By Matthew Sommer

On a tensely divided topic, opposing campus groups may find the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes on the Gaza Strip and West Bank a unifying issue.

On May 3, Israeli citizen and political activist Jeff Halper — founding member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) — spoke about activism and the Palestinian and Israeli conflict in a lecture at UC Santa Cruz.

The goal of ICAHD is to stop demolition of Palestinian homes in the territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

According to the organization, approximately 12,000 houses have been demolished since 1967.

Halper said that tearing down homes in Palestinian territory is unjustified, but the Israeli government claimed the homes were on agricultural zoned land in order to validate the demolition.

However, it may take years before some homes marked for demolition are actually knocked down.

“Palestinian families can live with a demolition order for years,” Halper said.

ICAHD maintains that Palestinians are not militants, and that Israel gains no security by demolishing these houses.

Halper cited the Fourth Geneva Convention in his argument. The convention states that occupying powers are prohibited from destroying Palestinian property.

“This is a fundamental violation of human rights,” Halper said.

In a question-and-answer session after the lecture, Halper brought slides that showed him chained to a condemned Palestinian home in protest. He said he was only arrested, but insisted if a Palestinian had done the same thing, he or she could have gone to jail for a longer period of time.

“We are Israeli Jews,” Halper said, “We have different rights.”

The Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) sponsored the lecture. Khaled Ramadan, a member of CJP, said these demolitions are another form of the occupation. He also refuted Israel’s claims that these houses support militants.

“Under a guise of security, Israel has used these house demolitions as a way to grab more land and squeeze the Palestinians off their land while committing various human right violations on the people,” Ramadan said.

Talia Coutin, a member of the Santa Cruz Israeli Action Committee (SCIAC), said that SCIAC has not taken an official position on house demolitions, but said that there are members of SCIAC who condemn those actions that appear antithetical to peace.

SCIAC is a pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that advocates separate Palestine and Israel states as a solution to the conflict.

Coutin said Halper’s activism represents a democratic society that is not present in Arab countries.

“There is no Arab or Muslim equivalent to Jeff Halper operating inside the Arab world because a lot of the societies are authoritarian,” Coutin said. “[Jeff Halper] represents someone who challenges his own society.”