Bashing Israel Still Popular with Spanish Voters

The Spanish government is paying for 40 activists from Spain to travel to Israel in August to help rebuild two Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem that the Israeli government deemed illegal and tore down in 2008. The volunteers will be working with a left-wing non-governmental organization called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).

The Jerusalem-based ICAHD, which is holding its seventh annual summer “rebuilding camp” from August 2-15, signed up 80 activists this year, 60 of whom are from abroad. Of those, 40 are from Spain. The Spanish government is providing full sponsorship for the activists to participate in the camp.

The money is coming from the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), which is part of the Spanish Foreign Ministry. During 2009, AECID has allocated approximately €80,000 ($110,000) to support ICAHD’s activities.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry says it is “very strange” that the government of Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero would “finance political activities” in another country, especially one with a democratically elected government like Israel.

But what seems equally strange is that Zapatero would be rebuilding illegal homes in Israel while he himself has been on a demolition spree all across Spain.

The Zapatero government recently unveiled a €5 billion plan to demolish thousands of illegally built coastal homes and hotels. The Spanish Environment Ministry says it wants to protect Mediterranean and Canary Island shorelines. By some estimates, there could be as many as 100,000 houses in Spain that have been built illegally. Homes built illegally after the 1980s, when laws to protect the coast came into force, face demolition with no compensation.

Consider the case of Len and Helen Prior, a British retired couple, who were singled out as the first victims of Zapatero’s demolition derby. Their home in southern Spain was demolished as illegal in January 2008, although it was subsequently discovered that they actually did have a valid building permit. The couple is currently sleeping in their garage with no electricity or running water while their case works its way through Spain’s languid court system. But the Zapatero government has not taken any interest in their case, perhaps because there are no political points to be scored for helping them.

In any case, Spanish house demolitions have not been limited to the coastal regions. In Madrid, the Orwellian-sounding Urban Discipline Service has been busy tearing down hundreds of illegal homes belonging mainly to Gypsies and Moroccan immigrants. The Madrid municipality is presumably using criteria similar to those used by the Jerusalem municipality for tearing down illegal structures.