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There are two primary reasons why Israel demolishes homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs). The first is that these homes, according to the Israeli authorities, don’t have the correct planning permissions. The second is that these homes allegedly belong to perpetrators or suspected perpetrators of attacks on Israeli civilians or military personnel. The demolitions are often referred to as “punishment” or “punitive demolitions”.

The rate of demolitions by the Israeli authorities of Palestinian buildings in the West Bank reached a record peak in 2016, when 1093 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished or seized by the Israeli authorities.[1]

According to the OCHA, the UN Humanitarian Agency, there has been an overall decline in the number of demolitions and seizures across the West Bank since the beginning of 2017. In East Jerusalem, however, demolitions have continued at nearly the same rates recorded in 2016, which were the highest figures since 2000.[2]

Israel claims that demolitions are conducted in order to uphold planning laws and zoning regulations in Area C – the part of West Bank for which Israel was given full civil and security authority under the Oslo Accords – and that demolitions are often accompanied by the construction of new housing providing upgraded accommodation and modern amenities, utilities and transport infrastructure for previously deprived communities.

In 2005 Israel decided to suspend its policy of ‘punitive demolitions.’ The decision was based in part on the findings of a report commissioned by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), to look into the effectiveness of the policy. The report, according to the Haaretz newspaper, found that:

  1. No effective deterrence was proven, except in a few cases, and that the damage to Israel caused by the demolitions was greater than the benefits because the deterrence, limited if at all, paled in comparison to the hatred and hostility toward Israel that the demolitions provoked among the Palestinians.[3]

Israel reinstated the policy in 2014, after three Israeli students were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank. Israel’s High Court of Justice did not block this move. According to B’TSELEM (the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) up to October 2017, 5 apartments had been demolished as part of punitive actions, leaving 21 people homeless. This compares to 23 apartments destroyed in 2016, leaving 118 homeless.[4]

In January 2016 Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, when asked about such punitive demolitions told the Washington Post:

  1. Home demolitions are not something that we want to do, but we are trying to save innocent people’s lives and stop the terror. We believe in human rights, but in every democracy you have to find a balance between those freedoms and the biggest freedom, which is staying alive.[5]

The human rights NGO Human Rights Watch, in their 2017 report on the region, described the difficulties Palestinians face in building homes in the West Bank:

  1. Building permits are difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians to obtain in East Jerusalem or in the 60 percent of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control (Area C). This has driven Palestinians to construct housing and business structures that are at constant risk of demolition or confiscation by Israel on the grounds of being unauthorized. Palestinians in these areas have access to water, electricity, schools, and other state services that are either far more limited or costlier than the same services that the state makes available to Jewish settlers there.[6]

Responding to criticisms of Israeli policy by the OCHA in July 2016, a Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Times of Israel newspaper

  1. Israel is a country of law and it is only reasonable to request that housing and building projects be conducted according to general regulations and building permits. Just as an American or British citizens would not be allowed to build without a permit, so do we expect of Palestinians living in Area C, and of foreign countries and donors assisting those Palestinians.[7]

Asked by the Times how it was possible that only one housing permit was granted to Palestinians in Area C in 2014 and 2015, the spokesman answered:

  1. One has to take into account the particular condition. We see a lot of activity that is not really meant for the welfare of the population but rather as a political statement, and we have the clear impression that the Palestinians are being instrumentalized by the Palestinian Authority in order to create situations of conflict and friction.[8]

[1]     House of Commons Library, ‘Recent developments in the Occupied Palestinian Territories’, 20 March 2017, p 23

[2]     OCHA, ‘Demolition and seizure of service infrastructure in Palestinian communities in Area C exacerbates risk of forcible transfer’, 11 October 2017

[3]     IDF Panel Recommends Ending Punitive House Demolitions for Terrorists’ Families, Haaretz, 17 February 2005

[4]     B’TSELEM, ‘Statistics on punitive house demolitions’, last updated 8 October 2017.

[5]     ‘Israel steps up home demolitions to punish Palestinian attackers’, The Washington Post, 17 January 2017.

[6]     ‘2017 World Report: Israel/Palestine’, Human Rights Watch, accessed 1 December 2017.

[7]     ‘UN: Israel ‘systematically’ emptying Area C of Palestinians’, Times of Israel, 28 July 2016

[8]     Ibid

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