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Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine
UK architects, planners and other construction industry professionals campaigning for a just peace in Israel/Palestine.


Activists resisting Palestinian home demolitions face ‘IDF Price Tag' attack

23 January  by Jeff Halper of ICAHD  (Israeli Committee against House Demolitions)

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  demolished 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)