Homes have also been demolished as punishment. It was certainly a measure widely used during the first intifada from 1988-93. In fact, during its first four years, 786 homes were destroyed as reprisals against those who took part in the uprising.

It is also standard for the homes of the families of Palestinian suicide bombers to be destroyed, though they had nothing to do with their sons' decisions. One can only imagine the outrage that we, as Americans, would have felt if bulldozers demolished the home of Oklahoma City terrorist Timothy McVeigh's parents and siblings. Why make the whole family pay for the actions of an adult child?

With regard to Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states no resident of an occupied territory "may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed." It explicitly forbids collective punishment.

Unfortunately, the Fourth Geneva Convention has never mattered to Israel. Neither have UN resolutions or condemnations by human rights groups.

Many Israelis have repeated the tiring propaganda that Palestinians teach hate to their children. But does hate really need to be taught to a child who is forced to become homeless?

Sherri Muzher is a Mason, Mich., lawyer who is a free-lance writer for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Write letters to [email protected]

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