The Demolition of Palestinian Homes is Unjustifiable
Sana Wazwaz, contributor
I’m sure many are familiar with this famous tale: An innocent peasant had lived in his peaceful village for decades. His home was a family relic; a sanctuary they’d cherished for generations and counting. But one day, his government summoned him to reveal a damning decree: they were to demolish his village’s homes to clear the way for the creation of a theme park. That’s right – an attraction, a recreational get-away. His village was to become homeless for the sake of someone else’s fun.
No, I’m not talking about the story of “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Although this level of selfishness sounds akin to a fictional villain, this is not fiction. This is the real story of the Palestinians living in the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, who are being forcibly expelled by the Israeli government. This story isn’t “complicated,” or “two-sided;” it’s a simple story of a military occupier expelling the population it occupies. It is time to condemn Israel’s actions for what they are–unjustifiably oppressive.
In June 2021, the government of Israel, which holds a military occupation over the Palestinian territories, ordered 1,500 residents of Silwan to demolish their homes with their own hands. This was to clear for the creation of an Israeli-Jewish biblical theme park. If they refused to self-demolish within 21 days, Israel promised to do it by force, and to bill the Palestinians with the demolition fees.
Imagine being given a knife and being told to stab yourself with it, or else someone would do it for you. That was the cruel sentence given to these Silwanis. Israel doesn’t stop at the metaphorical stab. When Silwan resident Nidal Al-Rajabi refused to demolish his Silwan-based butcher shop, not only did Israel bulldoze it to bits – they did it when it was dark outside to prevent protests, and they arrested Al-Rajabi without a charge.
Al-Rajabi is not the first nor the last Jerusalemite to have his property demolished. The Jerusalem Ministry of Affairs reports that Israel has issued over 200 demolition orders in 2021 alone. Staggering as the numbers are, it’s a practice that extends throughout all of the Palestinian territories, and has been for decades. Since 2009, OCHA reports that 8,221 Palestinian structures have been demolished, displacing 12,229 people.
Israel orders these demolitions to facilitate their “Judaization project,” which seeks to reconstitute Jerusalem into a Jewish city, largely by demolishing Palestinian homes to pave for the construction of Jewish-Israeli settlements. Yonaton Yosef, leader of a settlement group in East Jerusalem, brags that “our dream is that East Jerusalem will be a Jewish Capital of Israel. Is it at the Arabs’ expense? Yes. And so was the state [of Israel] itself.”
Beyond the depravity of these words and practices, these policies are illegal. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention strictly prohibits “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons.” As for settlements, the International Court of Justice ruled 15-0 that Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian territories (including East Jerusalem) are illegal, and this the unanimous concensus of the International Community. Even Theodore Meron, Israel’s former legal advisor, openly conceded that settlements are illegal.
Still, Israeli officials justify the demolitions by arguing that Silwanis have built their homes without permits. However, according to the Israeli Civil Administration’s official statistics, Israel rejects over 98% of Palestinians’ permit applications.
This is not just about law. It’s about basic human rights. If one were to watch a demolition scene in a movie, void of any politicization, our instinctual response is to believe that it is unconscionable. Only once we introduce the words “Palestine,” or “Israel,” we deflect and insist that the Middle East must be too complicated for anyone to ever take a side. I invite you to suspend your politicized inclinations and ask yourself, “is it ever moral for a government to make someone homeless for an amusement park?”
The answer, I hope, is very intuitive.