Village Pays For The Acts Of A Few

Sun Journal

Demolition: The Israeli Practice Of Knocking Down The Homes Of Palestinians Believed To Be Terrorists Serves As Both Punishment And Warning.

April 29, 1997|By Ann LoLordo | Ann LoLordo,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

SURIF, West Bank -- The bulldozers woke Heithem Abu Fara and his family.

Sleepy-eyed, they gathered at a window to watch Israeli soldiers demolish another house in their Palestinian village.

It was the fourth demolition in as many weeks in a community that has been virtually sealed off since the bombing last month of a Tel Aviv cafe, an explosion in which three Israeli women and the bomber died.

The bomber, a member of a clan called Ghanimat, was from Surif.

The village's isolation increased when Israel arrested five residents and accused them of membership in the military wing of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas.

Authorities attribute the deaths of 11 Israelis to local Hamas members whose private war against Israel began in late 1995.

Surif lies in a valley of olive trees and stones; it is portrayed as a village of murderers, a characterization that predates recent events.

Israelis recall a clash in 1948, when Palestinians from Surif killed 35 Jewish partisans who were on their way to help residents of a Jewish settlement. In 1985, other members of the Ghanimat clan were convicted for the murder of several Israelis.

Then, as now, bulldozers reduced houses to rubble. And all of the village suffered for the acts of a few.

Israeli soldiers now guard entrances to the village, barring the 12,000 residents from coming or going except in medical emergencies.

Residents and a human rights activist say at least two people have died because they couldn't reach medical care in time.

Army-imposed curfews have made villagers prisoners in their own homes.

"The Israeli philosophy is, `If there is a bad tomato in the box, it means the whole box is bad,' " says a 40-year-old villager too frightened to give his name.

There are piles of rubble where the houses once stood. When villagers threw stones in protest, soldiers responded with tear gas.

Women who have no flour make bread from cauliflower. Men who work in Israel can't get to their jobs.

Worshipers have been prevented from going to the local mosque, whose green dome towers above the simple stone and cinder-block houses.

When Abu Fara, a chemistry student at Bethlehem University, tried to bypass army checkpoints by hiking through the hills, soldiers spotted him and ordered him home.

Despite the hardships, many Surif residents defend the actions of neighbors accused of violence.

"Even if it is true what he did," Abu Fara says of a neighbor who has been arrested, "he was doing it for the benefit of his people."

"Whatever they have done, they didn't do it for nothing. They have done it because of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's policies," says Asaad Qadi, 52, a member of the village council.

"I'm one of the people who is considered very moderate, telling people not to throw stones," Qadi says. But now? "I'm asking people to throw stones at soldiers."

At the village hall, Qadi and other council members challenge a visitor's question about suspected terrorists in their midst. First, let's define terrorism, says Mohammed Ghanimat, a 45-year-old mathematics teacher.

"If the Israelis consider our resistance against the occupation as terrorism, that means every nation under occupation who resists is a terrorist," says Fuad Qadi.

"Does terrorism mean the one who is seeking and asking for his rights?" asks Asaad Qadi.

When settlers kill Palestinians, "is this terrorism and the other not? " says Fuad Qadi.

Terrorism, says Ghanimat, the math teacher, is Israel's decision to build a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

"Terrorism is confiscating land with force," he says.

Land -- and who controls it -- is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Like other villages in the West Bank, Surif has lost land to Israel.

From the roof of the village hall, council members point to a pine-covered mountain ridge to the west -- fertile land they say once belonged to the village. They gesture toward Jewish settlements built on other parcels.

"Most of the rich, cultivated land was taken from us," says Khalil Arar, 60. "What is left for us is these empty mountains where you can grow nothing."

Surif is about a mile from the "Green Line," the border between Israel and the territory it captured from Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Thirty years later, most of Surif's roads are still unpaved. There is no sewage system. Telephone lines arrived only recently.

Council members say that the village hall and the school were built with money from Palestinians living abroad.

In 1995, as part of the Arab-Israeli peace agreement, Israel ceded control of most municipal affairs in Surif to the Palestinian authority. But Israel retains authority over security matters.

For a month, the Israeli news media have portrayed Surif as a breeding ground of violence. But villagers say the invective needs to end.

"We have spent more time talking about blood and terrorism," Fuad Qadi says. "What will stop this is a just and comprehensive peace."

A green tent rises from the roof of Zenab Ghanimat's house. Her son Musa was killed carrying the bomb to the Tel Aviv cafe.

After Israel demolished her son's house, aid workers provided the tent that shelters Musa's wife and four children.

Two of Zenab Ghanimat's remaining six sons are in prison. Israeli security forces arrested them after the bombing. A third son, 18-year-old Khalil, only recently was released from jail.

After the bombing, Zenab Ghanimat saw pictures on television of an infant whose mother was killed in the blast. The 52-year-old grandmother felt pain.

She believes that Musa, carrying the bomb, died a martyr's death, something to be proud of.

But, she says, "If you filled my house with gold or money, I would not accept it for one finger of my son."

Khalil also is proud of Musa because "he sacrificed himself for his homeland." But Khalil is not ready to make the same sacrifice: "I'm not ready to give up my future, my life."

Pub Date: 4/29/97

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