The message of the bulldozers

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Human Rights, Occupation, Palestine Views: 2484

The message of the bulldozers

By Jeff Halper

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) deplores this week's decision by the Israeli High Court of Justice against permitting judicial review for families of Palestinians whose homes are targeted for demolition because a family member has been involved in (or even suspected of) terror attacks. True to the pattern of many years, the Court has accepted the argument of the army that such demolitions take place as integral parts of military operations. Israel's High Court thus permits the setting aside of fundamental human rights in favor of military considerations (which are but extensions of the government's political goals).

What human rights are violated by this decision?

The right of innocent individuals not to be held legally accountable for the actions of relatives. "Blood tie" cannot be the basis of demolition someone's home. The notion that individuals may be punished for crimes of others without any criminal charge being made against them forfeits the elementary protection that the legal system owes to every person.

The right of every person to due process and judicial review.

Punishing individuals not charged with any crime, or denying them recourse to the court if they are faced with punitive actions, constitutes extra-judicial punishment. When an entire family is punished for the suspected deeds of one of its members, this is collective punishment. Both violate the essence of both Israeli civil law and international humanitarian law.

The demolition of houses or destruction of other private property of individuals residing in occupied territories is explicitly forbidden by the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 53), as is collective punishment (Article 33).

This sad decision, which immediately affects 49 Palestinian families whose homes may be demolished at any time, represents the steady erosion of Israeli democracy as it tries to cope with popular resistance to an illegal Occupation. In its decision, the High Court itself subordinates the rule of law, not to mention human rights, to the requirements of military repression. In the simplest terms, it condones and permits war crimes. Absolute rule over another people is possible only by denying them fundamental legal protection. In the end, this must destroy the very moral and legal basis underlying democracy and law.

For the past six years ICAHD has been working on the issue of house demolitions. Every time we think: "OK, we've exhausted the subject, let's go on to other, perhaps more pressing issues," the systematic destruction of Palestinian homes returns to the center of the conflict with a vengeance. It happened in the Jenin refugee camp, where the indomitable drivers of the massive D-9 Caterpillar bulldozers labored for three straight days and nights demolishing more than 300 homes in the densely packed camp, thereby becoming the heroes of the invasion. And it is happening today as Israel demolishes dozens of houses belonging to families of terrorists, a form of collective punishment that is clearly a war crime.

Why? Why does house demolitions remain at the center of the conflict? Why has it been at the center of the Israeli struggle against the Palestinians since 1948? There are many specific reasons given: security, deterrence, punishment, self-defense, warfare, "illegal" construction, and enforcement of the law and on and on. But one element remains throughout: The Message. Sharon, like his predecessors, never tire of warning that Israeli attacks on the Palestinians will continue "until they get The Message." What is The Message? As stated by Sharon and the others (going back some 80 years to the "Iron Wall" concept of Jabotinsky and Ben Gurion), The Message is: "Submit. Only when you abandon your dreams for an independent state of your own, and accept that Palestine has become the Land of Israel, will we relent." But The Message goes even deeper, is more sinister than that. The Message of the Bulldozers is: "You do not belong here. We uprooted you from your homes in 1948 and prevented your return, and now we will uproot you from all of the Land of Israel. "Transfer" has become an acceptable topic of television talk shows. And that is why house demolitions remain so prominent, the bulldozer beside the tank. Because in the end this process of reoccupation is one of displacement.

The bulldozer certainly deserves to take its rightful place alongside the tank as a symbol of Israel's relationship with the Palestinians.

The two deserve to be on the national flag. The tank as symbol of an Israel "fighting for its existence," and for its prowess on the battlefield. And the bulldozer for the dark underside of Israel's struggle for existence, its ongoing struggle to displace the Palestinians from the country. For Israel has always treated the Palestinians as an enemy, never as a people with collective rights and legitimate claims to the country with which it might someday live in peace. In 1948 Israel played an active role in driving 75% of the Palestinians from the Land. Over the next four or five years the bulldozer, following the tank, systematically demolished 418 Palestinian villages. Since 1967, as Israel's tanks suppress Palestinian resistance to the Occupation with increasing frequency and ferocity, its bulldozers (aided by artillery and missiles) have demolished more than 9000 Palestinian homes and counting. Even as I write this, a day after the Israeli High Court of Justice gave its consent to demolishing houses of families of terrorists without warning or a chance to appeal to the court, houses are being bulldozed in Bethlehem and Gaza with dozens more threatened throughout the Occupied Territories. Throughout Israel proper, in the "unrecognized villages" and Palestinian neighborhoods of Ramle, Lod and elsewhere, houses continue to be demolished 54 years later. Jews now live in Palestinian houses in Israel's major cities and Palestinian villages have long disappeared under the agricultural fields of kibbutzim and moshavs.

Amidst this destruction 150,000 housing units have been built for the 400,000 Jews living across the 1967 border.

The bulldozer remains at the center of the "action" for the simple reason that repression and control alone do not secure the country for those the Jews whose claim excludes all others. Those with competing claims the Palestinians must be displaced if the Jews are really going to take possession, or at least confined to small islands where they cannot interfere with or challenge Israeli dominion. (The announcement this week by the Ministry of the Interior that Palestinian Israelis would be stripped of their citizenship if proven "unloyal" to the State extends the work of bulldozers.)

But just as Israel cannot insulate itself from the Occupation, so too it cannot escape the ravages of its own house demolitions policy. It fears that the displaced might yet rise again and claim their patrimony prevents Israelis from enjoying the fruits of their power.

The country has been seized by rising xenophobia and national- religious fanaticism. Polarization characterizes the relations between the right and left, Jewish and Arab citizens, Jews of European and Middle East origin, the working and middle classes, religious and secular. Israelis are "hunkering down," increasingly isolated from the world. Young Israeli men and women are themselves brutalized as they are sent as soldiers to evict Palestinian families from their homes. Even the beauty of the land is destroyed as the authorities rush to construct ugly, sprawling suburbs and massive highways in order to "claim" the land before Palestinians creep back in. Aesthetics, human rights, environmental concerns, education, and social justice these are the finer things of life that cannot coexist with displacement and occupation. "Fortress Israel," as we call it, is by necessity based on a culture of strength, violence and crudity.

In the final analysis, it will be the bulldozer that razes the structure that once was Israel.

Jeff Halper, an anthropologist, is the Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. The article was originally published in

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Human Rights, Occupation, Palestine
Views: 2484

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Older Comments:
It must be clear now for the Arab leaders What Sharon wants?Either they lead or step aside?

This article is a typical piece of propaganda rubbish. Those people who are 'trying to cope with popular resistance to illegal occupation' would'nt be referring to the mindless murdering terrorists who strap bombs to themselves and blow up innocent civilians would they? Or perhaps it refers to the PLO who absorb international aid to fatten Yasser Arafat's bank accounts, and fuel hatred against the jews, and whose police carry out justice only against those found guilty of "collaborating with the jews".
As for talk about a palestinian state, the only ones not interested in this are the ones refusing to accept any proposed 'talks'at all, namely the organisation who is supposed to be representing the palestinians, the PLO.
The message of the bulldozers is quite clear to me. 'If you plan terrorism in your houses you will have them flattened' And the reoccupation of these areas with Jewish settlers sends an important message as well. 'Come and find a peaceful resolution or your chance for a separate palestinian state will run out!'
Nice try, but this bit of propaganda ain't gonna work on anyone in the west informed of the real truth.

SAMIRA said:
In the midst of chaos and atrocities, it is nearly a relief to hear such truth from an Israeli himself. Thank you, Mr. Halper. Indeed it is people such as yourself who can help the major religions coexist peacefully and successfully, as they were meant to.

A better pen cannot say what you said. This is the age of Israel. Israel against the world -as long as America is on a leash next to her. There was a time when there existed an apologetic note in Israel's explaining some of its radical actions against the Palestinians. But now is the time for Israel to unabashedly boast what are clearly violations of Human Rights and International Laws. Don't bother pointing this out to the Israelis or their allies. It would be akin to handing out speeding tickets at the Indi 500 racetrack. This is the age of law re-interpretation as the victor sees it fit.

The world would be pleased to know that Zionism is alive and well, and the ancient dream of an Egypt-to-Mesopotamia Israel is on track. Look at all the Israeli neighbors; they are brutal upon their own people yet sheepish before Israel. Jordan? That is the transfer's only stop. A similar train that carried European Jews to concentration camps will carry Palestinians and literally dump them at the Jordanian border. And who is to object or effectively raise a finger of protest? Egypt is in the American pocket; so is Arabia. Now let Iraq, the final stronghold, be decimated. Yes there is an emerging pattern. Few Palestinian houses are the token, the harbinger, the herald of something grander and more devastating to come.

I find it amazing that while I write this I am listening to the Qur'an reciting the story of the Israelis when they were under Pharaoh; how they endured untold misery and pain; how Moses argued their case in vain before the despot. And how only divine power got them out. Here they are now heaping unspeakable misery and heinous injustice upon innocent people, violating God's covenant. History shows that nations are on a Ferris Wheel, that you could be at the top but only for a while. Where are the empires of old?


How can any nation Jews or otherwise be so cruel to want to destroy people and their homes? How can the world blame those Palestine's suicide bombers? They are after all trying to protect their homes and families. Israel has the tanks, bulldozers, and the f16's and all the other goodies that the US of A gives them why shouldn't they go on bullying those Palestinians even if it means destroying innocent people. It seems that Israel doesn't care weather they are children, elderly or innocent the object here is to eliminate this race.
What makes me sick is, how no outside people (the UN) are not saying anything to stop Israel. The UN are a bunch of puppets they dance to the tune of the US. They're probably watching what Saddam is cooking. Instead of what Israel is doing. After all, US gave him the ingredients now they are waiting so they have the UN watch Saddam instead of seeing the inhumanity that is being inflicted on the Palestinians.