The Collective Punishment of Home Demolitions
November 21, 2014
Dalia Hatuqa / Al Jazeera & Gregg Carlstrom / Al Jazeera
Home demolitions of Palestinian homes have not stopped attacks against Israel. Now, rights groups claim, in the aftermath of savage attacks on Israeli citizens, Jerusalem's most disenfranchised residents are being targeted in a 'draconian' crackdown with Israeli troops arriving in the middle of the night to drive families from their homes before demolishing the structures. Palestinians say their long-simmering frustrations over Israel's oppressive measures are finally boiling over.
'Home Demolitions Have Not Stopped Attacks'
Dalia Hatuqa / Al Jazeera
SILWAN, Jerusalem (November 19, 2014) -- Enas al-Shaludi was sitting on an old, worn-out couch, huddled under a thick blanket in front of an electric heater, despite the unusually warm day.
With one hand, she clutched a picture of her son, AbdelRahman, who on October 22, drove his car into a Jerusalem light rail stop crowded with pedestrians killing two Israelis; a three-month-old baby girl, and a woman hailing from Ecuador. Shaludi was shot and succumbed to injuries later.
Enas sat with a solemn look on her face. In addition to losing a son, last night she also lost her home. Overnight Wednesday, Israeli forces demolished their home in a 4-story building in Silwan, a majority-Palestinian neighbourhood, which has been the target of creeping Israeli settlement.
The narrow roads here are peppered with potholes and trash; like in many of East Jerusalem's areas, public services in Silwan have languished far behind the western part of the city.
Family members said Israeli forces came to the building -- housing approximately 50 people in eight apartments -- at about 1 am. They forced everyone to head to a tent a few meters away.
Some of the children left the building with no shoes or socks, and AbdelRahman's grandmother was not allowed to go to the bathroom, so she was forced to urinate herself, said Amer al-Shaludi, AbdelRahman's uncle.
"They kept us outside until they were done blowing up the house at about 4 am," Amer said.
Most of the apartments sustained some damage; windows were blown out, walls were cracked, mattresses were overturned, doors were dislodged, fridges were emptied, their contents strewn across kitchen floors.
The demolition left seven members of Shaludi's immediate family -- his parents, two brothers and three girls, homeless. For now, they will be staying with the extended family in the building until they figure out what to do next, Enas said.
Since July, seven attacks -- mostly in Jerusalem -- claimed the lives of 11 Israelis. At least 17 Palestinians were killed during that time, all bearing testament to the rising tensions in the holy city.
The numbers exclude those killed during the July-August Gaza war; during that time, approximately 2,000 Palestinians died, a majority of them civilians. 71 Israelis were also killed, most of them soldiers.
Israel has increased its police force exponentially in Jerusalem in the past few weeks in an attempt to curb the violence, but many Palestinians say their long-simmering frustrations over what they called Israel's oppressive measures are finally boiling over.
"Israel has increased its violations against al-Aqsa, and crackdowns on people on checkpoints, and through red-tape," Enas said.
"All this leads to violence. All this pressure will ultimately lead to an explosion. As you can see, home demolitions have not stopped attacks. Violence breeds violence."
For decades, Israel has demolished homes of Palestinians accused of carrying out attacks. But in 2005, the practice, which authorities said was necessary for 'deterrence,' was halted.
On Tuesday November 18, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered authorities to demolish the homes of the two Palestinian attackers; cousins Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber who were killed during the incident. Netanyahu also instructed the expediting of the process to demolish the homes of Palestinians involved in recent attacks.
Human rights groups had long maintained that it is an act of collective punishment.
"It doesn't deter; on the contrary, it inflames and increases the hatred even more," said Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions."What it does it helps the Israeli people feel that they've been avenged."
In 2004, Moshe Ya'alon, a former army chief of staff, formed a review committee to look into the practice of punitive home demolitions. The committee found that it did more harm to Israeli interests, than it did to deter future attacks.
Israeli authorities had long maintained that fear of house demolitions led to families turning in their relatives to stop them from carrying out attacks.
"AbdelRahman died, but what about us?" Amer said. "Why must we suffer?" Obviously this is collective punishment. They want to humiliate us."
East Jerusalem Under 'Collective Punishment'
Gregg Carlstrom / Al Jazeera
JERUSALEM (November 17, 2014) -- After months of unrest, municipal officials in Jerusalem have begun a widespread crackdown on the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, enforcing the finest points of the law in what rights groups have dubbed an act of "collective punishment".
Small businesses have been shuttered for unpaid bills, or for lacking the proper licenses. Livestock have been confiscated. One resident of the Old City, Sa'eed Shaloudi, was even ordered to remove his home's water heater because it was installed without permission.
Akram Jadallah, a resident of Beit Hanina in northeast Jerusalem, was two payments behind on his arnona, a bimonthly municipal tax levied on property owners here. Late payments are not uncommon in Israel; cities have the right to seize the property of delinquent landowners, but punishments are typically light -- a small monthly fine for all but the worst offenders.
In East Jerusalem, though, residents say back taxes and insurance payments have been used as a pretext to seize dozens of cars. "They towed my car, and I couldn't get it back until I paid the taxes and the towing fine," Jadallah said. "I don't think they do this in Talpiot," a Jewish neighbourhood in the west.
Mayor Nir Barkat denied that the crackdown was targeted at Palestinians, insisting that the law is applied equally. "The mayor has a clear policy of enforcing the law in all parts of Jerusalem," Brachie Sprung, a spokeswoman for Barkat, told Al Jazeera. "People who live in West Jerusalem pay for things they do illegally, and the same applies in the east."
Indeed, the citations are not spurious: Some residents interviewed for this article acknowledged they were breaking the law. The problem, they say, is that these laws were not previously enforced.
On November 11, for example, police issued dozens of parking tickets in Shuafat. Many of the offenders were parked on the curb, a virtual necessity in a neighbourhood with narrow streets and a shortage of municipal parking lots. "It's the first time they've ever done this," said Mahmoud Abu Khdair, who received a 500 shekel ($130) fine.
Last week in Silwan, meanwhile, dozens of police officers set up checkpoints and stopped Palestinian drivers to issue tickets for various offences, many of them minor. A foreign motorist was allowed to enter the neighbourhood unimpeded.
East Jerusalem has been convulsed by months of unrest, dating back to the July murder of a Palestinian teenager, an act of revenge for the killing of three Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. The murder set off a week of riots in Shuafat, his neighbourhood. Protests have continued almost every night since, with local youth throwing stones at police and firebombs at passing vehicles.
Nearly half of the city's light rail cars are out of service due to damage. Four people were killed in hit-and-run attacks over the past month, and a Palestinian man attempted to assassinate a right-wing Jewish activist.
More than 1,300 residents of East Jerusalem have been arrested since the summer, 40 percent of them children, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Club, an advocacy group. Neighbourhoods have been blanketed constantly with tear gas and foul-smelling "skunk water", the scent of which lingers on the streets for days.
Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deployed 1,000 additional police officers to the city, but the reinforcements have not stopped the unrest. The increased enforcement in East Jerusalem began around the same time.
The Israeli rights group B'Tselem called the steps "draconian" and "selective enforcement" aimed at punishing the entire population of certain neighbourhoods.
"It seems that the municipality is basically using collective punishment against some of the most disenfranchised members of Jerusalem's population," said Sarit Michaeli, a spokeswoman for B'Tselem.
Residents of East Jerusalem say they have been subject to decades of municipal neglect since Israel occupied the territory in 1967. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), another local NGO, issues an annual report on East Jerusalem, and indicators in this year's report were typically grim.
"The Israeli government has not allocated the necessary resources to develop East Jerusalem. As a result, there is a severe shortage of public services and infrastructure," the group said.
Seventy-five percent of residents live below the poverty line; schools have a shortage of 2,000 classrooms; one-third of students do not complete 12 years of schooling.
Basic services, from health clinics to post offices, are scarce. Building permits are expensive and difficult to obtain, giving the east an exponentially higher population density than the predominantly Jewish western parts of town. While most of the illegal construction documented by the municipality actually takes place in west Jerusalem, most demolitions occur in the east.
"The municipality is interested in us, at last," Abu Khdair joked. "Maybe now they'll come to fix the roads."
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