Explaining demolitions

Israel has once again found itself under the magnifying glass of international glare, following Monday’s demolition of 12 apartment buildings in Sur Bahir.

July 24, 2019 21:21
3 minute read.
Jpost editorial logo

Jpost editorial logo . (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)

Israel has once again found itself under the magnifying glass of international glare, following Monday’s demolition of 12 apartment buildings in Sur Bahir on the outskirts of Jerusalem in an area now known around the world as Wadi Hummus.

In the military operation that lasted from the predawn hours until nightfall, bulldozers were used to take down the structures as cameramen recorded the play-by-play that was then broadcast around the world.

Because of the almost impenetrable political and geographical complexities surrounding the issue of Jerusalem borders, Sur Bahir is mostly within the city confines. But as The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff pointed out in her coverage of the demolition, parts of it, including Wadi Hummus, are located in the West Bank in Areas A and B, which are totally or partially under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.

The Civil Administration claimed that the structures were demolished because they were too close to the security barrier separating Jerusalem from the territories. Following a legal appeal by the buildings’ Palestinian inhabitants, the High Court of Justice ruled that the structures could be demolished because they “constitute a security danger to the area of the security fence.” The Civil Administration released a dry, formal statement with jargon about “enforcement procedures” and “operational considerations.”

While those arguments from a security standpoint – and backed by the legal system – support the premise that the demolition was justified, there was something missing in that cold, emotionless assessment released by the Civil Administration. Compared with the images of homeless Palestinian families standing amid the rubble created by IDF bulldozers, is it any wonder that Israel emerged from the incident looking like the villain?

Condemnations were wide and unanimous, and not just from the Palestinian leadership. It was a prime topic at the UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, and it also prompted a flurry of tweets from the likes of former adviser to Barack Obama Ben Rhodes, who accused Israel of destroying the buildings only because they belonged to Palestinians, a claim that was retweeted by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

There’s no way to prevent predictable reactions like that to any Israeli move that appears to be against Palestinians, but it seems like Israel didn’t even try. Like so many public relations disasters in the past, Israel’s decision-makers either did not realize that the demolition would reverberate in the halls of the UN and European capitals, or they didn’t really care that Israel’s image would once again be tarnished as the Goliath-like aggressors intent on removing Palestinian presence around Jerusalem. Either scenario is worrying.

What Israel needed was a media blitz, with on-the-scene briefings for foreign correspondents by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, or a senior Civil Administration or IDF official – or all three – explaining Israel’s considerations and decisions.

The world has a short memory, not the least of which is why the security barrier exists in the first place. Built to protect Israelis from the plague of Palestinian suicide attacks in the early 2000s – some of them emanating from residents of the Sur Bahir area – the barrier has helped to drastically reduce the deadly attacks on Israeli civilians.

What about explaining controversial decisions, not with legalese but with human emotion and a sound security assessment? Maybe it’s because the validations are somewhat murky. A 2011 military edict prohibits construction within 400 meters of the security barrier. Construction began on the buildings after 2014. As Lazaroff reported, residents say they did not know of the edict when they began building. The buildings in question are interspersed among other preexisting buildings in Wadi Hummus that were built prior to 2011 that are also less than 400 meters from the barrier, and which are not being demolished.

Israel’s security remains a No. 1 concern, and we back our security establishment in assessing its needs. It should be above any political concerns. But when decisions are made and carried out that everyone knows are going to be controversial, we need our leadership to stand up to explain and defend those decisions, and not just to send out bulldozers under the cover of night.

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