Will the Wadi Hummus demolitions help Netanyahu in the polls? - analysis

Politicians including Netanyahu and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman have sworn to remove them, but failed despite a High Court of Justice ruling that the homes could be removed.

By
July 25, 2019 03:51
4 minute read.
A Palestinian building is demolished by Israeli forces in Wadi Hummus, which sits on either side of

A Palestinian building is demolished by Israeli forces in Wadi Hummus, which sits on either side of the Israeli barrier just outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank July 22, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/MUSSA QAWASMA)

The tents and shacks of the West Bank herding village of Khan al-Ahmar often look like a gust of wind might blow them over.

Yet the small village, abundant with Palestinian flags and perched on a sandy hilltop in Area C overlooking Route 1 – the main artery from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea – has survived a decade of winter storms and negative court rulings, has stood strong against waves of right-wing political campaigns to force the IDF to remove the families.

The UN Security Council member nations and world leaders have warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against removing the village’s shacks. Diplomats have held solidarity visits, and activists have slept on the ground more than once to protect the village.

Politicians including Netanyahu and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman have sworn to remove them, but failed despite a High Court of Justice ruling that the homes could be removed.

During the April election campaign, NGOs such as Regavim hammered at Netanyahu, urging him to keep his promise. Days before Election Day he promised to do so. But after April 9, the state told the court that no action would be taken until after the September election.

While the Jahalin Bedouin fought to hold on to the Khan al-Ahmar hilltop, Palestinians on the other side of Jerusalem – in a small stretch of land in areas A and B known as Wadi Hummus – were busy pouring cement for 12 permanent stone buildings designed to hold multiple generations of families and last for decades.

In 2017, when they first knew their homes could be slated for demotion, Khan al-Ahmar was already an international symbol of Palestinian resistance, but their rapidly unfolding drama failed to gain the same traction in the Israeli or international media.

Last month the High Court of Justice ruled that the Wadi Hummus structures – designed to hold at least 70 apartments – could be taken down. One month later, border policemen and soldiers marched into Wadi Hummus with cranes and bulldozers to take down the homes, in some cases using dynamite to blow apart the concrete.

Statements of response by the EU, the UN and individual states came very late in the game, and many were issued after the bulldozers had already come and gone.

Unlike with Khan al-Ahmar, no right-wing NGOs and almost no right-wing politicians urged Netanyahu to take down the Wadi Hummus homes as a sign of strength against Palestinian building.

Logic would have dictated then, that if Netanyahu was going to rile the international community over Palestinian home demolitions, he would have removed Khan al-Ahmar and left Wadi Hummus intact.

Some pundits hold that he got cold feet with Khan al-Ahmar after the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda published a statement in October warning that “extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute.”

Her statement, which might have temporarily saved Khan al-Ahmar, provided a rational of “military necessity” that could have allowed Netanyahu to believe he could move with impunity.
To the ambassadors who condemned Israel over Wadi Hummus at the UN on Tuesday, there is little difference between the two scenarios.

But the right-wing push against Khan al-Ahmar is about the larger battle for Area C of the West Bank. Right-wing activists and politicians are pushing back against what they hold is a deliberate Palestinian campaign to illegally build in strategic portions of Area C to ensure that Israel cannot retain its hold on the land in any final status agreement for a two-state solution.

Regavim launched a campaign this summer against such building, called “A terror state right around the corner.” It calculated that some 30,000 illegal Palestinian homes were built in Area C over the last decade.

In contrast, the Wadi Hummus families ran afoul of the Israeli security apparatus by building less than 400 meters from the security barrier, without knowing about a 2011 edict that prevented such construction.

Left-wing activists dismiss any claims that the story lines differ, holding that at the end of the day, the issue is lack of building permits for Palestinians both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. It is a phenomenon that they charge is part of a deliberate push to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from both east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Wadi Hummus residents linked the demolitions directly to the election in September. They believe that the strong visual of a building imploding from dynamite and the bulldozers tearing apart the buildings would give right-wing Israelis the sense that Netanyahu was taking action against Palestinians.

“The prime minister, because of the election, wants mandates, but he should do it on security or health, not on the ruins of people’s homes,” said Ghaleb Abu Hadwan. “Really, he had to destroy my homes for a mandate?”

Added another home owner, “Netanyahu got what he wanted, more votes.”


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