On May 15, Hamas bulldozers demolished a partially constructed house belonging to the Sha'ath family in the city of Khan Yunis. Hamas claimed it was being built without a proper permit. According to eyewitnesses, dozens of Hamas militiamen armed with batons and electric stun-batons beat women and children and hurled abuse at other members of the Sha'ath family during the demolition. Pictured: Khan Yunis. (Image source: Dans/Wikimedia Commons)
Hamas, the Iranian-backed terrorist movement controlling the Gaza Strip, is often one of the first Palestinian groups to condemn Israel for demolishing homes of terrorists or Palestinian-owned houses built illegally in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
While international human rights groups and the European Union have also been condemning Israel, they are ignoring home demolitions carried out by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In the past 10 years, Hamas has demolished not only houses, but also a mosque -- a move that has received almost no attention from the international media and human rights organizations or the EU.
On May 11, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem denounced as a "war crime" the demolition by the Israeli military of the house belonging to Qassam Barghouti in the village of Kubar, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Barghouti was a member of a terrorist cell responsible for the murder of 17-year-old Israeli teenager Rina Shnerb in August 2019. She was killed by a roadside bomb while hiking with her father, Rabbi Eitan Shnerb, and brother Dvir near the settlement of Dolev. Her father and brother were wounded in the attack.
Barghouti's mother, Widad, announced that her greatest achievement was giving birth to a hero. "I say to [my son], to all of them [the prisoners], that we are proud of you," she said. "If we want to talk about our achievements as mothers, then the most important achievement that we have made in our lives is that we gave birth to heroes such as these."
Four days after the demolition of Barghouti's home, Hamas bulldozers demolished a house under construction in the city of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip. Hamas has justified the demolition by arguing that the house was being built without a proper permit.
According to eyewitnesses, dozens of Hamas militiamen armed with batons and electric batons accompanied the bulldozers as they demolished the house belonging to the Sha'ath family.
The witnesses accused the Hamas members of beating women and children and hurling abuse at other members of the family during the demolition.
"The attack resulted in the injury of dozens of family members. We hold Hamas responsible for this dangerous escalation. We won't stand idly by about what happened. Hamas practices the most brutal methods of repression and persecution against the people of the Gaza Strip who criticize its behavior."
In February, Hamas notified 50 families in the suburb of Al-Amal in Khan Yunis that their homes would be destroyed on the pretext that they were built without a license. The families were instructed to evacuate their homes within two weeks. "Instead of building us new homes, Hamas is demolishing Palestinians' houses," the residents said. "We have no place to go. We prefer to die under the rubble of our houses together with our children."
This was the fourth demolition of its kind by Hamas since the beginning of the year.
Two weeks after the demolition of the Sha'ath home, Hamas demolished a house belonging to an elderly widow from the al-Shinawwi family in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians pointed out that the demolition took place during the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"May God punish you," the elderly woman, weeping, said in a video posted on Facebook. "Hamas are sons of dogs; even the Jews don't do such things to us. I still haven't paid my debts for the construction of the house."
In April, Hamas bulldozers demolished a house belonging to Sultan al-Astal, also in Khan Yunis, on the pretext that it was built without a license.
Al-Astal told the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that he and his family have "lived on this land for 150 years, and I inherited it from my father and grandfather." He added:
"Despite the fear of the spread of the coronavirus epidemic, Hamas members arrived at my home at dawn. They demolished my house and beat my wife and daughter. They behaved as if they were liberating land occupied by the Jews. Hamas is destroying the homes of innocent and oppressed people."
Khamis al-Astal, the contractor who built the house, said: "Hamas bulldozers destroyed the house without any moral or religious consideration."
In March, Hamas demolished three houses in Khan Yunis on the pretext that they were built on "state-owned" land.
Last year, Hamas demolished another house in Khan Yunis belonging to Bassam Duhan, also on the pretext that it was built without a license. Duhan, a father of eight, set up a tent in front of the demolished house. He complained that relatives of senior Hamas officials had also built homes in the same area, but no one destroyed their homes.
In 2017, Hamas bulldozers demolished several homes in the northern Gaza Strip. Eyewitnesses said protesters set fire to one of the bulldozers.
In 2015, Hamas bulldozers demolished six houses in the Namsawi neighborhood of Khan Yunis on the pretext that they were built on "state-owned" land.
During the same year, Hamas also demolished a mosque belonging to an Islamist group opposed to the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. Three bulldozers participated in the demolition of the mosque in the town of Der al-Balah. Residents said that Hamas did not even give them time to remove copies of the Koran from the Al-Mutahbin Mosque.
In 2010, Hamas destroyed 20 houses in the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Residents said they were notified of the demolition orders only 48 hours earlier, adding that they didn't have time to remove their belongings before they were evicted by force.
Palestinians are evidently afraid to condemn Hamas for its continued home-demolition policy. Last year, a youth group in the Gaza Strip called on the Arab League and other Arab and Islamic parties to launch an investigation into Hamas's crimes against Palestinians. Needless to say, the group has never received a reply from the Arab League or any other organization in the Arab and Islamic countries. The appeal came after Hamas militiamen used excessive force to prevent Palestinians from protesting economic hardship and Hamas corruption.
For now, it seems that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have been betrayed not only by their Arab and Muslim brothers, who care nothing about their plight, but also by the international community, which appears to have a policy of ignoring Hamas's repressive and brutal measures against its own people. In the absence of an international response, Hamas continues to demolish homes in the Gaza Strip -- and other crimes against its own people -- with impunity, leaving hundreds of families without shelter.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.