Big men who knock down little houses again and again
By Itay Epshtain, ICAHD
November 1, 2012
Israeli authorities demolished Beit Arabiya (“Arabiya’s House”) early this morning (Thursday, November 1 2012) for the sixth consecutive time since 1998, following its recent reconstruction in July this year, in the aftermath of its fifth demolition in January 2012. ICAHD names Israeli duty-bearers as personally responsible for policies and practices that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Beit Arabiya, located in the West Bank town of Anata (Area C) just to the northeast of Jerusalem, is a living symbol of resistance to Occupation and the desire for justice and peace. As its name suggests, Beit Arabiya is a home belonging to Arabiya Shawamreh, her husband Salim and their seven children, a Palestinian family whose home has been demolished five times by the Israeli authorities and rebuilt each time by ICAHD’s Palestinian, Israeli and international peace activists, before being demolished again this morning.
Beit Arabiya July 2012 before its latest demolition
Arabiya and Salim have dedicated their home as a center for peace in the memories of Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan, two women (an American and a Palestinian) who died resisting home demolitions in Gaza. In the past decade ICAHD has hosted numerous visitors at Beit Arabiya, and based its annual rebuilding camp at the house, rebuilding 186 demolished Palestinian homes.
Beit Arabiya was recently rebuilt during ICAHD’s tenth annual rebuilding camp that attracted more than thirty internationals, that stood side by side with Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to be enemies, demonstrating that there are partners for peace. Within two weeks, the pile of rubble left after the demolition of the house in the middle of night on 23 January earlier this year, was transformed into a fully functioning house with extensive terrace, made possible by nearly one hundred additional volunteers, including international youth, part of summer delegations to Palestine.
Every year hundreds of Palestinians are forced from their homes, homes built on land they own. Since 1967 Israel has demolished more than 26,000 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. ICAHD has rebuilt a total of 186 Palestinian homes illegally demolished by Israel and is determined to see this illegal policy stop.
In June 2012 the United Nations Human Rights Council received the annual report of Prof. Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the OPT. Falk highlighted the disturbing case of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh, and stated it was “illustrative of a common Palestinian complaint that their property rights are indirectly usurped through the denial of formal permits and the subsequent issuance and execution of demolition orders.” The UN expert further highlighted that “while it will be rebuilt once again next month, the family will live under the threat of having its home demolished at any moment. The ever-present threat of Israeli bulldozers perverts the sense of normalcy so essential for raising children.”
Former United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory Maxwell Gaylard visited demolished Beit Arabiya in January 2012, following its fifth demolition, and was briefed by ICAHD’s Jeff Halper and Itay Epshtain. Following his visit he called for an immediate end to the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israel in the occupied West Bank: “Israel as the Occupying Power has a fundamental responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control and to ensure their dignity and wellbeing. The wholesale destruction of their homes and livelihoods is not consistent with that responsibility and humanitarian ideals. The current policy and practice of demolitions cause extensive human suffering and should end. Palestinians urgently require ready access to a fair and nondiscriminatory planning and zoning system that meets their needs for growth and development.”
The demolition of Palestinian homes and other structures, forced or resulting displacement, land expropriation, and settlement expansion, are politically and ethnically motivated. The goal is to limit development and confine the four million Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza to small enclaves, thus effectively foreclosing any viable, contiguous Palestinian state and ensuring Israeli control, and the “Judaization” of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Palestinian population in the OPT, including occupied and illegally annexed East Jerusalem, continues to endure violence, displacement, dispossession and deprivation as a result of prolonged Israeli occupation, in most cases in violation of their rights under international human rights law (IHRL), and international humanitarian law (IHL). As of October 23 2012, 472 structures have been demolished since the beginning of the year, including 140 family homes. As a result, 682 people were displaced and offered neither alternative housing nor compensation.
As the Occupying Power, Israel is bound by the provisions of IHL, namely the Hague Regulations of 1907, and the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, both of which constitute binding customary international law. However, ICAHD firmly holds that Israel’s occupation can no longer be considered temporary, and that other obligations should be invoked, such as the right to self-determination. It is widely agreed that IHRL must be referenced in order to flesh out the notion of population welfare, and to delineate and set restraints on the occupying power’s actions. In particular experts refer to the rights to health, education, food and housing, codified, inter alia, in the conventions and covenants that comprise the human rights treaty system.
Moreover, Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines grave breaches of the Convention as those involving, among others, any of the following acts, if committed against persons or property protected by the Convention: inhuman treatment, extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, and deportation or transfer of a protected person.
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Article 8, grave breaches constitute war crimes and give rise to individual criminal responsibility. Even states, such as Israel, that have not acceded to the Rome Statute might still be subject to an obligation to co-operate with the ICC in certain cases. Consequently, Israel’s policies and practices, prevalent in the OPT, may very well constitute ‘war crimes’ under Article 8(2)(a)(iv), and Article 8 (2)(a)(vii) of the Statute of the ICC.
Furthermore, Israeli policies and practices in the OPT may constitute ‘crimes against humanity’ under Article 7(1)(d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population; Article 7(1)(h) Persecution of any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender grounds; and Article 7(1)(j) The crime of apartheid; as well as a violation of the UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973. The crime of apartheid should be understood to mean inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.
In Resolution 177(II) the UN General Assembly directed the International Law Commission to formulate the principles of the International Military Tribunal (IMT) Judgment as principles of international law; (since then known as the “Nuremberg Principles”) as follows: “Any person who commits an act which constitutes a crime under international law is responsible and liable to punishment for that act; The fact that a person who committed an act which constitutes a crime under international law acted as a Head of State or responsible government official does not relieve him from responsibility under international law; The fact that a person acted pursuant to an order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
Thus, ICAHD names the following Israeli duty-bearers as personally responsible for policies and practices that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Minister of Defense Ehud Barak; Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman; GOC Central Command Major General Nitzan Alon; Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major General Eitan Dangot; Head of the Civil Administration Brigadier General Moti Almoz.
ICAHD also recalls the obligation of third states, High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, to respect and ensure respect for the Conventions in all circumstances, as stipulated in common Article 1. The International Law Commission’s Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts Articles 16 and 40 demand that: “A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so […] No State shall recognize as lawful a situation created by a serious breach […] nor render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation.”
We all witnessed the committing of a crime last night, but where are the police, the courts? Who arrest, try and convict the culprits? What happens when governments and their agents are responsible for serious crimes? Is there no justice? No mechanism of bringing them to justice? Can they continue their crimes with impunity (in the case of Israel’s leaders and agents, military and police, these last 65 years)? The demolition of Salim and Arabiya Shawamreh’s home for the sixth time demonstrates our inability to bring some kinds of criminals, perhaps the worst kind, to justice — systematic violators of fundamental human rights and international law bringing to bear on innocent people the full weight of their state violence. Beit Arabiya poses a challenge to everyone who believes that law and human rights should be the basis of our collective life, not power or violence.