Bulldozing peace hopes

April 22, 2001|By Michael Brown

ON A BLISTERING day in the summer of 1999 I went to Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem to help Salim Shawamreh rebuild his twice- demolished home. Palestinians, Israeli Jews and Americans worked together to rebuild the "House of Peace."

During a break, we chatted amiably as we ate a watermelon. This shared moment is what peace could look like. But it won't happen anytime soon at the Shawamrehs'. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had their home demolished earlier this month.

There is no stronger message he could send of his antagonism to the very concept of peace than to destroy this particular home.

This is about destroying the dream of what Israel and Palestine could look like and transmuting it into a nightmare of domination and brutality by Israel and those who would colonize still more of the Israeli-occupied territories, consequences aside.

Mr. Sharon and his cohort simply are not about to allow the Palestinians to live in peace on 22 percent of historic Palestine. Instead, they press on with plans to make peace a logistical impossibility by expanding settlement activity that State Department spokesman Richard Boucher characterized on April 5 as "provocative" and "inflaming an already volatile situation."

The situation is deteriorating fast. The night of April 10 brought an Israeli military intrusion into the Palestinian refugee camp of Khan Yunis. It was not the first of its kind, despite what Israel said at the time.

I lived through the most terrifying night of my life Dec. 13 when Israeli military forces entered Khan Yunis to demolish houses. I saw Palestinian families with small children fleeing their homes in the dead of night. An elderly man came to the door of his home and vomited. I saw the wounded, including children, a few hours later at the hospital.

None of the news reports I saw gave any sense of the widespread terror that had gripped the refugees of Khan Yunis that night.

While the attack I witnessed was repelled, the April 10 strike resulted in about 30 homes being demolished. Between the two separate attacks, six Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded.

The newly homeless are refugees twice over -- people terrified out of their homes by Israeli forces in 1948 and again this year. It should be shameful.

That it is not speaks volumes about U.S. willingness to brook Israel's shunting of 1.1 million Palestinians into two-thirds of the Gaza Strip while about 5,000 Israeli settlers occupy the other third. We once knew this as apartheid. Today, we are content to make apologies for it and blame Palestinian victims for resisting endless occupation and the inadequate peace deals thrown their way.

More home demolitions are scheduled to follow the unscheduled ones in Khan Yunis. The family home in East Jerusalem of Abeer Abu Shalbak, an American citizen, is threatened with destruction in a civil action that is being challenged in court.

Whether there is a demolition order that wends its way through the Israeli court system or an unannounced midnight bulldozer bashing through the front door, the bottom line is that Israel's actions as an occupying power are not only illegal under international law but fundamentally unjust. Ms. Shalbak is right to be alarmed.

Mr. Sharon is not known as "The Bulldozer" for nothing. He blew up Palestinian homes in Qibya in 1953, killing 69 villagers. He oversaw an early 1970s campaign in Gaza that left thousands homeless. Israel's own commission found him "indirectly responsible" for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. And he is back at it today.

Such wanton belligerence and destruction is indefensible. What possible good can come of demolishing Ms. Shalbak's family home? The only crime her family has committed is being born Palestinian in land illegally occupied by Israel.

While I hold little hope of Mr. Sharon bringing anything but bloodshed and tragedy to the region, I still cling in one corner of my spirit to the goodwill I saw displayed that hot summer day as we worked to build both peace and a home at the Shawamrehs'.

But until Americans and their elected officials boldly denounce Israeli occupation and apartheid, there will be no real prospect of a just peace.

Michael Brown, a Baltimore resident, is director of the Partners for Peace Program in Washington.

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