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‘Devastation and outrage’ after Israeli forces destroy Palestinian homes in Sur Bahir

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It was the middle of the night, but the residents of the occupied East Jerusalem town of Sur Bahir were not asleep. They were waiting for, dreading, the arrival of Israeli forces to demolish their homes.

At around 2:15am on Monday, the people’s worst fears came true with the sounds of military jeeps, bulldozers, and heavy machinery rolled into their neighborhood of Wadi al-Hummus, on the outskirts of Sur Bahir, right next to Israel’s separation barrier.

Hundreds of Israeli forces stormed Sur Bahir on Monday morning to begin demolishing 11 buildings in the area. (Photo: All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective)

Locals told Mondoweiss that more than 1,000 Israeli soldiers and government workers descended upon the area, with force, and began the process of demolishing 11 buildings in the neighborhood.

The buildings in question, containing some 70 apartments, were slated for demolition last month when the Israeli Supreme Court gave the final ruling — after a seven year legal battle between residents and the state — that the buildings were to be destroyed due to their proximity to Israel’s separation barrier, citing “security concerns.”

Despite being on the Jerusalem side of the barrier, the homes in question were built on land controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), with the homeowners claiming they received the appropriate building permits from the PA.

The residents of Wadi al-Hummus stepped up their efforts last week to try and save their homes with intensified media campaigns and appeals to international leaders to intervene on their behalf.

But as Israeli forces stormed their neighborhood Monday morning, the hopes of the residents came crashing down. By late afternoon local time, Israeli forces had destroyed 10 out of 11 buildings,  and had rigged the final building with explosives in preparation for its demolition, local activist Hamada Hamada told Mondoweiss.

Masked Israeli forces forcibly evicted residents from their homes prior to demolition (Photo: All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective)

“With these demolitions they [Israel] forcibly displaced dozens of people,” Hamada said, “and destroyed the dreams of hundreds of others who had not yet moved into their homes.”

A swift and aggressive operation

Immediately after Israeli forces arrived at the scene they began forcibly removing residents from their homes, along with local activists who had pitched up at the residents homes in an act of solidarity.

“The soldiers were really aggressive, pushing and shoving people, firing tear gas at us, and even beating some people with the butts of their rifles,” Hamada told Mondoweiss.

Video footage and photos circulated on social media show masked soldiers pulling people out of their homes, while trucks removed residents’ cars from the area.

According to Hamada, residents were not even given time to go through their belongings and take what they needed.

“The soldiers just threw everyone out, and cordoned them off in corners, preventing them from moving around the neighborhood or interacting with other groups in the area,” he said.

Two women console each other outside one of the buildings as an Israeli officer stands next to them. (Photo: All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective)

During the standoff between residents and soldiers, at least one person was detained. He was identified as Muhammad Abu Teir, an owner of the homes that was destroyed.

“He was just trying to defend his home, that he built with his two hands, from being destroyed,” Hamada said of Abu Teir’s arrest, adding that Abu Teir was expected to be released by the end of the day, but would be receiving a fine and an order to stay away from Wadi al-Hummus until Thursday.

While some forces removed the residents from the buildings, Hamada said that other forces worked to “besiege” the entire neighborhood, declaring it a closed military zone, and preventing the entrance of everyone, including journalists.

“Then besieged each building, assigning a bulldozer to each building so that multiple bulldozers could work at once,” he added.

The PLO tweeted that the demolitions began with four buildings being destroyed at one time, along with a video of  Israeli forces removing residents and activists from the buildings.

“When they removed the families they put them next to the buildings and made them watch as their homes were destroyed,” Hamada told Mondoweiss.

“They destroyed the homes in front of the people, in front of their kids eyes,” he continued. “If you were there you could feel that everyone, the old, the young, everyone was in despair over their homes. It was a devastating, agonizing experience.”

Setting a ‘dangerous precedent’

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision last month, residents of Wadi al-Hummus expressed fears that the move would set a precedent for Israel to target dozens of other communities along the route of the separation barrier, which runs for hundreds of miles along the border between Israel and the occupied West Bank.

A major concern amongst Palestinian and international activists lies in the fact that the land in Wadi al-Hummus, while physically on the Jerusalem side of the separation wall, is technically under the administration of the PA.

Despite the fact that residents of the area duly obtained building permits from the PA, Israel ordered the demolition of the homes on the grounds that they violate a 2011 Israeli military order prohibiting construction within a 100-300-meter buffer zone of the separation wall.

“The Oslo Accords state that in Areas A and B, where these homes were built, the PA decides who gets permission to build, not Israel,” Hamada told Mondoweiss.

With the destruction of these homes, Hamada said Israel “completely shattered this notion,” adding “this will set a dangerous precedent for the Israeli occupation to take control of this area and others like it, even if they are Areas A and B.”

Israeli forces demolishing one of the buildings in Sur Bahir (Photo:All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective)

In a statement on Monday, UN officials commented on the situation, saying “what happened today in Sur Bahir is of even greater significance, as many other homes and structures now risk the same fate,” the statement said.

Israeli NGO B’Tselem released a report Monday, commenting on the “far-reaching” implications of the Supreme court ruling in Sur Bahir.

“In various places in East Jerusalem (such as Dahiat al-Barid, Kafr Aqab, and the Shuafat Refugee Camp) and other parts of the West Bank (such as a-Ram, Qalqiliyah, Tulkarm, and Qalandia al-Balad), numerous residential homes were built near the separation fence,” the group said.

“Furthermore, as a result of the Israeli planning policy that prevents Palestinians from receiving building permits, many other buildings were built without permits, there being no other choice. The latest ruling gives Israel legal authorization to demolish all of these houses, while hiding behind “security arguments” in order to carry out its illegal policy.”

International community reacts

The demolitions in Sur Bahir have sparked outrage amongst the local Palesitnian population, and widespread condemnation from the international community.

MK Heba Yazbak, a Palestinian member of Israeli parliament, called the demolitions a “cruel and irreversible step,” on Twitter, saying that Israel was “continuing the current policy of occupation and annexation of #Palestinian territory.”

UN officials condemned the demolitions and forced evictions of the families in Wadi al-Hummus, saying the move could amount to forcible transfer, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

“Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” the statement said. “Among other things, the destruction of private property in occupied territory is only permissible where rendered absolutely necessary for military operations, which is not applicable.”

Additionally, UN officials noted that while it was ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the families affected, “no amount of humanitarian assistance can replace a home or cover the massive financial losses sustained today by the owners.”

EU foreign affairs spokesperson Maja Kocijančič released a statement, reiterating the fact that the PA has jurisdiction over the homes that were demolished, and urging Israel to “immediately halt the ongoing demolitions.”

“The continuation of this policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace and seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both States,” the statement said.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Saleh Higazi called the demolitions a “flagrant violation of international law and part of a systematic pattern by the Israeli authorities’ to forcibly displace Palestinians in the occupied territories; such actions amount to war crimes.”

Higazi called Israel to stop its “cruel and discriminatory” policy of home demolitions and forced evictions, and urged international leaders “to pressure the Israeli authorities to adhere to their duties under international humanitarian law and ensure protection for the occupied Palestinian population.”

Akram al-Wa’ra contributed to this report from the West Bank.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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8 Responses

  1. JaapBo on July 23, 2019, 1:52 am

    In this case, “security” is a code word to hide racism.
    So cruel…

    • Misterioso on July 23, 2019, 10:07 am

      @JaapBo, et al

      https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/07/1042981

      “Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes in West Bank, ‘not compatible’ with international humanitarian law, UN says”

      “Following ‘with sadness’ the Israeli authorities’ destruction of homes in the Palestinian community of Sur Bahir, three top United Nations officials issued a statement on Monday underscoring that the move was ‘not compatible’ with Israel’s ‘obligations under international humanitarian law.'”

      “Israel’s Supreme Court has reportedly ruled that the houses were built too close to the separation barrier in the occupied West Bank, violating a construction ban.”

      “’Among other things, the destruction of private property in occupied territory is only permissible where rendered absolutely necessary for military operations, which is not applicable’, said Jamie McGoldrick, UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Gwyn Lewis, Director of West Bank Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) and James Heenan, Head of the UN Human Rights Office in the area.

      “’Furthermore,’ the statement continued, ‘it results in forced evictions, and contributes to the risk of forcible transfer facing many Palestinians in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.’

      “The statement said that Israeli forces entered the community early on Monday morning, while it was still dark. The large-scale operation forced families out of their homes and demolished a number of residential buildings on the East Jerusalem side of the Barrier.

      “’Among those forcibly displaced or otherwise impacted are Palestine refugees, some of whom today are facing the reality of a second displacement in living memory.’ the UN officials flagged.

      “They stated that while humanitarian partners are poised to provide emergency response to those displaced or otherwise affected by the destruction of their private property, ‘no amount of humanitarian assistance can replace a home or cover the massive financial losses sustained today by the owners.’

      “Several of the affected people report having invested their life savings in the properties, after securing the required building permits from the Palestinian Authority.

      “’What happened today in Sur Bahir is of even greater significance, as many other homes and structures now risk the same fate’ said the senior UN officials.

      “Against international law”
      “In 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ruled against constructing the Israeli Barrier and found that the parts running inside the West Bank, including East Jerusalem – including the Sur Bahir homes – ‘cannot be justified by military exigencies and thus violates Israel’s obligations under international law,’ said the statement.

      “Moreover, in a resolution of 20 July 2004, the UN General Assembly, demanded that Israel comply with its legal obligations as stated in the ICJ’s advisory opinion.

      “’Had there been concrete action to ensure respect for these principles, and for international humanitarian and human rights law, generally, the people of Sur Bahir would not be experiencing the trauma they are today, and violations of their rights,’ the statement concluded.”
      ___________________________________________________________________________________

      It must be increasingly difficult, overwhelming and heart breaking to be a decent Jew today given the escalating horrors perpetrated by the borderless expansionist so-called “Jewish State” (i.e., Judaism’s modern “Golden Calf) against the defenseless indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinians by Zionist Jews of foreign origin. Indeed, given the slaughter of 6 million Jews by the Nazis, the horrible irony is beyond words. Zionists are riding high now and with the racist beast Donald Trump currently in their pocket, drunk with power, but given their utter dependence on the U.S. financially and geopolitically and the average American’s rapidly increasing awareness of what a monster and liability “Israel” truly is, their day of reckoning is unavoidable.

  2. Brewer on July 23, 2019, 3:55 am

    When the realization finally descends that this event is simply the latest in a series of planned ethnic cleansing operations that began long before the War of 1948 and includes massacre of men, women and children, rape and pillage – one is forced into reassessing one’s long-held belief that all mankind is basically good, that conflict arises through misunderstanding.
    That modern, educated Israeli citizens can stand by while such outrages are perpetrated by their Government indicates that there is something in the culture that is not shared by the
    majority of humanity.
    I have lived and worked all over the World and I do not know of one society that would condone such patently unjust behaviour.
    Obviously the Israeli Government believes that the Jewish victim-hood narrative is sufficient to offset any criticism. I believe that time has passed. It is events such as this that inform my belief.
    Destroying homes is barbaric behaviour. The trend, historically, is away from barbarism.
    Is Israel prepared for the consequences?
    Given the current realignment of power (geopolitically speaking) they could be severe.

    • eljay on July 23, 2019, 8:25 am

      || Brewer: … That modern, educated Israeli citizens can stand by while such outrages are perpetrated by their Government indicates that there is something in the culture that is not shared by the majority of humanity.
      I have lived and worked all over the World and I do not know of one society that would condone such patently unjust behaviour. … ||

      Unfortunately neither the majority of humanity nor any collection of disapproving societies has done anything:
      – to end Israel’s decades-long and on-going campaign of colonialism and (war) crimes; and
      – to hold Israel and its (war) criminals accountable for their (war) crimes.

      || … Obviously the Israeli Government believes that the Jewish victim-hood narrative is sufficient to offset any criticism. … ||

      Can’t blame ’em – it’s worked pretty well so far.

    • Misterioso on July 23, 2019, 10:30 am

      B’TSELEM PRESS RELEASE:

      Press release – for immediate publication

      “The demolitions in Wadi al-Humos: The excuse – security, The strategy – a Jewish demographic majority.”

      “This morning, Monday, July 22, 2019, the Israeli authorities began demolishing buildings in the neighborhood of Wadi al-Humos, the eastern extension of Zur Baher in East Jerusalem. The move came after the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the residents’ appeal and ruled there was no legal barrier to the demolitions. Israel intends to demolish a total of 13 buildings, including at least 14 apartments, the vast majority of which are in various stages of construction. Until this morning, the buildings were home to two families including 17 people, of which 11 are minors. Some of them were built in Area A, with building permits issued by the Palestinian Authority, which holds planning powers in those areas. Wadi al-Humos is outside of Jerusalem’s municipal boundary and constitutes the main land reserve for the development of Zur Baher. The Zur Baher committee estimates that 6,000 people currently live in that neighborhood – a quarter of the total population of Zur Baher.

      “In 2003 the Zur Baher committee petitioned the Supreme Court against the route of the separation fence, which was set unilaterally by Israel to serve its interests. The route was supposed to run near Jerusalem’s municipal boundary and thereby disconnect all of the homes of the Wadi al-Humos neighborhood from Zur Baher. Following the petition the State agreed to reroute the fence a few hundred meters eastward into West Bank territory. In 2004 and 2005 a ‘light’ version of the separation fence was erected:. Instead of a concrete wall, as in most of the route of the fence in East Jerusalem, Israel built a two-lane patrol road with wide shoulders and another fence. The fence surrounds the neighborhood of Wadi al-Humos, which may not have been cut off from Zur Baher, but which was cut off from the rest of the West Bank by the fence, even though the land on which it was built was never annexed to Jerusalem’s municipal territory.

      “The Wadi al-Humos neighborhood is not considered part of Jerusalem, and therefore the Jerusalem Municipality does not provide the neighborhood with services, except for garbage collection. The Palestinian Authority does not have access to the neighborhood and therefore cannot provide it with any services, except for planning and providing construction permits. The neighborhood’s residents built its infrastructures themselves, including roads and water pipes from Zur Baher and Beit Sahur. On the southeastern edges of the enclave, which were defined by the Oslo Accords as areas A and B, the Palestinian Authority has planning and building jurisdiction. But most of it is defined as Area C, where the Civil Administration is responsible for the planning, and where, just like in the rest of the West Bank, it refrains from drawing up outline plans that would allow the residents to build legally. This Israeli policy, which completely limits Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem, causes a severe housing shortage for the city’s Palestinian residents, who are forced to build without permits.

      “In December 2011, about six years after the separation fence was erected in the area, the Israeli Military issued an order forbidding construction in a strip measuring 100-300 meters on either side of the fence. The Military argued such an order was necessary in order to create an ‘open barrier area’ it needed for its operations, because the Wadi al-Humos area is a ‘weak point of illegal entry’ from the West Bank into Jerusalem. According to the Military’s figures, at the time the order was issued, 134 buildings already stood on the land designated as a no-building zone. Since then dozens of additional buildings were built, and by mid-2019 there were already 231 buildings in the zone, including high-risers built only dozens of meters from the fence, and distributed between areas designated as A, B and C.

      “In November 2015 the Military announced it intended to demolish 15 buildings in Wadi al-Humos. About one year later, in December 2016, the Military demolished three other buildings in the neighborhood. In 2017 the owners and tenants of the 15 buildings under the threat of demolition petitioned the Supreme Court through the Society of St. Yves – Catholic Center for Human Rights. The petition argued, among other things, that most of the buildings had been built after receiving building permits from the Palestinian Authority, and that the owners and tenants were not even aware of the order prohibiting construction.

      “During the hearings on the petition, the Military agreed to cancel the demolition orders against two of the buildings. As for the 13 other buildings, the Military announced that for four of them the demolition would be partial. On June 11, 2019 the Supreme Court accepted the State’s position and ruled that there was no legal barrier to demolishing the buildings.
      The Supreme Court ruling, written by Justice Meni Mazuz, fully accepted the State’s framing of the issue as one of purely security matter. It thereby completely ignored Israel’s policy of limiting Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem, and the planning chaos in the Wadi al-Humos enclave that allowed the massive construction in the area – of which the Israeli authorities were fully aware. Like in many past cases, the judges did not discuss in their ruling the Israeli policy almost completely preventing Palestinian construction in East Jerusalem, with the purpose of forcing a Jewish demographic majority in the city – a policy that forces the residents to build without permits. The severe building shortage in East Jerusalem, including in Zur Baher, was at the basis of the village’s demand to reroute the separation fence eastwards. Instead, the judges ruled that the home demolitions were necessary for security considerations, because construction near the fence ‘can provide hiding for terrorists or illegal aliens’ and enable ‘arms smuggling.’

      “The judgment also clarifies the extent to which the ‘transfer of powers’ to the Palestinian Authority in areas A and B as part of the interim agreements has no practical meaning – except for the need to promote Israeli propaganda. When it serves its own convenience, Israel relies on that ‘transfer of powers’ to cultivate the illusion that most of the residents of the West Bank do not really live under occupation, and that actually, the occupation is almost over. Whereas when it is not convenient for Israel, like in this case, it sets aside the appearance of ‘self-government,’ raises ‘security arguments,’ and realizes its full control of the entire territory and all of its residents.

      “The judges rejected, almost flippantly, the argument by the petitioners that they did not know of the existence of the order forbidding them to build, and that they built after they relied on permits they received from the Palestinian Authority, and ruled that the residents
      ‘took the law into their own hands.’ According to the court, the residents should have known about the order. The judges relied for this point on the provisions of the order requiring that its contents be brought ‘as much as possible’ to the knowledge of the residents, among other ways by hanging it, along with low-resolution, difficult-to-understand maps, in the District Coordination Office, as well as on the State representatives’ arguments before them. In doing so, the judges completely ignored the relevant facts: that the Military took no action to bring the order to the knowledge of the residents before November 2015, that the order was issued years after the construction of the fence and the construction of the buildings, and even then – nothing was done for the first years to enforce it, and no real effort was made to ensure that the residents knew about the existence of the order – not even as obvious and simple an action such as pasting it to the residents’ walls.

      “This Supreme Court ruling may have far-reaching implications. In various places in East Jerusalem (such as Dahiat al-Barid, Kafr Aqab, and the Shuafat Refugee Camp) and other parts of the West Bank (such as a-Ram, Qalqiliyah, Tulkarm, and Qalandia al-Balad), numerous residential homes were built near the separation fence. Furthermore, as a result of the Israeli planning policy that prevents Palestinians from receiving building permits, many other buildings were built without permits, there being no other choice. The latest ruling gives Israel legal authorization to demolish all of the these houses, while hiding behind ‘security arguments’ in order to carry out its illegal policy.

      ______________________________________________________________________

      Press release from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights:

      EXCERPT:
      “On Monday morning, 22 July 2019, Israeli military forces launched a large-scale destruction operation against civilian property in Wadi al-Humus neighborhood, in Sour Baher in the southern part of occupied East Jerusalem. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers and machinery carried out the destructions that resulted in hundreds of civilians losing their shelter. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns this crime against civilians and considers it on par for ethnic cleansing, and holds the Israeli government accountable for escalating the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). PCHR calls upon the international community to hold its legal and moral responsibility and intervene effectively to stop Israeli crimes against Palestinian civilians and to provide necessary protection.

      “According to PCHR’s documentation, at approximately 2:00 on Monday, 22 July 2019, hundreds of Israeli soldiers moved into Sour Baher village with dozens of construction vehicles. They stationed in Wadi al-Humus neighborhood, closed its entrances and cut all power supplies. Israeli soldiers then forcefully vacated buildings in the neighborhood, used physical violence against them and banned them from taking any of their belongings with them. At approximately 06:00, destruction machinery took to work and preliminary numbers assert that at least 8 houses and buildings were destroyed, and explosives were planted in a 10-story building in order to destroy it. “

      • gamal on July 23, 2019, 11:49 am

        “The neighborhood’s residents built its infrastructures themselves, including roads and water pipes from Zur Baher and Beit Sahur”

        I see an old MW piece about Beit Sahur/Sahours’ tax strike, I think I read a short piece by Wendy Pearlman during the 1st intifada about her visit there, so long ago i forget the name of the periodical so here is MW. and a link to Pearlmans book below that

        “Hard times had come to Beit Sahour after the townspeople decided to resist the Occupation nonviolently by refusing to pay taxes. For reasons best known to themselves the Israeli authorities decided to make an example of Beit Sahour by coming down hard on the tax resisters. It is true that Beit Sahour became an example, but not in the way the Israelis had intended. The solidarity of the families, the sophistication of their leadership, their ingenuity, and their courage all contributed to a unified nonviolent resistance that would have made Gandhi himself proud.

        Professors were arrested for selling seeds, which people under siege would use to grow their own food. Tax resisters were thrown into jail; when released, their factories were closed and their machines confiscated so that they could not make money even to pay back their taxes.; let alone putting food on the table for their families. With every arrest came manifestos often borrowed from America’s own struggle for freedom from the British. The most famous of these maxims “No taxation without representation,” spread through the West Bank along with stories about the courage and determination of the Beit Sahouris”

        https://mondoweiss.net/2012/12/roots-of-resistance-advent-in-beit-sahour-november-5-1989/

        and a search of Wendys’ Violence, Nonviolence and the Palestinian National Movement

        https://tinyurl.com/yx9jc5pj

  3. eljay on July 23, 2019, 7:49 am

    … At around 2:15am on Monday, the people’s worst fears came true with the sounds of military jeeps, bulldozers, and heavy machinery rolled into their neighborhood of Wadi al-Hummus, on the outskirts of Sur Bahir, right next to Israel’s separation barrier. …

    As much as possible, Boris’ “strong fighting Jews” like to creep around and do their dirty work “in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.

    … UN officials condemned the demolitions and forced evictions of the families in Wadi al-Hummus, saying the move could amount to forcible transfer, a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. …

    So…is the UN going to stop “applying a double standard to Israel ” and do something meaningful about this?

    … “Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” the statement said. “ …

    So…is the UN going to stop “applying a double standard to Israel ” and do something meaningful about this?

    … EU foreign affairs spokesperson Maja Kocijančič released a statement, reiterating the fact that the PA has jurisdiction over the homes that were demolished, and urging Israel to “immediately halt the ongoing demolitions.”

    “The continuation of this policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace and seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both States,” the statement said. …

    So…is the UN going to stop “applying a double standard to Israel ” and do something meaningful about this?

  4. RoHa on July 23, 2019, 9:45 am

    Hold on. Didn’t Jackdaw just make a comment that suggested the expulsions of Palestinians had stopped?

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