(photo credit: AP)
An Orthodox American Jew has donated $1.5 million to fund a campaign against the demolition of Palestinian and Beduin homes throughout Israel and the territories, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions announced on Monday.
The committee plans to use those funds to rebuild as many as 300 Palestinians homes it expects to be demolished this year either by the Interior Ministry, the Jerusalem Municipality or the Civil Administration.
Israel officials argue that Palestinian homes are only destroyed for security reasons or because they were illegally constructed, but ICAHD disputes both those arguments. Director-General Jeff Halper said that the government discriminates against Palestinians and therefore it is very difficult for them to obtain building permits.
Nor does he believe the security argument. "These are not people that have done anything or have been charged with anything. There is no security issues at all in terms of these homes," he said.
"This is really part of a continuing policy of displacement and dispossession" of Palestinians, he added.
He would not give the name of the US donor but said it was someone who did not want to be complicit with the policy of destroying Palestinian homes.
In the last 10 years, ICAHD has rebuilt some 35 destroyed Palestinians homes, but this is the first time that it has embarked on an anti-demolition campaign of this magnitude, in which it plans to rebuild each destroyed Palestinian home. It has already rebuilt five homes in the Jerusalem area and started on another eight, including four in Hebron.
To mark both the start of its campaign and the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, the group held a press event in the Old City in one of the few homes that remains from the Mughrabi Quarter which once stood at the site of the plaza that stretches out from the Wailing Wall.
While there have been few home demolitions in the Old City itself in the last 40 years, Halper said that the first act of the "occupation" in 1967 at the end of the war was to destroy part of the Mughrabi Quarter, including two mosques, to make space for worshipers at the wall.
Bulldozers came at night and 135 families were forced to leave their homes, Halper said. "We are coming back to the place where the occupation began," he said.
Speaking with him was the mukhtar of the Mughrabi Quarter, Mahmoud Masloukhi, whose family had lived there for 120 years. He himself was born in 1933 and grew up in the quarter. In 1967, he had recently remarried.
When he and his family understood that the quarter was being destroyed, they fled with only the clothes on their backs, he recalled. Now all he has left of his ancestral home is a few black and white photographs which he brought with him.
He recalled how at one time, Jews and Muslims lived peacefully together in the Old City. Jews were forced to leave the Old City after the War of Independence in 1948, when Jordan had control of the area. It also destroyed most of the Old City's Jewish Quarter.
After the Six Day War, it was Masloukhi and his family who had to leave. He and his sister are among the few who have returned to the Old City.
As Masloukhi stood with reporters and showed them the photos of his former home, a number of Jewish children in a school located above the courtyard threw large spitballs and water at him and the other people standing below.