Israel Defense Forces personnel stand guard as a bulldozer demolishes a building in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Khair in the West Bank on June 26, 2024. (Eid Suleiman)
Israel Defense Forces personnel stand guard as a bulldozer demolishes a building in the Palestinian village of Umm al-Khair in the West Bank on June 26, 2024. (Eid Suleiman)

I am an Israeli American Jew. Bulldozing Palestinian homes is personal for me

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As the brutal war in Gaza continues, Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister, is waging a messianic campaign to make annexation of large portions of the West Bank inevitable through demographic engineering. 

Cementing control of Area C of the West Bank and preventing the creation of a Palestinian state is at the heart of Smotrich’s plan. The Biden administration must act decisively to halt this flagrant abuse of international law.

It’s one thing to consider these issues in the abstract. It’s another matter when I wake up one morning to frantic WhatsApp messages from June 26 that the IDF’s bulldozers just demolished several homes, including the home of my friend, Eid Suleiman, and his family. The devastating result is that 38 of his family members now live in the desert with no shelter in the heat of summer.

Eid is an artist and activist who uses his camera as a nonviolent tool to fight the occupation. He has fought valiantly to preserve his village for over two decades. 

Umm al-Khair is situated south of Hebron. It’s part of a region called Masafer Yatta. Its residents are members of the Al-Hathalin family, a Bedouin tribe that has lived in the region for hundreds of years. In 1948, the family was displaced from its land in Israel’s Negev desert, fled to the Hebron area and settled on land they purchased from the city of Yatta, then under Jordanian control, to establish Umm al-Khair. They are farmers, shepherds and teachers. They are artists, poets and parents.

Israel conquered the area in 1967 during the Six-Day War. Under Article 53 of the fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is obligated to preserve conditions as they were. As an occupier, it is forbidden to transfer its citizens into the territory. Nevertheless, multiple Israeli governments since 1967 have done just that.

Children amid the rubble left behind after the IDF bulldozed homes in the West Bank village of Umm al-Khair, June 26, 2024. (Eid Suleiman)

The Jewish settlement of Carmel sits on the hilltop above Umm al-Khair. It’s a study in contrasts — a beautiful, modern, legally (under Israeli law) built neighborhood with running water, sewage, power and even jacuzzis next to a Palestinian collection of tin huts that is denied water, power or legal status by Israel. Almost any structure built by Palestinians is automatically deemed illegal and subject to demolition because the military authorities deny over 95% of permit requests.

A large part of Umm al-Khair was razed by Israeli bulldozers on June 26. Israeli soldiers had orders authorizing the demolition of structures built without permits, according to the Associated Press. Israel’s courts have upheld the legal validity of such actions. 

The result is a fine-tuned machine aimed at one thing: driving the Palestinian residents out of the West Bank’s Area C, which comprises 60% of the territory, so it can be nationalized by the state and turned over to Jewish settlements. According to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 682 structures in the West Bank have been destroyed so far in 2024.

Jewish settler violence is an integral part of this machine. With the protection of the Israeli army, Jewish settlers continually harass Palestinian villages. Their stated goal, validated and lauded by Smotrich, is to drive Palestinians out of Area C, which is administered by Israel, and into the more densely populated cities of Areas A and B, freeing up Area C for Jewish settlers.

Some call this apartheid. Some call it ethnic cleansing. Some call it the systematic colonization of private Palestinian land by Israel. For me, however, it is more personal. I call it the destruction of my friend’s life, livelihood and future. I call it the destruction of his children’s future. I call it pure evil.

I am a Jew. I was born in Israel. I am an Israeli citizen. I am deeply ashamed today of those who claim to represent my religion and my nationality.

I am also an American. I steadfastly support America’s commitment to Israel’s defense. But this is not a matter of self-defense. I implore the Biden administration to cease enabling Israel’s de facto annexation of Area C of the West Bank. It’s a clear violation of international law.

Ben Linder
Ben Linder

Benjamin Linder is devoted to human rights work focused on Israelis and Palestinians. He serves on the board of J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy organization. He also works with Combatants for Peace and South Hebron Hills Watch.