We Don't Raze Homes for No Reason

The same IDF force that sent a bulldozer or two and, as the homeowners watched, demolished their homes in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, did not find it necessary to report the action to the IDF Spokesman's Office.

BEIT HANUN, Gaza - Ahmed Za'anin's house now looks like some 1,200 other Palestinian homes: a pile of rubble. On May 18, at about 7 P.M., IDF bulldozers knocked down four houses, one partially, which belonged to the extended Za'anin family, in Ezbat Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip.

Usually, the IDF Spokesman's Office reports why a house was demolished: It was the family of an arrested terrorist, a wanted terrorist, a dead terrorist, the house was used to shoot at soldiers, the neighborhood sheltered armed men or tunnels, the house was built without a permit.

But this time, the IDF Spokesman's Office had no records of the demolition of the four houses, so it did not have any explanation for why the Za'anin homes were destroyed. "We don't demolish houses for no reason. Maybe there was shooting there, maybe there was involvement in terrorist activities," Haaretz was told. But the fact remains: The same force that sent a bulldozer or two and, as the homeowners watched, demolished their homes, did not find it necessary to report the action to the IDF Spokesman's Office.

To the same extent, there was no record of the Za'anin family having heard a nearby explosion, in a street controlled by tanks and armored personnel carriers, at around 6 P.M. that day. About 20 minutes later the family, which was sitting in the living room, heard the noise of the churning bulldozers.

"Suddenly we saw Jews in the house," said Amana Za'anin. An officer and soldiers entered through a breach they opened in the wall of the house. They aimed their weapons at the family, and ordered them out. According to the family, they were not allowed to take anything with them. Not even the mother's head covering. The student daughter cried she didn't want to leave without her books and notebooks. Her parents said that they had to drag her away from "under the bulldozer."

Yesterday, the IDF Spokesman's Office said "On May 18, there was an explosion caused by a jeep hitting a land mine. Anti-tank rockets were fired at the forces and then the unit shaved away the remains of a building that was already demolished, and was uninhabited." The seemingly updated information was far from the truth that was evident to the naked eye on the scene.

Is one supposed to deduce that the decision to demolish the building was made on the spot, and by the force, as an immediate reaction to the explosion and the anti-tank fire, and the IDF Spokesman's Office knew nothing of that? Israeli society, including the High Court of Justice, accepts the demolition of Palestinian homes as just, and therefore self-evident. It's a short step from there to the fact that three-and-a-half houses were destroyed by the army without the IDF Spokesman's Office, the first address for such information, knowing anything about it. Is that why the demolition unit was confident of its actions and of not reporting them?

Ezbat Beit Hanun is the western neighborhood of Beit Hanun, where the IDF has been operating since May 15, to prevent the firing of Qassam rockets at Sderot. In the first days of the operation, 10 rockets were fired from the Beit Hanun area, six in the direction of Sderot. In the last 10 days, the rocket fire has ceased.

The Za'anin houses were built beside the main road in Gaza - Salah a -Din - which passes between the neighborhood and the city center. One of the buildings was still under construction. According to the Za'anin family, during the demolition, a goat shed was destroyed; some of the goats were crushed under the heavy machinery. Storehouses were demolished as well as some farm equipment, including a tractor. A well-preserved 1960 Mercedes was destroyed, as were beehives that were dragged and crushed, now scattered among the rubble. More than 50 people lived in the four houses, and now they are crowded in with relatives and neighbors. They cannot cross the street - not even the oldest among them - to reach the city. The tanks prevent that passage.

Five Palestinians were killed by IDF fire on the first day of the Beit Hanun operation. Two armed men were killed when they tried shooting at the tanks. They were killed outside the city. Two youths, aged 15 and 16, who threw rocks, were killed inside the city. And 14-year-old Mohammed Za'anin was killed. He and his family didn't know that an IDF force had taken up a position in the next-door house. At the end of the first day of the IDF takeover, the Za'anin family went up to a little bridge that connects two parts of their compound, to see what was going on around them. Mohammed, the son, was killed - shot in the head. On May 18, another boy, also 14, from the Jabalya refugee camp was killed. He apparently was one of those who threw stones at the tanks that besieged the city.

Children climb the ramparts beside the tanks. Some fly kites, others try a kind of Russian slingshot roulette: When will the tank fire back at their rock-throwing? Thus, in the first days of the operation, between 10-20 children were wounded every day, for throwing rocks at tanks and APCs. On June 3, a Palestinian policeman was killed 400 meters west of Salah a-Din Street. A bullet hit him in the head as he stood at his post. His job was to prevent armed Palestinians from approaching Israeli positions.

In the last two weeks, IDF forces have uprooted the orchards and groves of Beit Hanun. On the first day of the operation, the IDF blew up and demolished four houses inside Beit Hanun. Two belonged to wanted men; two others belonged to detained prisoners. That's listed with the IDF Spokesman's Office. Six other houses were damaged, including two seriously, but the IDF knew nothing about those officially.