Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Home Demolitions

What is it about housing permits in the Middle East?
Hamas police wielding clubs beat and pushed residents out of dozens of homes in the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Sunday before knocking the buildings down with bulldozers, residents said.

Gaza's militant Hamas rulers said the homes were built illegally on government land. Newly homeless residents were furious over Palestinians on bulldozers razing Palestinian homes.

For years, Palestinians have criticized Israel for destroying houses, mostly because they were built without permits issued by the military. Now, Rafah residents complained, their own government, run by the Islamic militant Hamas that seized power in Gaza in July 2007, has done the same.
Residents said between 30 and 40 homes were torn down, ranging from concrete structures to tin shacks. They did not know how many people were affected. Hamas officials did not allow reporters into the area until the demolition was over.

Residents said more demolitions in the area were expected Monday.

Even if they are allowed to rebuild, Israel does not allow most building materials into the territory it has blockaded since Hamas seized power. The newly homeless residents are unlikely to be able to afford the steep black market prices for concrete, steel and wood. Some of the families cannot afford rent.

Rafah's mayor, Issa Nashar, promised alternative housing. Gaza's housing minister Yousef al-Mansi said he had no information about such housing.

The cynic in me -- and when it comes to the Middle East, the cynic is a very large part of me -- doesn't really know what the downside of this is for Hamas. The ensuing misery of these men and women only helps buttress its PR war against Israel -- indeed, a significant part of Hamas' governing philosophy has been strategically exposing their denizens to danger and deprivation so as to make Israel look bad. The theoretical downsides are (1) that it hurts these Palestinian men and women, and (2) that it discredits Hamas and weakens its grip on the population and global opinion. The first I hardly think the Hamas government considers to be a particularly salient harm at all, and the second is less of a big deal than one might think -- international cameras won't make the distinction, and while the displaced men and women know who to blame, their political influence is negligible particularly given Hamas' concentration of force and willingness to deploy it against its own population.

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