There are two reasons why Israel demolishes Arab homes: response to illegal construction and non-lethal counter-terrorism measures.
Many NGOs condemn Israeli demolition of Arab homes as illegal collective punishment or random acts of harassment. The credibility of these accusations, and of the accusers themselves, is destroyed when one notices that home demolitions take place throughout the world, yet the accusers ignore all but Israel’s.
The one-sided nature of NGO condemnations has been analyzed by Dr. Justus Reid Weiner. Weiner documents numerous countries where home demolitions are carried out:
USA: Eminent domain and illegal squatting are standard reasons for municipal demolition.
USA in Iraq: The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the US army destroyed at least a dozen homes belonging to family members of guerrilla suspects in and around Tikrit, as a counter-terrorism tactic. These actions were approved by the commander of the Fourth Infantry Division and considered “…within the rules of war” by the overall commander for U.S. forces in Iraq.
Lebanon: Army troops in Beirut demolished illegal houses built without permits, and used rifle fire to disperse residents.
China, Thailand and India offer many examples of squatters, including some who claim legal ownership with deeds and property tax receipts, driven by force from homes.
Kosovo: UN used armed forces to carry out demolition orders against squatters.
Nigeria: Thousands were rendered homeless as government police destroyed homes built illegally on government land.
Egypt: The al-Ahram newspaper reported (March 3, 2004) that 8000 residents were rendered homeless in one village as almost 1500 homes were demolished. These were acknowledged to be the homes of legal residents, but their village was on a site scheduled for development to attract tourism. MEMRI gives additional examples of demolitions rendering thousands homeless, even as residents claim to have proof of ownership.
Brazil: The federal government has been waging a long war of home demolition against the “favelas” (slums) section of Rio de Janeiro; but according to some these” favelas” are not slums but simply low-income neighborhoods whose residents are property owners with legal possession or renters with proof of rent payment.
Palestinian Authority: Even the Palestinian Authority (PA) has demolished houses of its Arab residents which the PA claims were constructed illegally. PA leader Sari Nusseibeh validated this accusation with a statement that the “gangs that build illegally on land that does not belong to them should be thrown into jail.”
It is important to note that many NGOs routinely accept as proof the anecdotal accounts of unspecified and unidentified complaints, with no name of village, no location specificity, and no identity of which authority controls the area. Such complaints can be easily fabricated and cannot be checked for accuracy. Thus is becomes likely that many complaints about home destruction in the West Bank are fiction, or at least unrelated to Israel because the homes in question were demolished not by Israel but by the PA.
And some of our mainstream media outlets participate in this disingenuous journalism, even when contradicted by known facts. A typical example is the New York Times article of July 9, 2005 covering the controversial demolition of Arab homes in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem. As CAMERA demonstrates, unsubstantiated Arab claims of discrimination against Palestinians in issuing building permits, and Israeli attempts to cut the West Bank in half by extending the borders of Jerusalem, were reported as fact, even as both Israeli and PA spokespersons cite statistics to show that these claims are false. Chief Palestinian demographer, Khalil Tufakji, admitted in a CNN interview (September 19, 1998), “We can build inside Jerusalem, legal, illegal – rebuild a house, whatever, we can do. Maybe we lose ten houses, but in the end we build 40 more …” Tufakji’s statement is confirmed by an Israeli report readily available to the Times’ journalist, and by the research of Justus Reid Weiner noted above (and in his book noted below).
According to a 2006 study, since 1997 Jerusalem Arabs build in excess of 10,000 illegal homes a year in the Jerusalem area and only about 100 (one percent) have been demolished by Israeli authorities. The frenetic pace of illegal construction in Jerusalem is documented in Justus Weiner’s comprehensive study: Illegal Construction in Jerusalem: A Variation on an Alarming Global Phenomenon. Weiner demonstrates that some NGOs simply lie about the realities of Israeli actions against Arab construction. There is the wide-spread accusation that Arab Jerusalemites have no choice but to build their homes illegally since the municipality systematically rejects their applications for building permits. But the Jerusalem municipality has authorized more than 36,000 permits for new housing units in the Arab sector, more than enough to meet the needs of Arab residents through legal construction until 2020.
Despite this, illegal construction has reached epidemic proportions. As early as January, 2000, at an East Jerusalem conference , Palestinian Legislative Council member Hatem Abd El-Khader Eid boasted that Arabs had erected 6,000 illegal structures in East Jerusalem in the previous four years, of which less than 200 were demolished by the city. The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their “demographic war” against Israel; and new Arab construction has outpaced Jewish construction by a significant margin.
These facts, and other nations’ demolition actions, merit no consideration by the NGOs. Not only is their omission an incontrovertible indication of bias against Israel, but the demand inherent in their accusations is irrational. Could anyone ask Manhattanites to tolerate illegal construction in Central Park?
The Counter-terrorism strategy
Another indication of anti-Israel bias is the decontextualization of Israel’s home demolitions.
The epidemic proliferation of illegal Arab construction noted above is part of a strategy initiated by Arafat and funded by Arab countries. This strategy, the “building intifada,” is essentially a land-grab assault on Israeli territory orchestrated by the PA. Thousands of Arab homes built illegally create faits accomplis regarding where Israeli sovereignty ends. This is a part of the Arab terror war against Israel. Israel’s removal of illegal buildings constructed without permit or authorization on Israeli territory is a defensive measure against this sophisticated terrorist attack on its sovereignty.
The “building intifada” is not limited to Jerusalem. Across the West Bank somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 homes have been built illegally; and not all Arabs are happy about it. Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, the PLO’s representative in Jerusalem, took out an ad on the front page of the Al-Quds newspaper on November 14, 2002 condemning the phenomenon as an environmental disaster. Azan Abu Saud, the Director General of the Office of Arab Commerce, recommended demolishing the illegal structures.
But intifada trumps ecology for the PA, and the proliferation of illegal houses in the corridors between Jerusalem and nearby Israeli communities threatens to isolate some of those communities. Local Arabs, with funding and other assistance from the PA and international donors, seized control of thousands of acres of government-owned land, in order to prevent territorial continuity between Jerusalem and these communities. The land in question was purchased from its legal owners in the pre-state era by the Jewish National Fund and lost to Jordan after the 1948 war. Some NGOs have decried Israel’s interference with West Bank contiguity, but the reverse is the case. Even the UN is involved as The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has lent its authority and resources to aid the Palestinian farmers engaged in this illegal land grab.
Home demolition is used by the IDF as a punishment and deterrent to suicide bombers. This type of retribution was used sporadically in the pre-Oslo years (1967-1993) but was suspended during the first decade after the Oslo Accords as Israel ceded counter-terrorism actions to the newly formed Palestinian Authority. It was re- instituted by the IDF after the outbreak of the 2nd intifada. Its effectiveness is proven by some home-owners’ handing over their wanabee suicide-bomber sons, both to save their children’s lives and to save their homes from demolition.
For Israel, demolishing the homes of Palestinian terrorists is a non-lethal defensive response to the suicide bombers and an effective deterrent to future attacks. Almost weekly, Palestinian families turn in their would-be bomber sons for fear of losing their homes, say Israeli field commanders. “I know of people who, having had houses destroyed, rebuild and refuse to allow stone throwers or gunmen to operate nearby,” says Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid (quoted from an article by Dan Williams in Reuters, April 10, 2003). For anecdotal documentation see here, here and here.
Thanks to the threat of home destructions hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Israeli and Arab lives have been saved. Under attack for more than a decade, Israel must decide where it wants the casualties when it employs defensive measures to protect its civilians. By demolishing terrorists’ homes, the casualties are buildings, not people.
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