The Israeli officials who came without warning to Saleem Shawamreh's
front door gave him just 10 minutes to remove his family and belongings
from his home, before they began to destroy it.
It was breakfast time and the sun was slowly making its way up the
contours of the West Bank hills where Mr Shawamreh and his six children
have repeatedly sought to make their home.
A throng of Israeli soldiers in armoured jeeps watched on impassively as
the two bulldozers got to work, reducing his concrete bungalow to a mound
of rubble in less than two hours. Mr Shawamreh stood nearby with his
wife, Arabia, who was in tears. "Seeing your home destroyed is like
losing a life," he said , "It is a terrible thing." It is, however, a
sight with which the 43-year-old Palestinian is familiar.
It was the third time in four years that his house has been knocked down
by the Israeli military authorities. He has rebuilt it twice, helped by
Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who have made his case a "cause
celebre", a leading exhibit in the campaign to stop Israel from
demolishing Arab houses in the occupied territories.
So when the bulldozers arrived again this week, the message seemed to him
and his supporters to be clear and deliberate. They concluded that Ariel
Sharon, Israel's prime minister, was resorting to his past ruthless
tactics in an effort to pressure the Palestinians into compliance.
And by flattening Mr Shawamreh' s renowned home, the Israeli authorities
were intentionally sending a public signal that they now intended to play
even harder ball. The 73-year-old Mr Sharon has been known for years as
Mr Bulldozer, partly because of his bullying political style but also
because of his performance as the Israeli army's southern commander three
decades ago, when he ought to subdue the Gaza Strip's rebellious
residents by flattening hundreds of their homes. Now it seems that Mr
Bulldozer is back.
This week Arab homes were knocked down in and around Hebron, Jenin,
Jericho, Anata - where Mr Shawamreh lives - el-Khadr near Bethlehem, and
elsewhere on the pretext that they were built without permits. In all, 25
Arab houses and other buildings were demolished in four days, according
to LAW, a leading Palestinian human rights organisation.
This is more than a third of the total (68) of Palestinian-owned
buildings which were destroyed by Israeli bulldozers in the West Bank and
east Jerusalem throughout last year.
"This signals the start of what we consider to be a campaign of
repression," said Jeff Halper, coordinator of Israel's Committee Against
House Demolitions, "The whole point of this government is to break
Palestinian resistance once and for all so that they will have to accept
a mini-state. House demolition is a very powerful way of doing this,
because it creates despair."
Despair certainly seems to be felt by Mr Shawamreh, although he plans
immediately to begin building his house for the fourth time - again with
help from the peaceniks. "I am not a terrorist," he said gazing miserably
at the rubble of his house, as goats scavenged for pickings among the
ruins, " I haven't got a gun and I am not going to go out and kill
Israelis inside Israel. All I want is a home for my family. I have
nowhere else to live."
He bought his plot in 1990 for $30,000, using money had made working in
Saudi Arabia as a civil engineer. A mile or so to the south-west lies
Jerusalem's occupied Arab eastern side. To the east, the hills roll down
into the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. His land is in the so-called
Area C - the 60 per cent of the West Bank under total Israeli military
He says he attempted three times to get a building permit from Israel's
Civil Administration, Israel's military authority on the West Bank. Each
time he was refused, but went ahead and built. The reasons for denial
Not once did they include what he and his supporters believe to be the
true cause - the fact that his house overlooks a bypass road being built
to link the large Jewish settlements of Ma'aleh Adumim and Pisgat Ze'ev,
which Israel has been building as a bulwark around Arab parts of east and
north Jerusalem, giving it 'de facto' control of the greater metropolitan
area. Israeli authorities deny this. A Civil Authority spokesman said
that only four houses were destroyed this week, and the rest were "other
structures". The reason was because they were built without permits.
"People who take the law into their own hands are well aware of the
consequences....you cannot just build where you want."
He explained the rise in demolitions this week was merely due to the fact
that the security situation eased on the West Bank, allowing the work to
This will not convince the Palestinians. They now see a Sharon government
that is raising the stakes in the six-month conflict, and steadily
allowing more scope to the hardline elements in the Israeli military.
Palestinian attacks - mortars or suicide bombings - are met more often
now with tank and helicopter missile strikes.
Despite the new Israeli government's official policy of no new
settlements, it has become daily more clear that Jewish building in the
occupied territories is continuing apace. And Mr Sharon is talking about
allowing Israeli Jews access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif - the
highly volatile Jerusalem holy site which provided the spark which
detonated the intifada. Some of this may be posturing, but the Bulldozer
is beginning to look alarmingly like his old self.