by Jeff Halper
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is a nonviolent, direct-action organization dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation and establishing a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Because “occupation” can be such a complex and abstract term, ICAHD focuses on Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes — about 24,000 in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) since 1967 — as a vehicle for exposing Israel’s policies and practices in those territories, for exposing its intentions vis-à-vis peace and permanent occupation, for conveying the human costs of occupation and, not least, as a site of resistance. ICAHD activists physically resist the demolition of Palestinian homes and engage in civil disobedience when we rebuild demolished homes — 170 in the past 13 years throughout East Jerusalem and the West Bank. (ICAHD has also rebuilt demolished homes within Israel, where the rate of demolition against Arab citizens is actually higher than in the OPT. We have built mainly in Israeli Bedouin communities, but we also actively supported the Mizrahi residents of Kfar Shalem in Tel Aviv against displacement and demolition.)
Since its inception in 1997, ICAHD has considered itself a political actor rather than merely a protest group. Keeping a clear focus on our overall goals — a complete end to the occupation and a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians — and placing ourselves within international civil society rather than only Israeli society are what give focus and definition to ICAHD’s activities. Thus, every action, program or campaign we engage in must answer affirmatively the central question before us: Is it contributing to an end of the occupation? If not, if it is merely an act of documentation or protest or humanitarian aid, then it is not at the center of our work. Resistance to House Demolitions, Rebuilding, Protests, Tours and Much More ICAHD’s activities in East Jerusalem are varied:
* Resistance to house demolitions on the ground
. ICAHD activists physically block the attempts of the Jerusalem municipality and the Ministry of Interior to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, often getting arrested in the process. As homes are being demolished, they contact officials of foreign consulates and journalists. While it is impossible to prevent the demolition of a particular home, by raising the alarm and focusing attention on the demolitions, ICAHD is able to force the authorities to retreat, thus saving the other homes that were slated for demolition that day.
* Organizing demonstrations and protest activities
. Working with other organizations, ICAHD has initiated dozens of protests against demolitions and other oppressive urban policies at the municipality and at sites of demolitions or threatened demolitions, such as Silwan. (The weekly Sheikh Jarrah protests also emanate from the ICAHD office.) This July  we completed our eighth annual work camp, with the support of the Spanish government, in which 65 volunteers from around the world rebuilt five demolished homes: three in Jerusalem (‘Anata and Beit Hanina) and two in the West Bank near Hebron.
* Research on demolitions and urban policy in Jerusalem
. While ICAHD is not a research institute, it does engage in focused research of policies underlying the occupation, and does publish extensively. Dr. Meir Margalit, ICAHD’s Jerusalem coordinator and a member of the city council, has published several studies on urban policy in East Jerusalem and its consequences, including No Place Like Home: House Demolitions in East Jerusalem, Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City
, and Seizing Control of Space in East Jerusalem
. I have also written extensively about planning in Jerusalem, primarily in my book Obstacles to Peace
. ICAHD’s staff also participates in ongoing research projects with other organizations, as well as in information-sharing local forums.
* Informational tours
. ICAHD staff and guides regularly conduct tours of East Jerusalem for the foreign press, diplomats and activists from abroad, both as general background and, at times, as immediate background for demolitions or evictions about to take place, against which we seek to mobilize international opposition. We also offer tours in Hebrew for the Israeli public and have succeeded in publicizing discriminatory government policy towards East Jerusalem in the Israeli media, where ICAHD staff, Dr. Margalit in particular, are considered experts to be called upon. ICAHD has a weekly program on Radio All For Peace.
* Legal and planning assistance on the local level
. ICAHD offers legal assistance to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, especially with regard to the demolition orders and fines they have received. We have serviced about 600 families over the years. We also initiate the development of new master plans in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem — Wallajeh (with funding from the Spanish government) and Wadi Assul (with support from the Norwegian government), in particular — in the hope of achieving more equitable planning policies and implementation. ICAHD has also joined with other organizations in pressing the Israel Lands Authority to return to their Palestinian owners lands expropriated for the building of Gilo but never utilized.
ICAHD’s advocacy officer Angela Godfrey-Goldstein has initiated a project with the law firm of Michael Sfard to develop a legal “template” of how to tackle house demolition cases in Israeli courts that will be of use to other lawyers less familiar with the issue. The research and its findings may be presented to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Housing for further consideration. Dilemmas about Strategy
It should be noted, however, that these actions have generated critical discussion within ICAHD itself. As a political organization dedicated to resisting and ending the occupation, some of our staff feel that such activities run the risk of legitimizing Israeli control by de facto accepting the jurisdiction of Israeli courts, planning bodies and government agencies — a position directly opposed to ICAHD’s view that Israel has no jurisdiction in East Jerusalem under international law and thus is acting illegally. This reflects the dilemma of a political organization which, nevertheless, feels a sense of responsibility to the victims of its political system. The International Arena
* International legal advocacy
. Recognizing the lack of legal recourse and accountability domestically, ICAHD works in collaboration with other human rights organizations and lawyers in Israel, in the OPT and abroad to bring the issue of house demolitions in East Jerusalem before international bodies, including courts abroad.
* International advocacy
. While ICAHD tries to reach the Israeli Jewish public with its tours, informational materials and advocacy for an end to the occupation, it seems clear to most of us that a just peace will not be possible without international pressure. Jerusalem in many ways encapsulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in microcosm and, thus, what happens there constitutes a concise and compelling story. ICAHD has developed over the years detailed yet comprehensible maps of how Israel is Judaizing — and de-Arabizing — the city, which says a lot, in both methods and intention, about where Israel is going with regard to the country and the Palestinians as a whole. We have developed PowerPoint presentations that convey the stories of families whose homes have been demolished to international audiences, governments, parliaments, university groups, churches and the Jewish community (when possible), activists and the general public. When possible we do our speaking, lobbying and strategizing tours with our Palestinian partners.
As part of our efforts to mobilize the international community, civil society will have to be mobilized before governments take strong and principled stands. In the context of this policy, ICAHD supports the campaign to boycott the international factories which are connected to the new light rail which runs through East Jerusalem, yet another piece of the Judaization process that fragments and isolates the enclaves of what once was a vibrant Palestinian city.