Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Ever-present Threat of Bulldozers

Today I am saddened to read about a new attack in Jerusalem. This is the second attack since I have returned from a two-week trip to Israel and Palestine to meet with peace groups and hear about their work. The bulldozer is an unlikely weapon from our Western viewpoint, but bulldozers are all too familiar to most Palestinians. Bulldozers play an important part in the harassment and terror Palestinians experience every day.

These two incidents have received a great deal of publicity worldwide, but I doubt that anyone in the media reported the bulldozer attack we were witnesses to the day we visited Augusta Victoria Hospital, a Lutheran health care facility in East Jerusalem. After he talked to us about the work Lutherans are doing to provide health care for the poor—especially Palestinians in the West Bank—hospital administrator Mark Brown took us on a short walk through the grounds of the hospital, a beautiful wooded area at the top of the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. He wanted to show us the home of a neighbor which had been bulldozed three weeks earlier.

We looked down the other side of the hill from the hospital and saw a pile of concrete rubble—it looked like the house below had been attacked. The concrete walls were now piles of debris, the water tank bashed in, rebar and electrical wiring everywhere poking up out of the mess. At the back of the family’s property were their beds, made up with sheets and pillows and blankets, sitting out in the open, next to some shelves and tables, a fan, and some cushions. They had reclaimed some of the wood and metal, including some metal window frames and their front door, stacking it to the side of their yard. And they had already started rebuilding—there were two walls with a tarp over the top, looking like a makeshift kitchen.

As we stood there looking out over the Arab settlements east of Jerusalem, where the two bulldozer attackers lived, Mark Brown told us what happened on the morning this house was leveled. At 8:00 the Israeli Defense Forces soldiers (IDF) knocked on the door as the family was eating breakfast and told them the house would be demolished at 10:00 am because it had been built illegally, without a permit. They had two hours to get their belongings out.

At 10:00 the bulldozer showed up and demolished the house.

Since 2004, Israel has leveled more than 300 homes in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods, citing a lack of building permits. ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) reports that tens of thousands of Palestinian families live with demolition orders on their homes, some 22,000 in East Jerusalem alone, where fully a third of Palestinian homes face demolition at any time. In June, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert approved 884 new Israeli settlement units in East Jerusalem. See www.icahd.org/eng

As with every devastating event we witnessed on our trip, this one has a hopeful side too. This week volunteers from all over the world, participating in ICAHD’s summer work camp, are rebuilding a house in Anata, an East Jerusalem neighborhood where many homes have been demolished. See pictures of their work: http://www.icahd.org/eng/ ; Day 1: http://www.icahd.org/eng/news.asp?menu=5&submenu=1&item=609

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