On the afternoon of July 9, I left my summer job in Jerusalem early to travel to Tel Aviv for the weekend. I picked up a spicy Thai sandwich – the kind you can only find in Israel – and sat down on a cement post in Zion Square to wait for a friend.
Meanwhile, the Israeli army demolished Yacoub Odeh’s house less than four kilometers away.
A crowd in the Marvin Center Ballroom heard Mr. Odeh’s story Oct. 21.
I was delighted by Mr. Odeh’s constructive attitude. (I have heard far angrier comments from Palestinians with far less to complain about.) It was Mr. Odeh’s ability to blame the Israeli occupation – which he distinguished from the Israeli people – that impressed me most. These sentiments were further evidenced by his affectionate remarks for those Israelis who demonstrated against the demolition and helped him rebuild his home.
It is because of the positive impression with which I left the Marvin Center that night that I was disturbed by Andrew Becker’s response presented in The GW Hatchet Oct. 26 (“Half-truths not a recipe for Arab-Israeli peace,” p. 5). Mr. Becker left the same event upset that Mr. Odeh portrayed himself as a victim, ignoring Israeli casualties of Palestinian terror.
Obviously, Arab-Israeli relations have been marred by hostile acts committed by both sides. I am intimately connected to the loss of Jewish life to terrorism. Mr. Odeh’s pains remain less tangible. Yet Mr. Odeh also is a victim and Mr. Becker errs by dismissing him merely as a propagandist. The Israeli government’s demolition of Arab homes built without building permits – which remain nearly unattainable to Arabs in Jerusalem – is not simply unfortunate. It is a grave strategic and moral error.
It is essential that the Jewish and Zionist communities weigh in on these issues. We do this because Israel, which we care for so much, is committing these terrible errors. The same Israel that is our Israel. We do this not only for peace, but also for Israel’s moral character.
Mr. Becker explained that the Israeli government destroys homes based on objective criteria – “Arab, Jewish or otherwise.” Apparently, Mr. Becker is not aware of the obstacles that deter Palestinians from obtaining building permits. For sure, he has not seen these statistics compiled from documents bearing the seal of the Jerusalem municipality:
From 1991 to 1996, 83 percent of the building violations detected in Jerusalem were in the Israeli sector, while 17 percent were in the Palestinian sector.
58 percent of the building violations in Jewish Jerusalem led to legal proceedings in this period. In contrast, 99 percent of those in Arab parts of Jerusalem led to legal proceedings.
Two-thirds of the demolition orders issued during this period were for Palestinians. Demolition orders are handed down without judicial process and, with rare exception, cannot be overturned by judicial intervention.
Of the total number of administrative demolitions carried out during the same period, 71 percent occurred in Palestinian areas of Jerusalem.
Mr. Becker should not be upset at the Arab Student Association’s effort to point out Israel’s errors. It has brought to light a contributing factor to the cross-national friction in Jerusalem. It would be hypocritical if the ASA did not examine ugliness perpetuated by Arab communities, but that is not my business. Bringing an end to home demolitions is.
Home demolitions must end because they serve no one and because they are wrong. They are my business because I am a Jew, a Zionist and an Israeli. The first step in ending this policy must involve raising awareness of this issue. For this reason, I am thankful for the opportunity that Mr. Odeh’s presentation provided. For the same reason, I was disturbed by the crude treatment he received at Mr. Becker’s hands.
-The writer is a senior majoring in international affairs.