Israeli plans to demolish 38 Palestinian houses are opposed by 50 members of Congress

A Palestinian man inspects the rubble of a house after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers, in the village of Al-Walaja (Wisam Hashlamoun – APA Images)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  March 28, 2022

In a highwater mark of mainstream opposition to the unending Israeli occupation, 50 members of Congress have signed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to try to stop Israel’s demolition of 38 Palestinian houses in Al-Walaja, a village in the occupied West Bank, because the demolitions will undermine “Palestinian dignity” and “long-term Israeli security.”

Israel plans to make 360 Palestinians homeless to make room for Jewish settlements as part of its plans for greater Jerusalem.

The Israeli Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal from the Palestinians on March 30. (The Palestinians built the houses without permits; but Israel denies almost all building applications in Area C of the occupation anyway.)

Blinken was in Israel yesterday. He met with Israel leaders and offered vague opposition to Israeli actions that heighten tensions: “settlement expansion, settler violence, home demolitions, evictions.”

Asked specifically about al-Walaja, a top State Department aide indicated last week that Blinken would advise against the demolitions as “unilateral steps” that undermine the so-called two-state solution.

The signers of the Congressional letter on Al-Walaja include many progressives, such as Betty McCollum, Marie Newman, Ilhan Omar, and Jamaal Bowman, as well as liberal J Street Congress-people, Jared Huffman, Jennifer Wexton, and Andy Levin. And several Jews, including Jan Schakowsky, Jamie Raskin, Steve Cohen, John Yarmuth, and Levin.

Progressive Zionist groups are campaigning against the Al-Walaja demolitions. Americans for Peace Now calls them “morally wrong” as well as an obstacle to Palestinians ever getting a capital for a Palestinian state in Jerusalem.

Ameinu has described the village’s centuries-long cultivation of olive trees and fruits and vegetables on terraces that illegal Jewish settlements wish to seize. J Street has posted against the demolitions in the past.

The village came up during a congressional forum in Michigan last Thursday. Two Democratic Congress-people are battling over a newly-combined suburban Detroit district, and a big issue in the race is, How much you are allowed to criticize Israel. Rep. Haley Stevens has been endorsed by AIPAC, the rightwing Israel lobby group; she never criticizes Israel. Rep. Andy Levin is in the J Street lane. He calls himself a “bold progressive” and sometimes criticizes Israel, and has been attacked as “corrosive” by a former AIPAC leader.

Levin and Stevens are said to be close in polls. The primary is August 2, and Jews are a key constituency in the district.

Levin criticized the Walaja demolitions as “unjust” in the forum conducted by the pro-Israel group the Jewish Democratic Council of America. He called for restrictions on the $4 billion we send to Israel, but not cutting any of the aid.

It is important to ensure that our military aid to Israel is used for legitimate security purposes. This is something that we do with our aid to every other nation as well. We don’t want to have our aid used to perpetuate or extend the occupation, or execute unjust actions like home demolitions, forced displacements or violence against civilians. Incidents like the potential demolition of homes of 300 people in the village of Al-Walaja potentially happening right now harm innocent families and push the prospects for peace farther away.

Stevens disagreed. She does not support conditioning aid to Israel, regards the status of Gaza and the West Bank as being “long disputed,” regards Iran as the “real problem” in the region, and doesn’t want to pressure Israel “to make all the concessions.” Stevens brought up a red-meat issue for pro-Israel voters, Amnesty International director’s belief that Israel should not be a Jewish state.

We are right now in an environment where the head of Amnesty International has called into question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. I find that wholly unacceptable and offensive to my beliefs and to where I think we need to be as a country and as a world, and I’m not afraid to call that out.

Levin repeatedly played the Jewish card.

I don’t see a way to have a secure peaceful future for a democratic homeland for my people unless we realize the political and human rights for the Palestinians. I know it’s difficult, I know it’s controversial. I didn’t sign up for the easy work. I’m going to stand in the breach and work with Israelis and Palestinians to bring the parties together and work for a two state solution so that at long last we can have peace and security in the region.

Levin’s two-state solution act is the J Street credo. (Anyone who’s been to Palestine knows two states will never happen and sustaining belief in it without putting any pressure on Israel is a form of cruelty toward Palestinians.)

But this race will be interesting to watch as it pits a hardline Democratic Israel supporter with a more progressive one.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006