Bomber's kin await Israelis' revenge

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The Independent Online
In a few days Mariam Farahneh will watch Israeli engineers pack explosives into the walls of her house in al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron, and blow it up. At the moment she is living with 10 of her children and grandchildren in a white tent donated by the Red Cross under a tree just in front of the house, the door and windows of which are sealed with sheets of corrugated iron.

The reason for the demolition is that on 25 February her son, Ibrahim, boarded the Number 18 bus on the Jaffa road in Jerusalem and detonated a bomb, killing himself and 25 passengers. Israel has a policy of destroying the houses of the families of suicide bombers.

Hamad Farahneh, the eldest of Ibrahim's brothers, said wearily they were waiting for their appeal to be turned down: "It is a military order. They are going to demolish the house." Mahmoud, another brother, who worked as a teacher, said: "None of the family knew what Ibrahim was going to do."

Both brothers were released from jail last week, so the Israeli army presumably accepts that this is true.

This will not save the grey-painted house, built into the steep rocky hillside on which stands al-Fawwar, a dusty camp which is home to 6,000 Palestinians. Mrs Farahneh, who came here in 1948 from the village of Agur, in what is now Israel, says her family built it four years ago after saving for 30 years. She accepted that its destruction was assured.

Is it likely that a man willing to die would be deterred by such measures? On Sunday, Shimon Peres, the Prime Minister, told his Cabinet that when he was defence minister in the 1970s, house demolitions and deportations were effective. Of course, this was before the era of the suicide bomber or even the Palestinian intifada. Other Israelis have doubts.

Shulamit Aloni, a left-wing minister, recalling that Baruch Goldstein, an Israeli settler from Kiryat Arba, killed 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994, said: "No one can explain to students in schools why Baruch Goldstein's house was not demolished, while today so many houses are destroyed."

The same argument was made again and again in the main street of al-Fawwar. "Our blood is cheap but theirs is expensive," said Bassam Nahnosh, a 25- year-old student at Hebron university, who was unable to get out of the camp. Until last weekend no food was allowed to enter.

"For thirteen days we weren't allowed to open a window or go in the streets," said Mahmoud Abu Hashash, an elderly man who said he could not feed his large family.

Most of the men in al-Fawwar were unemployed day- labourers who had worked in Israel in agriculture or construction. They said they did not think that the four suicide bombs which killed 62 people in the past month had helped the Palestinian people as a whole. But the collective punishments had left them bitter. "You cannot get in or out of the camp and if you are caught they fine you 3,000 shekels (pounds 660)," said Mr Nahnosh.

He said that the Oslo agreement offered little enough to refugees from 1948. Indeed, in worsening conditions, it was not surprising if people without hope were prepared to turn themselves into living bombs. Mohammed al-Najar, 17, standing in the crowd, showed his hand, its fingers permanently bent over. He said: "It was paralysed since I was hit in the arm by a bullet in the intifada."

People in al-Fawwar live lives of such deprivation at the best of times that collective punishment is unlikely to deter them. It may even be that the government does not believe that it will, but wants to be seen by voters to be striking back. Blowing up houses makes dramatic television pictures. Yaron London, a journalist writing in the Yediot Aharanot, says that Palestinians will react to collective punishment in the same way as Israelis. "I believe there is no basic difference," he writes.

"Demolishing Dr Baruch Goldstein's house and starving the Jewish population of Kiryat Arba would not prevent another Jewish zealot from mowing down innocent Arabs. On the contrary."