Israel's war on Palestinian homes exposes its deep insecurities

Gaza's neighbourhoods reveal a deep historical connection to a land that was never empty, as Israel has falsely claimed

Israel's war on Palestinian homes exposes its deep insecurities

A Palestinian woman taking refuge in a tent in Rafah explained why displaced Palestinians in Gaza feel so strongly connected to their homes.

She shared with me the connections people feel through their properties with both the history and the sense of place Gaza inspires in its residents, so many of whom have now been forced to flee.

She said that if a house remains intact, it symbolises “a right that can never be taken away”. If it were destroyed, the home would be honoured among the memories of the martyrs.

There is a determination to one day rebuild, setting up a dual victory: having a home and sending a message that they are staying put on their land.

Her words reveal how the individual homes of Gaza combine to make up the identity of the land and its culture. This might explain why the efforts to obliterate entire residential areas are so relentless, targeting entire neighbourhoods, then cities and after that, even camps.

The Palestinian home is a military target for Israel because the once-thriving and long-standing neighbourhoods of Gaza challenge the narrative that Gaza was empty before the occupation — "a land without people", as they claimed.

Many in the north refuse to leave their homes – not out of a disregard for death or because they possess extraordinary courage – but because their home has deep resonance for them as their sanctuary and place in the world.

The individual homes of Gaza combined make up the identity of the land. This might explain why Israel's efforts to obliterate entire residential areas are so relentless.

Israeli settlers in the area have no such connection. From the war's onset, they crowded the airports, abandoning even the settlements that were not immediately threatened. They left with the ease of tourists.

The Palestinians see their homes as a bond with the history of the land, giving their houses a sense of identity. These homes feel as if they have a soul alongside their physical presence. And so, their homes also amount to irrefutable evidence of their rightful claim to the land.

The older the house, mainly if it has been passed down through generations, the more it challenges the Zionist narrative. The deeper and more ancient the roots, the greater the effort and more sophisticated the methods required to dislodge them.

This entails the fabrication of falsehoods, the creation of propaganda, the development of more precise missiles and smarter bombs, the use of highly explosive materials in greater quantities, and the allocation of increased budgets and tax funds from Western coffers.

The war on refugee camps

The same Westerners – who construct skyscrapers, luxurious palaces, and elegant residences in their own countries – find the modest, cramped homes of the Jabalia refugee camp, Beit Lahia, Gaza, Khan Yunis, Deir al-Balah, Rafah, and their counterparts profoundly threatening.

These humble, tightly packed dwellings have become targets for eradication. Vast resources and wealth are mobilised against them.

But it is hard to fight an idea. And the Palestinian home transcends mere material possession to embody a profound and inimitable moral principle.

Like the mother tongue – which remains elusive to the foreigner who, despite efforts to master its nuances, remains detached from its innate sensibilities – Palestine's authentic houses have an intrinsic cultural identity all of their own.

The concept of home is intrinsically tied to the notion of homeland and is vital in shaping identity. Without a homeland, a home loses its meaning; without a home, the concept of a homeland is incomplete.

For the Jewish immigrant, the quest for citizenship begins with the search for an address, but it is not just a house that can truly anchor people to a place.

The concept of home is intrinsically tied to the notion of homeland and is vital in shaping identity. Without a homeland, a home loses its meaning.

Ruthless determination

Nonetheless, there is a ruthless determination driving the demolition of Palestinian homes and the seizure of them in East Jerusalem, as well as the surrounding areas, as the settler mentality in the ascendancy in Israel grinds on relentlessly.

It is the same mentality that led to the founding of the Yisrael Beiteinu party and naming the internal intelligence service Shin Bet –"Bet," meaning home in both Hebrew and Arabic – as a challenge to Palestine's rich heritage rich of homes rooted in places called Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahia, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.

Palestinian homes are unique. They bear no resemblance to those in Europe or America, possessing a distinct identity — from the arrangement of rooms to the placement of doors and windows, the kitchen opening onto the backyard, the clothesline, the water tap in the yard, and unique architectural details.

The foreigner is usually oblivious to the rationale behind their design and purpose, unfamiliar with their use and significance.

In contrast, the uniform concrete blocks of Israel's settlements, while orderly, are devoid of soul and identity. They are mere replicas, rows of colourless, tasteless, odourless, lifeless squares.

They seem to recruit rather than home people. Their residents are more like prisoners, living in homogenous cell-like units, between which they can move, but without putting down proper roots.

The newborn is introduced to the street before being able to walk. This means the street and the neighbourhood are woven into the fabric of the home.

Planting human seeds

The rising birth rate among Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, serves as a profound manifestation of their faith in their concept of home.

In increasing the density of the population of their homes, Palestinians are giving them weight, deepening their ties to the homeland, enriching their intimate knowledge of it, and holding on fast to their heritage.

Births are at once the simplest way of expanding their notion of home and, in some ways, one of the most complicated.

In the confines of modest homes, brimming with life, voices and needs, the newborn is introduced to the street before being able to walk.

This means the street and the neighbourhood are woven into the fabric of the home, and the concept extends beyond individual dwellings, out into the street and the town and on into the homeland. In some ways, it goes on as far as the gates of Paradise.

The relentless drive to wipe out the Palestinian home in all these senses is not new. It continues a loathsome campaign that began with the 1948 Nakba.

It epitomises Israel's disturbing fixation on asserting one identity by stripping away the identity of others. This reveals a deep-seated psychological inferiority complex that afflicts the occupier in relation to the rightful inhabitants of the land.

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