More Palestinian homes were demolished in the occupied territories in the first half of 2016 than in all of 2015, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.
According to B’Tselem, the group presented a report to lawmakers in July during a parliamentary conference on Israeli “efforts to expel” Palestinian villagers, including the use of “repeated demolition of the homes of the same families.” The increased demolitions and displacement have also been accompanied by a rising number of new settler homes under construction. This past week Israel announced hundreds more settlements planned for East Jerusalem, prompting the U.S. State Department to issue an atypical condemnation of the Jewish state.
Record year of home demolitions
The B’Tselem report found from January to the end of June of 2016, Israeli forces razed 168 Palestinian units in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which left 740 homeless, nearly 250 more than the previous year when 125 houses were bulldozed.
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said in February, demolitions this year are “three times the weekly average for 2015. These actions run directly counter to the idea of peace.”
Most of the homes razed were located in Area C of the West Bank, rural regions under full Israeli civil and security control where Palestinians are required to apply for construction permits.
“Israel has full control of planning and building matters in these locations,” B’Tselem said in the report, “and refuses to recognize these communities,”
In addition to demolitions, B’Tselem says Israel forces confiscated “water tanks and solar panels from communities that are not hooked up to the water or power grids, as well as vehicles used for farming and other equipment. In doing so, the Civil Administration not only leaves these residents homeless but also severely lacking basic services and the ability to earn a living.”
A high concentration of bulldozing took place in the Jerusalem area. In the last week of July the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) recorded 20 demolitions in Qalandia village in East Jerusalem, 15 of which were carried out on July 26th.
“This brings the number of Palestinian-owned structures demolished in East Jerusalem since the beginning of 2016 to 114, an over 40 per cent increase compared to the entire 2015 (80),” said OCHA.
B’Tselem’s figures do not include homes demolished for punitive reasons, the practice where Israeli forces knock down the living quarters, or entire buildings of Palestinians who killed Israelis in attacks. Rather, their statistics refers only to homes that are demolished because they were constructed in areas that require permits from Israel, and no permits were issued.
B’Tselem noted an “absence of any real possibility for Palestinians to build legally in the area. Furthermore, this separation of Area C from the areas transferred to the Palestinian Authority is artificial and ignores the geo-economic reality of life in the West Bank.”
Last year Haaretz reported Palestinians make up 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population but only received seven percent of the licenses to build.
A decade of increased demolitions
From 2006 to June 30th of this year B’Tselem found Israel demolished more than 1,113 Palestinian homes in the West Bank, making homeless 5,199, of whom 2,602 are children.
Within that period, the number of demolitions carried out so far this year is the second highest annual rate with the exception of 2013.
Throughout the decade the highest number of demolitions were found to have taken place in the Jordan Valley region of the West Bank, and in East Jerusalem and the outlying areas within the West Bank.
Settlement construction on the rise in demolition zones
These regions of increased demolitions and displacement are also locations experiencing a rising number of new settler homes under construction.
In the spring the Israeli settler watchdog Peace Now reported a 250 percent increase in approval for settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. In hard numbers, this means Israel sanctioned 674 settlement houses this year, compared to 194 units in the first quarter of 2015.
Of the buildings approved this year, 180 were retroactively legalized outposts where Israel gave permits to structures that violated Israeli construction laws.
The U.S. government is on the record as saying Israeli settlements in the occupied territory hinder the possibility of an independent Palestinian state, and the U.S. State Department recently issued a special statement addressing concern over Israeli settlement building and the “risk [of] entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the latest announcement of 770 settlement units in Gilo, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, is “part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
“We remain troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians,” Kirby added.
Yet Kirby’s stark announcement came the same week as the Democratic National Convention where the issue of settlements was removed from the party’s platform.