“In the eyes of the state, we don’t exist here”

One of the homes slated for demolition in Dhammash village. (Nora Barrows-Friedman)

Israeli forces carried out several major home demolition operations on Wednesday, 14 April, within three separate areas in the occupied West Bank. The demolitions left dozens of people homeless in Hares (near the northern town of Tulkarem); and the towns of Beit Sahour and al-Khader near Bethlehem. Several Palestinian-owned shops in Hares were also reduced to rubble and rebar as Israeli officers threatened residents with future demolitions in the area.

Jonathan Pollack of Anarchists Against the Wall and the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee wrote in a press release, “The massive Israeli bulldozer demolished the house of Ali Mousa [in al-Khader], which was home to nine people, including a one year-old baby, as soldiers prevented anyone from nearing the house — including the family’s lawyer, who showed soldiers a 2006 court-issued injunction [against] the demolition.”

These attacks on Wednesday highlight the ongoing crisis of expanding Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land — but these policies are not limited to the boundaries of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, in the Negev desert, Israeli police invaded the Bedouin village of al-Araqib, destroying three houses. At the same time, Israeli forces once again razed to the ground all tents, huts and water collection containers in Twail Abu Jarwal, in a move that a spokesperson for the Regional Council on Unrecognized Villages in the Negev said was the “fortieth time … in the last few years” that these homes and structures have been destroyed.

And on Monday, 12 April, 13 house demolition orders were handed out by Israeli police to Palestinian homeowners in Dhammash village, an “unrecognized village” far away from the Negev — and the media’s attention.

Dhammash is located between two major so-called “mixed cities” in Israel, Lydd and Ramle. Ten minutes away from the Ben Gurion International Airport, this area is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited places in the Middle East. And for the last 62 years, Palestinians in Dhammash have fought to remain on their land as the Israeli government continues to take draconian measures to squeeze them out.

Along with this week’s 13 home demolition orders, Israeli police are also attempting to close the road to Dhammash village from the south, across adjacent train tracks and the city of Ramle. “This is another step towards forcing us to leave,” Dhammash community spokesman Arafat Ahmed Ismayil explained. “The [Israeli] government doesn’t care about us.”

Dhammash’s residents are Israeli citizens. They pay taxes. They vote in national elections. They speak Arabic and Hebrew. But, like all Palestinian citizens of Israel, they are systematically discriminated against and are forced to live, Ismayil said, “like tenth-class citizens.”

He explained, “We don’t have sewage systems or adequate electricity and water services. We’ve had to go to court several times to have the government provide our children with school buses. The school system itself for Palestinian youth is itself completely discriminatory — the quality of education is well below the standard for that of Jewish children.”

Community organizers told The Electronic Intifada, while walking through Dhammash village in March, that open agricultural land had been strategically destroyed and made barren by the Israeli authorities to implement a toxifying, open-air scrap metal processing center in the middle of the village. “That, now, is the only place where people can find a job in Dhammash,” one of the organizers said.

Ismayil said that there are approximately 600 Palestinians who live in 70 homes in Dhammash. Many of the homes have stood since before the 1948 Nakba, when nearly three-quarters of the Palestinians were expelled or fled from historic Palestine. All of homes, he said, are on the chopping block and have been for many years. Six homes have been destroyed since 2005, and every few months residents have to petition the Israeli courts to file one injunction after another as bulldozers roll back into the village.

“They want to build a Jewish-only condominium complex in this area,” Ismayil explained. “That’s why they want us to leave as soon as possible.”

According to the latest statistics, there are more than 110,000 Palestinians and Bedouins living in so-called “unrecognized villages” throughout the state of Israel, 80 percent of whom live in the Negev region. These villages are not found on any map, and all face regular home demolitions and a lack of basic services.

On their Israeli identification cards, Ismayil said that the government refuses to list Dhammash as their place of residence. “They either group us in with Lydd or Ramle,” he said. “According to them, we belong to nowhere. In the eyes of the state, we don’t exist here.”

Dhammash residents and community organizers went to two separate courts on Wednesday, 14 April — the high court in Jerusalem for the road closure issue, and the regional court in Petah Tikvah on the demolition orders issue. “They heard our cases, and said they would issue a ruling next week,” Ismayil explained later that evening. “They didn’t tell us when that date will be. It’s all very unclear. We’re not sure what will happen.”

Ismayil asserted that home demolition policies forced upon Palestinians inside Israel are exactly the same as those in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

“There is no difference,” he said. “When they want to destroy a house, they impose a curfew, they close the area, and they bring hundreds of police and soldiers with dogs. Helicopters hover overhead. They bring busloads of Jewish extremist settlers with them to empty furniture from the houses, and arrest people who refuse to be evicted.”

“We experience the same policies of apartheid here in ‘48 [Israel] as those that are in effect in the occupied territories,” Ismayil added. “People on the outside think that we’re enjoying Israel’s gift of democracy. But we’re in the exact same situation. There is no peace, no democracy here.”

Nora Barrows-Friedman is the co-host and Senior Producer of Flashpoints, a daily investigative newsmagazine on Pacifica Radio. She is also a correspondent for Inter Press Service. She regularly reports from Palestine, where she also runs media workshops for youth in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.