Last week, as negotiations continued between Israeli and Palestinian officials, both Human Rights Watch and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued statements condemning Israel’s ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and other structures, particularly in the occupied West Bank and the Negev desert in southern Israel. Israel’s policy of destroying Palestinian homes, usually under the pretext of demolishing structures built without permission from Israeli authorities, is a highly sensitive subject for Palestinians, as home demolitions have played a central role in Israel’s attempts to dispossess the native, non-Jewish Palestinian population of Israel and the occupied territories since the creation of the state in 1948.
Underpinning most home demolitions is Israel’s strategic goal of limiting the non-Jewish Palestinian population, or removing it altogether, from areas of the occupied territories and Israel proper. In particular, Israel wants to cement its hold over occupied East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, and to “Judaize” East Jerusalem and areas such as the Negev desert in southern Israel. Other bureaucratic tools used to achieve this goal include: the revocation of residency rights for Palestinians in East Jerusalem; evictions of Palestinians from their homes and land; and severe restrictions on the ability of non-Jewish citizens to own and rent land in Israel, and of Palestinians to build in the 60% of the West Bank under complete Israeli control according to the terms of the Oslo Accords.
The Occupied Territories
- Since militarily occupying the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967, Israeli authorities have demolished tens of thousands of Palestinian structures using three bureaucratic justifications: Military necessity; to punish or deter militants (an act of collective punishment, and therefore a war crime); and to destroy structures built without permission from Israeli authorities.
- In occupied East Jerusalem and the approximately 60% of the West Bank over which Israel retains total control under the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to get permission to build new homes or additions to old ones. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2012 World Report: “Israel usually carries out demolitions on the grounds that the structures were built without permits, but in practice such permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Israeli-controlled areas.”
- While making it almost impossible for Palestinians to build homes or other structures in East Jerusalem and most of the West Bank, Israel actively encourages the building of Jewish settlements in these areas, often tacitly supporting the creation of so-called “outposts,” built in violation not only of international law, but Israeli law as well.
- Inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, authorities carry out home demolitions against Palestinian citizens of the state in cities such as Ramle and Lyd (Lod), and in villages that are “unrecognized” by the Israeli government.
- While Palestinian Arabs comprise approximately 20% of the population of Israel, as non-Jews they are confined by law and zoning policies to just 3.5% of the land.
- Approximately 100,000 internal refugees from Israel’s creation in 1948 live in more than 100 “unrecognized villages” near their original homes, destroyed in 1948, where they “suffer from inadequate living conditions and constant threats of demolition,” according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
- There are currently entire Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, numbering as many as 70,000 people in total, which are threatened with demolition under the so-called “Prawer Plan.” If carried out, Prawer would result in the largest displacement of Palestinian citizens of Israel since the 1950s, shortly after the state was created.
Home Demolitions: By the Numbers
- Since 1967, Israel has destroyed approximately 27,000 Palestinian structures in the occupied territories (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip), including more than 24,000 homes, according to ICAHD.
- Since the renewal of negotiations in August 2013, Israel has destroyed approximately 25 Palestinian homes, in addition to dozens of other structures, leaving approximately 200 people homeless.
- According to the UN, between January and September 2013, 862 Palestinians were displaced by Israeli demolitions, compared to 886 (including 468 children) in all of 2012.
- In 2012, a total of 600 Palestinian structures were demolished by Israel in the occupied territories, including at least 189 homes, according to ICAHD. This figure doesn’t include “self-demolitions” whereby Palestinians destroy their own homes rather than have Israel do it and charge them an additional fine.
- One Bedouin village, Al-Araqib, in the Negev desert in the south of Israel, has been destroyed more than 50 times by Israel since July 2010.
- Between 2005 and 2012, Israel demolished approximately 1500 Palestinian homes due to owners lacking hard-to-obtain construction permits.
- Between 1993 and 2000, when the Oslo Accords were being negotiated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel destroyed almost 1700 Palestinian homes in the occupied territories.
- Immediately following Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967, approximately 6000 Palestinian homes were demolished, including four entire villages in the Latrun area, along with dozens of homes in the Mughrabi Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, which were destroyed to make way for a plaza for the Western Wall. In 1971, between 2000 and 6000 Palestinian homes were destroyed in Gaza in an effort to pacify the newly occupied territory.
- During Israel’s creation (1948-49), Zionist and then Israeli forces expelled approximately 750,000 Palestinian Arabs from their ancestral lands in order to create a Jewish majority state of Israel. In the process, more than 400 Palestinian population centers were systematically destroyed, including thousands of homes, businesses, and houses of worship. (See here for more on the Nakba.)