From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Doing something constructive

Date 20 Dec 2002 16:14:01 -0500

Note #7550 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

Doing something constructive
December 20, 2002

Doing something constructive

Group trails Israeli bulldozers, rebuilding razed Palestinian homes 

by Alexa Smith

ANATA, Israel - About 30 Israelis and internationals broke the Sabbath last
Not to mention the civil law. 
It looked innocent enough: A line of graying women, a few paunchy middle-aged
men, a gaggle of Israeli and Swede twenty-somethings, all passing cement
blocks down a rocky hillside to the door of Salim Shawamreh's half-finished
limestone house on a bluff just outside Jerusalem. 
The house has been demolished by the Israeli army three times. The government
says it was built in an agricultural zone.
The house in Anata is close enough to Jerusalem to be in earshot of the
rhythmic chanting of the Muslims' call to prayer at city mosques. The sound
is interrupted by the clanging of bells around the necks of sheep owned by
Bedouin herders and by the braying of a donkey.
The scene is peaceful, literally pastoral. One would never suspect that Anata
is where the volatile Hebrew prophet Jeremiah got his start. This group, like
Jeremiah, is objecting vociferously to practices that it believes are
offensive to God.
"This is a political, not humanitarian, act," says Jeff Halper, the
coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a fan
of Jeremiah. "If this were a humanitarian act, we'd just pay to put this
family in an apartment. But this is resistance."
Resistance to what? Halper would say to the policies of his own government
that make life so miserable for Palestinians that they trickle out of the
country. Those who have skills to succeed somewhere else disappear, leaving
the poor and less-well-educated to huddle in enclaves like little islands in
a sea of Israelis.
Palestinians who own land are refused permits they need to build on it,
Halper says, and those who put up houses anyway often must stand by while
Israelis tear them down.
And zoning is used to keep the Palestinians off undeveloped land. Halper
points to Har Homa, a huge settlement overlooking Bethlehem: It was zoned as
a nature preserve to prevent Palestinian development, then rezoned to
accommodate a massive concrete Israelis-only housing complex.
"What the government is saying to Palestinians is: 'You can't go home, and
you aren't allowed to go back to the place where you came from as a refugee,
either,'" Halper says. "The message is:  'There is no place for you in this
ICAHD tries to counter that message by recruiting Israelis to help rebuild
demolished homes. It also sends delegations to try to stop demolitions by
having Israelis get in the way of the army's bulldozers. 
"For us to build a house as Israelis  (is to say), 'You have the right to
exist here,'" Halper explains.
"We are rebuilding peace," says Shawamreh, the Palestinian owner of this
home, who thinks his house will be finished in about 45 days - finished for
the fourth time in the past 14 years.
ICAHD is paying about 80 percent of the $40,000 cost.
"I worked 10 years in Saudi Arabia to buy this land go build a house," says
Shawamreh, most of whose family lives in a nearby refugee camp. "What to do?
I don't have any other place to go.
"I could leave the country, but I think that is the goal - a quiet transfer
where the Israelis don't tell you to leave, but they make life so hard that
you have to go."
Transfer is a nicer term for deportation-by-dozer.
In West Jerusalem, it's not unusual to see bumper stickers bearing such
messages as "Deport the" and "250,000 already gone."
After years of explosions and bloodshed, the deportation of Israeli Arabs is
a subject of open conversation.
For those on Halper's work crew, "deportation" conjures up bad memories from
Jewish history.
"It is unpopular to compare what is happening here to what the Nazis did, but
it is the same," one older Jewish woman says, wiping tears from her eyes at
the memory of the European ghettoes of the 1930s. "The Nazis didn't kill six
million Jews in one day. They did it slowly, slowly."
On a typical day, newspapers here contain stories about the killings of three
to 10 Palestinians.
"What I am trying to say is that the occupation is corrupting us terribly,"
she goes on. "People don't know what is happening here - and they don't want
to know. But we must push this information into their salons."
She says Jewish resistance in Europe was no less violent than Palestinian
resistance is today. 
Halper estimates that about 10,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished
since 1967 - in addition to those in about 400 villages bulldozed when the
state of Israel was established in 1948.
He admits that he's guessing. The government doesn't announce the
demolitions, and most Israelis know nothing about what goes on in Palestinian
A spokeswoman for the Israeli Civil Administration, the agency that
coordinates house demolitions, told the Presbyterian News Service that
statistics aren't available.
She said the army also has demolished some Israeli buildings, saying:
"Illegal is illegal."
Shawamreh says the repeated demolitions have taken a toll on his family,
especially his children, one of whom went through a bout of trauma-induced
temporary blindness.
"They're scared," he says. "Scared of soldiers. Tanks. Helicopters."
He says he was challenged by one of his daughters: "How can you protect me? I
saw what the soldiers did to you."
They had pinned him to the ground, broken the windows of his house, tossed
tear-gas canisters inside to flush out his wife and children.
"Can you imagine hearing your child say this?" he says. "It is killing me
Shawamreh's neighbors on this barren hillside expect their houses to be
demolished, too. The Bedouin nomads camped nearby have been ordered to leave.
Halper says the bulldozers are dispatched randomly, "so the Palestinians here
never know when they're going to come. And that spreads the fear and
So far, he says, ICAHD has helped to build 12 homes. He says its most
effective technique has been putting bodies in the bulldozers' paths.
ICAHD is now trying to raise $1 million to fund its work.	
"This is really meaningful stuff," Halper says, as Israelis and Palestinians
work at putting a house back together. "It is illegal to rebuild demolished
houses. This is resistance, not just protest. That's important."

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