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Clarissa O’Conor
From Palestine to Penn

Credit: Clarissa O'Conor

As we were waiting for the other students to arrive, our professor casually asked us if we saw the demolition of a Palestinian home going on outside the main gates of campus on our way in. Having been dropped off at one of the bottom gates, I didn’t see anything, but all of a sudden the booms I heard on my way in made sense, as did the missing students in class.

Our professor, a geographer by training, started to give us some background on how Israel controls Palestinian land while we were waiting for the other students, but we were interrupted by an Al Quds University employee who came in to tell us that classes were canceled for the day.

The Israeli occupation forces guarding the demolition team closed the area around the house, declaring it a “closed military zone.” There were fears that the Israeli occupation forces soldiers would invade campus, as they have done previously, so it was deemed safer if we left for the day.

Later, one of my fellow American students, Connor — who prefers not to have his whole name used — would tell me what he saw coming in the main gate to campus.

Because of a traffic jam on his way to class, he and some classmates had decided to get out of their taxi and walk the rest of the way. On foot, they noticed college students and local children gathered and went over to see what was going on.

“It was only then that we saw numerous Israeli soldiers at the end of the street pointing their guns in our direction,” Connor said.

“Before we had time to react, the military started shooting bullets at everyone in the street. We started to run behind buildings for shelter to avoid getting shot. Eventually, some college students helped us get onto campus through another entrance that wasn’t being guarded by the military,” he added.

The events that unfolded that morning right outside of campus are not uncommon in Palestine, nor is the excessive military force. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, which keeps track of Israel’s destruction of Palestinian property, Israel has destroyed 527 Palestinian homes in 2013, displacing 862 people. Since 1967, Israel has destroyed over 28,000 Palestinian homes and businesses.

These home demolitions mainly take place in East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, where Israel maintains total military and civil control. Together, this constitutes 70 percent of the occupied Palestinian territories, and Palestinians must obtain a building permit from Israel to build anything, even on land that they own.

Israel denies more than 94 percent of building permits submitted by Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel continues to build illegal settlements for Jewish Israelis to live in, right next door. As a result and out of necessity, many Palestinians build homes without permits.

A week ago, at 4 a.m., Israel demolished a Palestinian apartment building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, displacing 20 people. My friend Dima — who prefers not have her whole name used — lives minutes away from the now-demolished apartment building.

“It was the most beautiful house in all of East Jerusalem, with incredible architecture and a beautiful garden,” she said. “It’s still traumatic for me to see the rubble of the apartment building and to think about the people who used to live there and the kids who have had their home destroyed.”

Some accuse me of using buzzwords like “ethnic cleansing,” which they say are polarizing and shut down dialogue or cause people to stop listening. Maybe you prefer the more academic term — “forced population transfer.” But at the end of the day, Israel is systematically destroying Palestinian homes, with the help of armed soldiers guarding the streets. We should call it what it is.

Clarissa O’Conor is a College junior from Lititz, Pa., who is studying abroad in Palestine this fall. Her email address is View her tumblr here. “From Palestine to Penn” appears every other Tuesday.

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