April 1982 evacuation of Yamit, built on land of expelled Bedouin.
April 1982 evacuation of Yamit, built on land of expelled Bedouin. Photo by Ouzi Keren
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Last week, evacuees of Yamit marked the 30th anniversary of the demolition of their illegal settlement in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. Radio reports blithely skirted the fact that the construction of these Sinai settlements was preceded by mass destruction. Under orders from then-defense minister Moshe Dayan and Southern Command head Ariel Sharon, in 1972 the Israel Defense Forces secretly expelled 1,500 Bedouin families from the Al-Ramilat tribes, from a 140,000 dunam area. As Oded Lipschits wrote in a February 2002 column of the kibbutz movement journal Hadaf Hayarok, his memory of those facts was jogged when the IDF demolished houses in Rafah in 2002. Referring to what happened in the Sinai years earlier, he wrote, "A group of members from kibbutzim in the region, including me, started to investigate. We went out and toured the area, and were stunned by the dimensions of the wreckage, and by the number of persons who were expelled. The IDF and the government denied the facts that we presented, and claimed that they had merely evacuated a few nomads from state lands onto which the nomads had recently encroached."

An inquiry committee ultimately established that the expulsion was carried out without government authorization; Dayan had acted upon his own initiative. There were some censorious rebukes about "transgression of authority," and some low-ranking officers were demoted. Nonetheless, the Golda Meir government carried out a pre-prepared plan to build settlements on the very same region from which the Bedouins had been expelled. Lipschits wrote, "Sadat and top Egyptian officials wrote in retrospect that the Israeli government's decision to establish a large Israeli city [Yamit] was the straw that broke the camel's back, and caused Egypt to give up hopes for a peace agreement, and to initiate the Yom Kippur War."

Destruction and dejection

Now, moving from Lipschits and the Sinai to today's occupied territories: destruction and demolition continues all the time. Silence is maintained, even without coercive actions taken by the censor, and the goal of using "C" areas to prevent natural Palestinian growth is promoted all the time. New master plans developed by Israel have left the Palestinians in area C out, so building remains forbidden. Connecting to water and electrical grids is illegal, and each act of demolition is "legal" and "authorized."

Since the beginning of the current year, through April 3, the Civil Administration has demolished 184 Palestinian structures, and 338 people have lost their homes, according to data compiled by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ). For example, during the week of March 21-27, authorities demolished 24 structures, including six residential structures. That week, 36 people, including 13 children, lost their homes. Six structures belonging to the herding communities of Tel al Hema and Frush Beit Dajan, in the northern Jordan Valley, were destroyed. Dafna Banai and Dorit Hershkowitz of the Checkpoint-Watch grassroots movement visited al Hema two days after the demolition. Following is Banai's translated March 29th report, from the Rebuilding Alliance website:

"On Monday, March 26, 2012, darkness fell on Khabis Sawaftah's family. While the family members were busy with their morning tasks, two bulldozers, 12 vehicles from the Civil Administration, Border Police personnel and about 40 additional soldiers descended upon them, ordering them out of their home. Khabis, his wife and their five children stood 20 meters away, with the soldiers standing between them and their house. The family watched Civil Administration personnel dump their belongings - sacks of lentils and rice, blankets and mattresses, schoolbooks and clothing - all tossed around as if they were garbage.

When they finished emptying the house of its inhabitants' things, Civil Administration personnel entered to photograph the empty structure (to prove that the compassionate occupier destroys only empty homes and not, God forbid, their contents ). Then it was the reaper's turn; in a few minutes the home was turned into a pile of stones, boards and plastic sheeting.

The family cat refused to abandon her kittens; the house was demolished around them. A few hours later the family saw the cat climbing out of the rubble, carrying her six kittens, hale and hearty. The chicken that hid in the aluminum stove also survived but, traumatized, refused to leave it.

The lives of Khabis and his children (the oldest is 13 ) have been destroyed. Khabis is a wage laborer, the poorest of the poor, living on land belonging to our friend N., which is registered in his name in the tabu - the land registry. N. employs him to cultivate the fields and take care of the date palms in return for meager pay and housing. But Khabis somehow managed to survive. Now the house is gone. Everything that provided even a minimum of security - a place to lay their heads, store some food and get shelter from the burning sun and the rain - all gone.

People from the UN, the Red Cross (which brought a small plastic tent ) and many politicians from the Palestinian Authority arrived a few hours later with fine, encouraging words. After they departed, however, Khabis was left with his pain, helpless.

What happens now? What can he say to Khaled, his 13-year-old son, who refuses to greet the Jewish women two days after their countrymen destroyed his life, looking at us with such justifiable hatred. We sit with the family, the little girl on the ground in the tent, doing her homework, listening to the family tearfully repeat what occurred during those forty terrible minutes. And we have nothing at all to say in reply. Because, no matter how much solidarity we feel, we can't even begin to imagine how terrible it must be when a bulldozer demolishes your home."

Civil Administration data relayed to Haaretz indicate that desist orders for illegal building were issued on December 19, 2011, and a demolition order was passed on to the family weeks later, on January 12.