Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Israel and Human Rights- Bulldozing Houses

Some links:
Human Rights Watch in Israel/Palestine
B'Tselem (Israeli Human Rights Organization)
Wikipedia Summary
Israel Factbook
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

Israel is a country couched in controversy, and not without reason. Since 1947 when the UN displaced Palestinians in order to create what we now know as Israel, the violence between the Arab states and the Jewish settlers has escalated. It didn't start there, though, so let's back up to the earliest I can look up on Wikipedia; the Jebusites were settled in Jerusalem (capital of modern day Israel) until 1000 BCE when, according to Hebrew religious records (with some architectural evidence supporting the account) King David invaded and took the City (this is the beginning of Jewish tradition in the region).

300 or so years later, the Assyrians took it over, followed by the Babylonians. 50 years after the Babylonians gained control of Israel Cyrus the Great, a Persian king, allowed the Jews to return and rebuild their lost temple in Jerusalem. Alexander the Great then came along, and the area now referred to as Israel (then called Judah) fell under Greek, Roman then Byzantine dominion until in 638 when the Islamic Caliphate claimed it for their own (this was the start of Islamic control of the area, which did not change until 1947). Richard conquered Jerusalem (and Saladin then took it back), then the Ottomans took control until 1917 when the British took control and partitioned the area into two parts, Israel and Palestine. Well, the Arabs in the area didn't like that at all, so they picked a bit of a fight with Israel and, by most accounts, lost. The newly formed boundaries lasted until 1967 Egypt called for Arabs to "unite against Israel". Well, Israel didn't wait for them do to so, and struck first. After just six days the opposing forces were defeated and Israel ended up with, among other territories, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Sinai Peninsula.

So, that established what are called "the '67 Borders", which pretty much speaks for itself. In 1972, a group of Palestinian terrorists massacred a group of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich, which was followed by a 1973 war (Syria and Egypt launched an attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the Holiest Jewish Holiday), which lasted only 20 days before Israel emerged victorious. Up until this point, Israel has been, for the most part, blameless.

Now we come to the part where Israel loses the moral high ground. In the early 1980's, Israel begins to take certain measures to stop attacks by Palestinians that go beyond conventional counter-terrorism. The most notable example, as well as the most easily proven, is Israel's house demolition policy. There were mass detentions and deportations (and the legal system in Palestine still isn't the model of Just action) as well, but there are enough examples and enough damage is done by the demolition that I'll try to concentrate on that.

So here's the ideal scenario for Israel; a terrorist attacks either the IDF or (worse) an Israeli civilian. They find the person's house and destroy it, leaving any family members, friends or other relatives homeless. That might not get across the devastation caused so let me explain; the Palestinian people are generally poor. They can't really all afford a home to themselves, so they often share with 4-5 (at least) other occupants. In the summer, Jerusalem can get above 100 (record high is 111.2 degrees) and in the winter it can get below freezing (record low is 19 degrees). So, you're a poor woman with no rights in the middle of the desert in the summer with three children and no husband (assuming he was a terrorist and the IDF doesn't have the wrong house, as it sometimes does, but even if it does Israel doesn't help get the family a new home), and you have no shelter. Assuming you live by finding someone kind enough to take you in, what do you think the rest of your life is going to be? And how about your children, how will they be fed?

You can imagine the hatred it can generate. Those children grew up, and in 1987 started what is known as "the First Intifada" (Arabic for "upheaval" or "shaking off"), a mass Palestinian uprising against Israel. This brought to light on the international level the injustices committed against the Palestinian people and caused many to criticize Israel's policies. Unfortunately, the uneducated Palestinians' violence against the IDF and ignorant racism against Israelis served to divert attention from the reprehensible actions of their enemies.

Well, the First Intifada ended with relatively little Israeli blood shed (160 deaths versus the 2,100 dead on the Palestinian side), but the message was received and Israel stopped bulldozing Palestinian houses. For a while. In 1994 Israel began once again sealing (and later destroying) homes belonging in part to criminals and terrorists. It's not surprising, then, that in 2000 the Palestinians began their Second Intifada.

Once again, as with the First Intifada, the Palestinian people resort to violence. They suicide bomb the IDF, they fire Qassam rockets at Jewish settlers (though this is a bit misleading; they aren't just shooting at civilians, they're shooting at settlers who have taken Palestinian home that were sealed and land that was bulldozed), and general strikes and protests. This lasted until 2006, when a treaty was signed that Hamas (the elected government of the Palestinian people) generally abides by.

Now, take a look at these two studies and what they say; The cycle of violence and Palestinian public opinion in the Second Intifada. Basically, when the Palestinian people attack Israel, Israel responds by killing more Palestinians in the weeks following. When Israel kills real response. The violence against Israel remains a steady anarchic, erratic mess. The Palestinian people don't get intimidated any more; they can't. They can't be deterred by violence any longer, every act of violence simply reinforces in their children the idea that all Israelis are evil, that Israel is the enemy. Not only are Israel's actions inhumane, they're keeping themselves in the senseless cycle of violence.

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