A Conversation With Jeff Halper
Ethnic Cleansing By Bulldozer
By David Kattenburg
A roof over one’s head. A house and home. Other than food and clean drinking water, nothing is more essential to human life and health.
Conversely, save forced starvation, there’s no better way to eliminate a people than to reduce their homes and villages to rubble. No one knows this better, or carried out the practice more ruthlessly and efficiently, than the State of Israel.
According to Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), since Israel’s founding in 1947/48, Zionist militias, Israeli soldiers and police have demolished almost a quarter of a million Palestinian homes and structures. They’ve done so in occupied/colonized East Jerusalem and the West Bank, in besieged Gaza, and within Israel’s internationally recognized borders.
Among the ‘Jewish’ state’s most innovative approaches to dispossessing Palestine’s indigenous inhabitants, Halper explains in this audio interview: getting Palestinians to demolish their own homes themselves. A cost-saving measure for both occupier and occupied.
Home demolition stats are hard to nail down with precision. About 150 homes are demolished each year in Jerusalem, Halper says. Faced by steep fines, as many as a third of Palestinians demolish their own homes before the police bulldozer arrives.
Eighteen thousand homes have been destroyed in Gaza over the years, by heavy duty military machines manufactured by companies like Caterpillar. American activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by one of these, back in 2003, while trying to stop a home demolition.
Since 1967, about 55,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. On top of the 60,000 homes demolished in the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine (the Nakba; along with some 400 towns and villages), countless numbers of Palestinians have been left homeless and destitute.
Inside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, home demolition rates occasionally exceed those in its illegally colonized territories, Halper says. Al-Araqeeb, just north of Beersheeba, has been demolished about a hundred and fifty times.
These days, in response to settlement-amorous members of Donald Trump’s Administration (US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, actually invests), there’s been a marked increase in home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem, clearing the way for Jewish settler-colonists.
Home demolitions constitute a violation of the Hague Regulations of 1899 and 1907, both deemed “customary” under international law (i.e. universally accepted international norms, not based on specific treaties).
Demolitions also constitute a grave breach of the 4th Geneva Convention (FGC), and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Read more here. Specifically:
Article 53 of the FGC states:
“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
Article 8(2)(a)(iv) of the 1998 ICC Statute stipulates as a war crime: “[E]xtensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”
Of course, blessed with an unspoken (and exclusive) franchise from the US and European Union, Israel is free to violate customary and more recent international humanitarian and human rights laws alike, with impunity.
Israel claims it demolishes Palestinian homes because they’ve been built without permits. In reality, permits are virtually impossible to obtain. Almost a hundred percent of applications are denied.
The message is clear, says Heff Halper in this audio interview: “If you say to tens of thousands of Palestinian families, ‘No, you cannot live here, you cannot have a home, you cannot keep property, get out’, it’s a message collectively to the entire Palestinian people. ‘You have no place in this country. Get out.'”
Halper also talks about the One Democratic State Campaign he’s been involved in organizing, in response to the widely acknowledged death of the so-called Two-State Solution, and the emerging reality of a single state, a nation of its citizens, where everyone gets to vote and enjoy equal rights and protections under the law — including the right to house and home.
All images by David Kattenburg