On 13 December 2010, Israeli bulldozers, flanked by hundreds of municipal, riot squad and border police forces, demolished seven homes belonging to the Abu Eid family in Lydd, a city a few miles east of Tel Aviv.
The demolition, which took several hours, subsequently displaced 67 members of the entire family, including dozens of children, during one of the worst rainstorms of the season. Dozens of other Palestinian homes have been demolished over the years in Lydd.
Lydd is a so-called “mixed city,” as is the neighboring city of Ramle. Both are home to a significant population of Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship living in segregated areas, separated from the Jewish majority. Palestinian residents of these communities have been chronically discriminated against and brutalized by police.
Oren Ziv, a photographer with the ActiveStills photography collective who witnessed and photographed the demolition told The Electronic Intifada: “I’ve been documenting [home demolitions] for seven years and this was one of the biggest demolitions I’ve ever seen.” Ziv added that when the bulldozers finished demolishing the seventh house, children were starting to come back from school only to find their homes reduced to rubble.
The images included in this photostory were all taken by Ziv on the day of and the day after Israel’s destruction of the Abu Eid family’s homes in Lydd.
Sticking the Taxpayer (Not the Banks) With the Tab
The answer to that question has to be many more economists than we have in the United States. Very few economists saw or understood the growth of the $8 trillion housing bubble whose collapse wrecked the economy. This involved a degree of inexcusable incompetence from the economists at the Treasury, the Fed and other regulatory institutions who had the responsibility for managing the economy and the financial system.
There really was nothing mysterious about the bubble. Nationwide house prices in the United States had just kept even with the overall rate of inflation for 100 years from the mid 1890s to the mid 1990s. Suddenly house prices began to hugely outpace the overall rate of inflation. By their peak in 2006 house prices had risen by more than 70 percent after adjusting for inflation. Remarkably, virtually no U.S. economists paid any attention to this extraordinary movement in the largest market in the world.
Had they bothered, they would have quickly seen that there was no plausible explanation for this jump in prices in either the supply or demand side of the market. There were no major new restrictions on supply, with the builders putting up homes at near-record rates. Nothing on the demand side suggested that prices should rise. The healthy income growth of the late 90s was followed by stagnation in the last decade and population growth was relatively subdued. Finally, there was no unusual rise in rents, which just slightly outpaced inflation over this period.
Therefore it should have been easy for any competent economist to recognize the housing bubble. Moreover, the dangers for the economy should also have been apparent. The boom in construction (both residential and non-residential) had raised its share of GDP by more than 3 percentage points above its long-term average. In addition, the creation of $8 trillion in housing bubble wealth predictably led to a consumption boom, as households spend based on the new equity created by the bubble.
All of this presaged disaster for the time after the bubble burst. Construction spending was sure to plummet to below normal levels as the market recovered from the long period of overbuilding. Consumption would also fall back as households adjusted to the disappearance of the housing wealth that they expected to be available to them in future years.
Yet, almost no economists saw what was clearly in front of their eyes. They thought everything was just fine until the house of cards eventually collapsed in 2007-2008.
Unfortunately, the reign of error is not over. House prices in the United States are again declining and most of the economics profession remains clueless. The Case-Shiller 20-city house price index for October (the data is released with a two-month lag) showed a decline of 1.3 percent from September. This implied an acceleration from the prior month’s decline, which is now reported as 1.0 percent. In other words, house prices are again declining at double-digit rates.
A more careful examination of the data reveals the underlying logic. Prices are declining most rapidly in the bottom third of the market. Prices for this bottom tier of the market were in a literal free fall in recent months in several cities.
The reason is that a first-time buyers tax credit ended in June. This credit caused many buyers to move their purchase forward. People who might have otherwise bought in the second half of 2010 or in 2011 instead bought in the first half of 2010.
This tax credit had the effect of ending the plunge in house prices in 2009 and even leading to small rise in the second half of the year. But with the credit now expired, the price decline is resuming. It will likely spread from the bottom tier of the market to the middle and higher end, since the sellers of bottom-tier homes are the buyers of higher-end homes. If they must sell for much lower prices than they had anticipated, then they will have less money to buy these higher-end homes.
The further decline in house prices will have predictable consequences for the economy. If house prices drop by another 15 percent, completing the deflation of the housing bubble, this would imply a loss of $2.5 trillion in housing wealth. If consumers spend 6 cents for every dollar of housing wealth (near the middle of the range of estimates), this would mean a fall in consumption of roughly $150 billion or 1 percent of GDP. This will be a substantial drag on growth over the next two years that will no doubt surprise most economists.
The other important part of this story is that many more homes will fall underwater and there will be new losses for banks. However one result of the delay in this second round of price adjustments is that trillions of dollars of mortgages were taken out of private hands and shifted over to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage giants that are currently owned by the government. This means that the losses on these mortgages will be the problem of the taxpayers, not the banks. Why is no one surprised?
Dean Baker is the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).
Palestinian farmers in Gaza working in the area of Israel’s deadly “buffer zone.”
Ahmed Qudaih was skinny, in blue Converse sneakers and a black leather jacket, his mustache oddly making him look younger, not older, than his 27 years. His voice was even, his face rigidly composed, like human stone, as we sat down with him in the martyr’s tent in Khozaa, a rural village slightly to the east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Young men moved up and down the rows of plastic seats with brass coffee pots and tiny ceramic cups and platters of dates. Ahmed agreed to speak briefly about how the Israeli military had just murdered his 19-year-old brother Hassan Qudaih in the village’s borderlands.
Ahmed said that a few hours before sunset on 28 December, Hassan had entered the area where two nights before, there had been a firefight between the Palestinian resistance and Israeli soldiers, who were accompanied by several Apache helicopters and tanks. During the melee, the soldiers killed Issa Abu Rok and Muhammad al-Najjar, fighters from the al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They were also members of Hassan and Ahmed’s extended family. Hassan entered the area to look around, to search through it for anything that had been left behind after the bodies had been removed.
Ahmed said that a sniper sitting in a jeep abutting the border shot Hassan in the leg. Hassan treated himself, partially stanching the blood flowing from the wound. And then, according to Ahmed, “the [Israeli army] let him bleed slowly for the subsequent two hours, preventing any emergency vehicles, or his friends, from reaching him.”
His friends made repeated attempts to get close to Hassan, but were repelled by shots from the Israeli border patrol, and eventually incapacitated by a sort of “gas, which made them unconscious,” Ahmed said. Emergency vehicles from the Palestinian emergency services also repeatedly attempted to coordinate with the Israeli army to evacuate Hassan, but they were denied permission to do so, while Hassan continued to bleed, Ahmed explained.
After some time, Ahmed said, a beleaguered Hassan “took out his phone and tried to call for help.” Ahmed said it was at that point that the Israeli military “shelled him from a border-area tank, decapitating him.” Ahmed speculated that perhaps they tracked Hassan’s phone signal to the body. Hassan died instantly, his head apparently severed from his body.
Ahmed explained that “The area where they killed my brother is flat, free of any obstacles that could have blocked their view. The soldiers must have clearly seen that Hassan was a civilian, without any weapons, and shot anyway.”
A family photograph of Qudaih Hassan.
Ahmed showed us a picture of Hassan, as well as his shrapnel-damaged money case. He looked in the picture precisely like the young man he was, barely out of boyhood — frighteningly young — a stand-in for the stunningly young population of Gaza, more than 50 percent of which is under 18, and a wrenching reminder that war and siege on Gaza has meant war and siege on children.
Initial press reports, repeating information issued by the Israeli military spokespersons’ office, put Hassan amongst four other youth “planting explosives at the security fence.” However, subsequent investigations showed otherwise.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reports that the five youth were roughly 300 meters from the fence, just on the edge of the “buffer zone” — the no-go area imposed by Israel covering a wide swath of land on the Gaza side of the boundary with Israel, in the east and north — when Israeli firing began. Relatives and neighbors agree: Hassan was unarmed and shot without provocation other than his presence in Israel’s unilaterally-declared “buffer zone.”
That buffer zone ruinously affects Gaza residents living in areas like Khozaa. Khozaa, and the whole rural area east of Khan Younis — which includes the towns and villages of Abasan al-Kabir, Abasan al-Saghira and al-Farrahin — have been the subject of numerous incursions, demolitions, shelling and shootings over the past several years, occurring with an increasing frequency in recent months. Homes with any exposure to the boundary with Israel are pocked with hundreds of bullet holes, and children are barred by their parents from playing in areas which are within the line-of-sight to the boundary after dusk.
Officially, the buffer zone is 300 meters wide, at least according to the leaflets the Israeli military dropped on all of Gaza’s hinterlands on 19 May 2009, showing a map of the Gaza Strip with clearly demarcated no-go areas. Unofficially, however, it extends as far as the bullets from Israeli snipers fly before they hit something.
According to a report put out by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 29 percent of Gaza’s arable farmland is inaccessible due to the belt of forbidden or dangerous land, which extends from 0.5-1 kilometer on the eastern frontier and 1.8 to 2 kilometers on the northern frontier.
In the southern governorates, the imposition of the buffer zone has hit agricultural production hard. For example, in the Khan Younis area, the administrative area of which includes the smaller zones to its east, agriculture and fishing-related activities plummeted from 24 percent of all jobs in the second quarter of 2007 to 7.2 percent in the third quarter of 2009.
If not enforced by physically present soldiers armed with sniper rifles, it is enforced by women soldiers manning remote-controlled motion-sensing machine gun turrets. The landscape there is marked by ditches, peppered by broken clumps of barbed wire. It’s a tableau of exposed dirt and sliced-off irrigation tubes. It looks like the war zone that it frequently is.
And soldiers often fire at anything that enters the buffer zone. Indeed, repeated calls to the Israeli military spokespersons’ office to ask how they made the determination that Hassan was a “militant” either were met with unfulfilled promises to call back shortly, or the response that “we can’t reveal that information for security reasons.” Nor has the Israeli military issued a correction in response to the repeated queries.
And the assault continues apace. Abd Alazeer Yousef Abu Rijla, Hassan’s uncle and the owner of the land where the young man was killed, described how on 29 December Israeli armor-plated bulldozers entered their farmland in Khozaa and ripped up the remainder of the crops growing there. The total area destroyed comes to about four dunums, or roughly 4,000 square meters. “We cannot go there anymore, even though we are three families that depend on that area,” Abu Rijla said. Although he said that he needed to return to his land, the area was far too dangerous for the time being.
Fifty-nine Palestinians were killed in Gaza by the Israeli military last year, 24 of them civilians, most in the buffer zone. The number of wounded — 220 — has been ten times that, with approximately forty of them occurring since the beginning of November. The tempo of rockets fired from Gaza has increased in response to ongoing Israeli provocations and pummeling, as well as the need to resist the 42-month-long siege.
Meanwhile, the next war slides in and out of view, as Israeli politicians and generals openly discuss timing and strategy. General Gabi Ashkenazi said that the Israeli military “holds the Hamas terrorist organization solely responsible for any terrorist activity emanating from the Gaza Strip. We hope that the security situation in the south does not deteriorate, however the IDF [Israeli army] is preparing for any scenario” (“Ashkenazi: We’ll be ready if Gaza tensions escalate,” The Jerusalem Post, 27 December 2010).
Indeed, a cable released by WikiLeaks, dated 15 November 2009, confirms that planning for the next incursion began even while the Palestinians of Gaza were still sifting through the rubble of the winter 2008-09 invasion. Ashkenazi told a visiting American Congressional delegation that “I am preparing the Israeli army for a large-scale war,” likely against Hamas and Hizballah (“Israeli army chief was preparing for ‘a large scale war’,” Agence France Presse, 2 January 2011).
A few think this is just posturing, meant to tamp down rocket fire to a more tolerable level and more importantly, to incite massive and paralyzing fear amongst Gaza’s population. If so, perhaps it has worked: the resistance groups recently agreed to cease rocket fire for the time being, while most everyone I talk to in the streets worries that Israel will commemorate the biennial of the 2008-09 Gaza invasion by repeating it, while they grow tortuously frustrated by the stalled peace process.
“We are trapped here, and upset … there is nothing,” a meat seller in the middle class Gaza City neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa told me, before giving me a ride home. Meanwhile, the subdued roar of F-16s is audible nearly daily here and there in the Gaza Strip, while on the horizon grey Israeli warships hulk in the steel blue sea and Israeli drones buzz overhead in the washed-out sky — watching, waiting, preparing and gathering information for the next massacre from the north.
All images by Max Ajl.
Max Ajl is a doctoral student in development sociology at Cornell, and was an International Solidarity Movement volunteer in the Gaza Strip. He has written for many outlets, including the Guardian and the New Statesman, and blogs on Israel-Palestine at www.maxajl.com.
A new settlement project in Silwan will see the Jerusalem neighborhood split in two parts, a Silwan committee official revealed to Ma’an News on Thursday.
The new development plan is set for 5 dunums of land, some of which incorporate the Silwan valley, a fertile area situated southeast of the Old City walls, a spokesman for the Land and Real Estate Defense Committee said.
Fakhri Abu Diab, head of the Committee, noted that the development for the zone would include the construction of public buildings, a complex of swimming pools and leisure areas. He also said he disclosed the new plan would involve the demolition of 30 homes, eight of which are in the Silwan area, and another 22 nearer the spring. Abu Diab warned saying after the demolitions “settlers will be in full control of the area.”
The area, also known as the Valley of Jehosaphat or Kideron Valley, includes a spring, identified as Job’s Well. Its name originates from a passage in the Quran stating that a spring burst forth where God commanded Job to stamp his foot. The spring is estimated to be over 100 meters deep.
Earlier in 2009, Jerusalem municipality announced plans to demolish more than 20 houses in Silwan, near Ayin Silwan, a spring and water resource for the community, transforming the neighborhood into a park, the King’s Garden.
Lebanon Foreign Minister Ali Shami uncovered in remarks published Thursday by the Kuwaiti daily al-Anbaa that Israel had committed 7,000 violations of Lebanese sovereignty in 2010.
“Concerns in Lebanon today are due to Israeli intervention,” Shami said. Shami, nonetheless, voiced optimism over reaching a solution to the Lebanon crisis by Syria and Saudi Arabia.
The United Nations on Wednesday declined Lebanon’s request to protect the country’s natural gas reserves by demarcating its maritime border with Israel.
Shami sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last Tuesday urging him to prevent Israel from exploiting Lebanon’s oil and maritime wealth. He presented the UN with maps to support Lebanon’s facts regarding these apparent borders.
But UN spokesman Martin Nesirsky said in response to the request that the international body was not prepared to intervene in the dispute. The United Nations demarcated the land border separating Israel and Lebanon in 2000, but there is no official naval border.
“Security Council Resolution 1701 does not include delineating the maritime border,” Nesirky said. “We are talking about two different things – coastal waters and a disputed maritime border.”
US-led foreign troops in Afghanistan have killed five Afghan civilians in the war-ravaged country, further intensifying security risks to the civilian population in the country.
Hundreds of people in central Afghanistan took to the streets on Thursday to protest the latest killing of the three Afghan civilians by the US-led forces in Ghazni, a Press TV correspondent reported.
The protesters said three Afghan civilians, including a student, were killed in an overnight raid in a remote village in Ghazni on Wednesday.
Carrying a copy of the Holy Quran with five bullet holes in it, the angry Afghans said the US-led troops desecrated the Holy Quran during the raid.
Earlier on Wednesday, two Afghan farmers were also reported killed in the town of Band-e-Chak in Wardak province.
Civilian deaths in US-led night raids have sparked several street protests in Afghanistan.
Earlier on Tuesday, Ghazni residents held a demonstration to protest what they called uncoordinated operations by US-led foreign forces stationed in Afghanistan.
NATO has claimed that the attack was aimed at a suspicious militant base, but Afghan police say no militants were in the area.
Thousands of civilians have lost their lives in attacks by US-led NATO forces occupying Afghanistan since 2001 in supposed effort to bring security to the nation.
Afghan civilian casualties were at record levels in 2010. The number of civilians killed or wounded in the Afghan war increased by 20 percent during the first 10 months of 2010, compared with the same period last year.
After the Israeli government demolished a 3-story building Tuesday in the neighborhood of Umm al-Fahm in East Jerusalem, the residents of the neighborhood declared a general strike in protest of Israel’s demolition policy.
Umm al-Fahm has been at the center of a series of recent demolitions by Israeli authorities, as it is located in an area slated for takeover by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality as part of the ‘E1 Jerusalem Plan’ to ‘Judaize’ East Jerusalem.
All of the businesses in the neighborhood observed the general strike, which began Wednesday morning, and remained closed throughout the day in protest.
Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem have markedly increased over the last year, with Israeli settlers moving into the area after Palestinian residents have been forcibly removed in many cases.
In response to the ongoing demolitions, the residents of Umm al-Fahm organized non-violent demonstrations, protest tents and strikes to challenge the destruction of their homes.
The Palestinian Minister of Housing in the Gaza Strip, Dr. Yousef Al-Mansi, condemned the Israeli demolition policy in a statement issued after the latest home demolition in Umm al-Fahm on Tuesday — a demolition which left a dozen family members homeless.
JERUSALEM — Israeli authorities on Wednesday demolished the businesses of a Palestinian resident northeast of Jerusalem, witnesses said.
Forces destroyed two garages, a car wash and building materials belonging to Abed Al-Aziz Al-Khatib, a resident of Hizma.
The buildings provided the main source of income for Al-Khatib’s 50-member family, he said.
In a report released Tuesday, Israeli rights group Ir Amim noted a sharp increase in home demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem, a move it said was intended to drive Palestinian residents out.
Israel says it demolishes buildings constructed without a permit. But Palestinian residents say such permits are nearly impossible to obtain.
At the same time in the southern West Bank, Israeli forces handed a number of demolition orders to residents of the Ein Assy area in Halhul south of the West Bank city of Hebron, locals said.
Residents said Israeli authorities told them the buildings were slated for demolition because they were built without permission in Area C, under full Israeli planning control.
Area C makes up 60 percent of the West Bank, and Palestinian building is rarely approved by Israeli authorities.
Locals said most of the homes to be demolished have been inhabited for many years, and that one of the buildings was a Palestinian Authority civil defense center.
Israel’s Civil Administration could not be reached for comment by phone.
The US administration is ramping up a “secret war on terror groups” in hot spots around the globe by establishing a new military targeting center, officials say.
According to incumbent and former US officials, the center, run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), keeps an eye on the growing use of special operation strikes against individuals.
“The new center would be a significant step in streamlining targeting operations previously scattered among US and battlefields abroad and giving elite military officials closer access to Washington decision-makers and counter-terror experts,” the officials revealed to the Associated Press.
“The center is staffed with at least 100 counter terror experts fusing the military’s special operations elite with analysts, intelligence and law enforcement officials from the FBI, Homeland Security and other agencies,” they said.
The new military center focuses on “the offensive end of counter-terrorism, tracking and targeting terrorist threats that have surfaced in recent years from Pakistan to Yemen and Somalia and other hot zones.”
The revelation comes while the US military has already increased the number of special operations and commando raids in Afghanistan.
A surge in unauthorized CIA-operated drone attacks in Pakistan along with NATO operations along the the country’s border has sparked criticism from officials in Islamabad and given rise to the anti-US sentiment in the affected tribal regions.
“We’ve gone from 30-35 targeted operations a month in June 2009 now to about 1,000 a month,” said NATO spokeswoman Maj. Sunset Belinsky.
The raids, which Washington claims to be aimed at weeding out pro-Taliban militants, often come at night and often claim many civilian lives in Pakistan.
US officials noted that several other centers dubbed military intelligence “fusion” offices are already operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The creation of the center, according to military officials, was an idea of JSOC’s current commander, Vice Adm. Bill McRaven.
Previously McRaven had set up a military system called “counter-network” using unmanned planes, satellites and human intelligences to carry out ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“While directly run by JSOC, the center’s staff is overseen by the Pentagon, while congressional committees have been briefed on its operations,” officials said.