On the morning of April 4, as reported in the Electronic Intifada, Israeli bulldozers arrived in the village of Qabatiya in the occupied West Bank and demolished three homes belonging to the relatives of Palestinian young men allegedly involved in a Jerusalem attack that killed a member of the Israeli Border Police. Israeli officers shot and killed the three on the spot. That might seem like the ultimate punishment for a suspected assailant, but perhaps you’re unfamiliar with Israel’s policy of collectively punishing their families. The three razed houses in this case left 20 innocent people homeless.
In light of this recent news, we offer a concise survey of Israel’s practice of home demolitions; the vast majority of which have nothing to do with suspected militants, but, rather, reflect a policy of deliberate Israeli discrimination against Palestinians.
In the (Selective) Name of the Law
Using the law as a fig leaf to conceal the true nature of the practice, Israel characterizes home demolitions as responses to violations of the law. Thus, for example, Israel refuses to enact zoning laws in Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods, a prerequisite for the issuance of permits, decades after illegally annexing the city; the vast majority of Palestinian applicants are denied (in contrast with the near unanimous approval of Israeli applicants); and, in some years, Israeli forces demolished more Palestinian homes in Area C of the occupied West Bank than building permits were issued. Notwithstanding Israel’s proclaimed concern for the rule of law, successive Israeli governments have repeatedly flouted their own laws by retroactively legalizing Israeli settler outposts in the West Bank. The erection of outposts not only contravenes international law: it is also deemed illegal under Israeli law. And as if that weren’t enough, settler outposts, like many “official” settlements, are often built on expropriated private Palestinian property. Denying permits and then demolishing “illegal” Palestinian homes is simply another way of compelling Palestinians to leave their lands and either immigrate abroad or move to the isolated cantons governed by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
From 2006 through August 2015, Israel demolished 927 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, leaving 4,319 people, including 2,129 children, homeless. Since August 2015, 605 Palestinians, including 261 children, have lost their homes in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills, with another 53, including 21 children, made homeless in the Nablus district In East Jerusalem alone, 579 Palestinian housing units have been demolished in the period 2004-2015, leaving 2,133 people, including 1,158 children, homeless. (Source: B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.)
A recent headline in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, says it all: “Israel Intends to Authorize West Bank Outpost Bloc Containing Hundreds of Illegal Buildings.” The article goes on to note that the outposts are being legalized despite the fact that they violate multiple standards: they are legally considered as unlawful construction, they were built on private Palestinian land, and are “home to residents [settlers] involved in violent acts against Palestinians.” In the last three months alone, Israel has more than tripled the number of Palestinian home demolitions in the West Bank, according to the UN. Israeli settlers not only receive the state’s blessing, but they are also provided with connections to electricity, water, and sewage grids, as well as roads, thereby rewarding them for their defiance of international law as well as that of their own government, and also for their outright theft of private Palestinian property. Palestinians, in contrast, are met with bulldozers when they dare to construct on their own property.
In 2004-2011, Israel demolished 1,834 Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip allegedly for military purposes, resulting in 12,301 people being made homeless. (This figure does not include the 3,500 homes destroyed during December 2008-January 2009 war on Gaza, code-named, Operation Cast Lead, which left more than 20,000 people homeless.) The pretext is always the same: land is summarily declared a “closed military zone” and residents must evacuate their homes there. It is unacceptable, to say the least, for Israel to arbitrarily declare entire swaths of lands off-limits to their property owners without compensation simply because the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) covet them for training purposes. But, to add insult to injury, the practice is often a ruse with the IDF subsequently handing over the requisitioned lands to Israeli settlers for housing construction. (Source: B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.)
Lastly, another recently revived practice is the demolition by Israel of the homes of convicted or suspected Palestinian militants or assailants, which under international law is illegal as it amounts to collective punishment of a population. Entire families are made homeless due to the actions of one individual even if that individual is an adult no longer living in his family home. In some cases, the homes of relatives are also demolished. And in the past, Israel has enforced demolitions as a punitive measure even against suspected stone-throwers. This form of punishment, it should be noted, is meted out only to Palestinian attackers, even in cases where the crimes committed by Jewish or Israeli attackers have been heinous (such as the burning alive of Palestinian teen Mohammad Abu Khdeir in the summer of 2014). Following an internal review of the practice, which found it ineffective as a so-called deterrent to would-be militants, the IDF discontinued the practice in 2005 only to revive it two years ago. Since 2014, some 33 homes belonging to the families of Palestinian suspects have either been demolished or rendered uninhabitable, making 141 innocent civilians homeless, including 71 children. (Source: B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.)
By Khelil Bouarrouj
Generous contributions from people like you make it possible for us to preserve Palestinian heritage and defend Palestinian rights. Make a tax-deductible donation today!