Israeli troops devastate West Bank village market

Israeli soldiers demolished 62 shops at a market yesterday, destroying the livelihood of hundreds of Palestinians. In the early morning, about 300 troops streamed into the market, just outside the village of Nazlat Issa. They brought seven bulldozers.

Villagers poured out to protest as the bulldozers tore down the village market, the main source of income for Nazlat Issa’s 2,500 residents.

Some of them threw stones at the soldiers, who responded with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.

The village was once a place of peaceful co-existence. Nazlat Issa is among several Palestinian villages along the Green Line, the pre-1967 border, which thrived under the Oslo peace accords. Israelis from across the Green Line came here to shop and take advantage of lower prices in the West Bank. The village economy boomed.

The market is now the site of one of the biggest Israeli demolitions in the West Bank for years. The Israeli army has been condemned by human rights groups for flattening the family homes of alleged militants and suicide bombers. But that was not the reason for the destruction this time: these shops had nothing to do with suicide bombers. The Israeli authorities said they were demolished because they were built illegally. But the leading Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem accused the government of using that as an excuse.

“The civil administration [Israeli authority which runs part of the West Bank] almost never gives Palestinians permission to build,” said Ronen Shnayderman of B’Tselem. “As far as we know this is the only means of living for the Palestinians in the village, and they’re just going to destroy it.”

Mr Shnayderman suggested the real reason for destroying the market may have more to do with a “security fence” being built to prevent suicide bombers crossing from the West Bank “An official has been quoted as saying the authorities are afraid the village could spread towards the site of the fence,” he said.

The mayor of the village, Ziad Salem, went further: “This is part of the security measures to cleanse the area of its Arab population.”

The fence is not being built on the Green Line, but some way inside the West Bank, and Nazlat Issa is among the many Palestinian villages that will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank. There were Palestinian accusations yesterday that the Israeli authorities were damaging the village’s economy to encourage villagers to move to the other side of the fence.

Although Israel relinquished control of Palestinian cities and some rural areas to the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo accords, Nazlat Issa is in an area where Israel retains control. The market was once situated inside the village, but when the Israeli authorities blocked off access after the start of the Intifada, villagers built a new market outside.

Out of 170 shops in the market, the owners of more than 108 have received orders to evacuate them. B’Tselem fears the army intends to demolish the entire market.