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From Al-Bushra

Lena Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Yesterday was a day I won't ever forget. Neither will Salim and

Arabiyeh Shawamreh or their six children.

We had planned a joint Israeli-Palestinian protest against home

demolitions. The idea was to set up a tent on the site of a

demolition, a tent that would serve several purposes: protest,

solidarity, documentation, and compassionate listening to the

family members. We planned to move this tent from site to site,

wherever the Israeli army used its bulldozers. Yesterday's

inauguration of the tent was planned for opposite the so-called

"civil administration" headquarters -- the nerve center of

Israel's control of the occupied territories -- those who

actually do the dirty work of demolishing people's homes and

other acts of oppression.

Our bus from Jerusalem held activists from several peace

movements -- Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom,

and Peace Now. We are all partners in a coalition called the

Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and our demonstration

was to be held jointly with the Palestinian Land Defense General

Committee.

Through the bus microphone, I listened to Meir Margalit explain

the action and sketch one chilling scenario. "If the soldiers

try to prevent us from holding the demonstration, proceed in an

orderly manner to the planned alternative site. There must not

be violence on our side, but if the army engages in violence, do

not separate from the Palestinians. The army will be more brutal

to the Palestinians if the soldiers manage to separate us."

It was a sobering thought as we drove across the Green Line and

toward the protest tent. Suddenly a call came across a mobile

phone and Meir took the mike again. "We have just had word that

a demolition is taking place at this very moment not far from

here." It's a rare occurrence to catch a demolition in progress,

no less with a group of peace activists; most demolitions take

place with virtually no warning, and hence no time to protest.

With no further discussion, we turned toward Anata on the edge

of Jerusalem, a town composed almost entirely of Palestinian

refugees who had lived in the Old City of Jerusalem and fled in

1967. They thought they had found refuge in Anata.

After driving the narrow unpaved streets of Anata for what seemed

an interminable time, we finally located the area and the bus

parked as close as possible. We still had to walk 10 minutes

down narrow, zig-zagging dirt roads between crowded homes until

we came to the outskirts of Anata. There we practically ran

toward the edge of the hill and looked below -- a beautiful home

set into the pastoral valley with one of its walls now crumpled

into rubble by a roaring bulldozer; a family and neighbors

sobbing nearby; and a unit of Israeli soldiers preventing anyone

else from approaching the scene.

The scene was horrific. We surged down the hill in our small

group until the soldiers blocked our progress with their guns and

bodies. There were scuffles trying to get past them, but more

soldiers joined the barricade. M.K. Naomi Chazan who was with

us demanded to see the order proclaiming this a "closed military

zone", as the soldiers claimed, and after several long minutes

the officer complied. Who knows if the order was genuine or

invented at the last minute. But the guns were real.

So there we stood on the side of the hill and watched with an

unbearable sense of helplessness as the "civil" administration's

bulldozer took the house apart wall by wall. He drove through

the front garden with a profusion of flowers and a lemon tree and

slammed the front door as if he were God Almighty. Backing away,

he slammed again until the entire front was shattered and

dangling from metal rods. Then he came from every side, slamming

and crashing his shovel against the walls. Finally he lifted off

the roof, barely suspended, and sent it crashing below. When

that was done, he went around the back of the house and crashed

through all the fruit trees, including a small olive stand. He

saw a water tank on a platform and knocked that over, the tank

tumbling down and a cascade of water drenching the trees now

uprooted and broken. He saw two more tanks nearby and knocked

those over as well. I have never seen anyone in the Middle East

deliberately waste so much water. Then he noticed a shack in the

corner of the yard and he churned over to that, his cleated

treads grinding and squealing over the rubble he had to climb

over. The shack was an easy swipe for his shovel, and we were

surprised to see two doves fly out, one white and one black,

frightened out of their wits. They flapped their wings briefly

and landed not far from their former home.

All the while, a crowd of Palestinian neighbors and young men

were gathering behind us on the mountain crest, cat-calling and

jeering. From our Israeli group, many engaged the soldiers in

challenges: "How can you sleep at night?"; "Is this what is

meant by defending Israel?"; "Don't you understand the immorality

of this action?", and the like. Every single soldier, from the

high commander to the lowest GI responded the same way: "This

is legal; we're only following orders." One woman tried to yell

at the bulldozer driver everytime there was a lull in the din.

But nothing we could think to say stopped the roar of

devastation.

By then I had managed to move down past the soldiers and was with

the family outside their former home. One woman was sobbing and

I put my arms around her. When I began to cry too, she put her

arms around me. A weeping girl joined us and we both encircled

her with our arms. I later learned that this was 14-year-old

Lena and this house had once been hers. Then suddenly, gunshots

rang out. Some of the young Palestinian men had begun throwing

stones -- from a very great distance, I note -- and Israeli

soldiers retaliated by opening fire and running up the hill after

them. The soldiers were shooting as they ran, setting off their

guns like the wild west. I saw the commander and told him that

this was illegal, a clear violation of the "open fire

regulations" of the Israeli army, which stipulate that a

soldier's life be in danger before he opens fire. I demanded

repeatedly that he tell the soldiers to stop. The commander

shrugged and didn't bother answering. After 10 minutes or so,

the shooting stopped. Amazingly, no "stray" bullets had hit any

of our group, although the Palestinians, as usual, were not as

lucky. A man approached the crowd of neighbors, said a few

words, and instantly two women let out piercing shrieks and tore

up the hill, running at top speed. The son of one of them had

been hit by a bullet. I don't know his condition. Already in

the hospital was Arabiyeh, the mother of the family, who had been

violently struck by soldiers when she tried to prevent them from

destroying her home.

By then there was nothing to do but sift through the rubble. I

picked through the rocks and talked to Jeff Halper, who is

organizing the program to "adopt" Palestinian families whose

homes are slated for demolition. Jeff had sat in the living room

of this home last week, now a pile of jagged concrete slabs,

hearing Salim and Arabiyeh talk about the problem of Palestinians

not being issued construction permits. "Just last night," Salim

had told Jeff during the demolition, "friends and family had sat

in this home watching the World Cup soccer game". Now there are

6 children without tv, toys, books, diapers, bottles, or a place

to lay their heads. Instead, they remain with the trauma of the

Israeli bulldozer turning their home and security into a

bottomless pit of hatred for this occupation and the people who

carry it out.

A lot of us picked up olive branches from the yard as we walked

back to the buses. Most of the branches, like mine, were crushed

by the treads of power run amuck. For the first time, I also

noticed the scenery around us. On a nearby mountain -- not a

distant one, mind you -- were the classrooms and amphitheater of

the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University. Had they looked

out their classroom window, the students studying ethics and

justice could have had a clear view of the scene of brute power

and the trampling of this family's lives. And surrounding

everything, on mountains and hilltops to our left, right, and

center, were the bright orange rooftops of the settler homes in

the Occupied Territories. The settlers have no problem

whatsoever in getting construction permits. And no one would

dare uproot their olive trees, waste their water, harm their

homes, or turn their children out into the streets.

Well, it's almost over, this long, sad story, but it must not end

here. Our group, the same people and more I hope, will be going

back next Friday to begin rebuilding this home. This is a new

tradition of non-violent resistance that began a few weeks ago,

and is gaining momentum. The Palestinians rebuild, the Israeli

army demolishes, and they rebuild again. As one of the neighbors

said, "We'll see who lasts longer."

If you cannot come to our rebuilding effort -- and even if you

can -- please, please, please use your power to get this to stop.

The messages you have sent are incredibly effective -- foreign

political leaders have begun to raise the issue of home

demolitions with Israeli leaders. Write a brief message to

several people on the list below. Tell them that the Israeli

demolition of Palestinian homes must be stopped. Say it in the

subject line, so they get the point quickly. And circulate this

letter to more people.

That's all. Thank you for listening.

Gila Svirsky

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