Dalia Hatuqa /Al Jazeera & United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – 2015-09-07 22:02:44
Report Reveals Scale of Israel’s Home Demolitions
More than 14,000 demolition orders have been issued against Palestinian-owned structures in Area C since 1988, UN says
Dalia Hatuqa /Al Jazeera
(September 7, 2015) — Israeli authorities have issued more than 14,000 demolition orders against Palestinian-owned structures, including homes, in Area C of the occupied West Bank between 1988 and 2014, according to a new report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Area C is a designation from the Oslo Accords’ era that indicates the region is under full Israeli military and administrative control. The area, home to around 300,000 Palestinians, covers 60 percent of the West Bank and is also where most Jewish settlements are built.
The report, titled Under Threat: Demolition Orders in Area C of the West Bank, relies on official data obtained via Freedom of Information legislation from the Israeli Civil Administration, the defence ministry unit responsible for the occupied West Bank.
More than 11,000 of these demolition orders — affecting an estimated 13,000 structures — are currently “outstanding”, heightening the vulnerability of thousands of Palestinians, some of whom are at imminent risk of displacement, the report said.
Around 77 percent of these structures are located on land recognised even by Israeli authorities as privately owned Palestinian land, the report notes. The remaining 23 percent are built on what Israel designates as public or “state” land.
Palestinians who want to build in Area C must apply for a permit, which is extremely hard to obtain. Israeli rights group B’Tselem documented that between 2009 and 2012, a total of 1,640 applications were submitted to the Civil Administration. Only 37 were approved.
This past August alone, Israeli authorities demolished 143 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem due to a lack of building permits — the highest such figure in five years. In recent weeks, many rights and development groups have expressed alarm at the surge in demolitions, and called for Israel to be held accountable.
“The rapid increase in demolitions shows that we must move beyond words towards concerted action to stop these violations of international law,” said Tony Laurance, chief executive officer of Medical Aid for Palestinians, a UK-based charity that provides services in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. “Grave breaches of international humanitarian law could soon become the norm.”
Not all cases of demolition involve homes or housing structures; they also include internationally donated tents or caravans, animal sheds, water cisterns, and stone terraces. One-third of the outstanding demolition orders affect Palestinian Bedouin and other vulnerable communities that mostly rely on farming, herding and animal-rearing for their livelihood.
Some experts believe that at the heart of the Area C demolitions is an Israeli attempt to move Palestinians from the area it fully controls, to ones under Palestinian security and administrative management.
“The idea behind this is to prevent these lands from being transferred to the Palestinians under a final status agreement,” said Hanna Issa, a Palestinian international law expert. “The short-term agenda is to clear the areas [near] settlements of any inhabitants and to confiscate land for more settlements and for expanding the Israeli [separation] wall.”
A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) — the Israeli defence ministry unit that encompasses the Civil Administration — said that “the data presented in the report does not match the [one] done on the ground because [it] includes data from areas of East Jerusalem that are not under our responsibility”.
The COGAT spokesperson added: “It is essential to mention that as a request of the Palestinian community, the Civil Administration promotes 13 master plans that are in advanced stages of planning, while four of them have completed the planning process.”
While many homes and structures in Area C have been slated for demolition, the case of one village has stood out in recent months due to the broad international support its residents have received.
In July, the United States and European Union foreign ministers warned Israeli authorities against knocking down the West Bank village of Khirbet Susiya. The EU specifically asked for a halt in plans for the “forced transfer of population and demolition of Palestinian housing” in the village, which has been waging a 20-year battle against displacement. So far, 37 dwellings there have been earmarked for destruction.
The villagers, who recently lost an injunction in an Israeli court to block the home demolitions, are living in Area C, squeezed between settlements and a settler-run archaeological site. Currently, only approximately one percent of land in Area C has been planned for Palestinian development.
Like in the case of many villages located in Area C, Israeli authorities claim the structures are illegal and say the demolitions are carried out after several legal warnings to owners. In general, Israel defends the legality of such demolitions by citing the Oslo II Accords, which made zoning in Area C subject to approval by its planning committees.
“In accordance with the interim agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority and recognised by the international community, every construction in [Area] C requires the approval of the authorities,” the COGAT spokesperson said.
The UN report also revealed a “dual system” when it comes to approved planning for settlers. According to the data provided, “taking into account the size of both populations, the planned area per Israeli settler is more than 13 times larger than the planned area per Palestinian” — about 790 sq m per settler, versus 60 sq m per Palestinian.
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Occupied Palestinian Territory,
Reporting period: 25 — 31 August 2015
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
32 Palestinians, including six children, were injured across the West Bank in multiple clashes with Israeli forces. One of the largest clashes was recorded in the course of a search and arrest operation in the Jenin refugee camp (Jenin), which involved an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and armed Palestinians and resulted in the injury of 13 Palestinians and one soldier, reportedly by “friendly fire”.
Overall, Israeli forces carried out a total of 68 search and arrest operations, three of which involved violent clashes. Other Palestinian injuries were recorded during the weekly demonstrations in An Nabi Salih, Bil’in (both in Ramallah) and Kafr Qaddum (Qalqiliya); and during ad-hoc clashes near the Barrier in Adu Dis town (Jerusalem) and at the entrance of Silwad (Ramallah). Two Israeli border policemen were also injured in two separate incidents (stabbing and Molotov cocktail throwing) in East Jerusalem.
During the abovementioned military operation in Jenin refugee camp, Israeli forces destroyed a two-floor building located in Area A, home to one of the wanted Palestinians, displacing four people, including two children, and damaged another adjacent home. Since the beginning of 2014, Israeli forces destroyed at least thirteen homes over the course of military operation in the West Bank.
Additionally, the Israeli authorities demolished 30 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem for lack of Israeli-issued building permits, displacing 19 people and otherwise affecting at least 120 others. This brings the number of Palestinian structures demolished during August 2015 to 143, the highest such figure in five years.
The largest demolition (22 structures) took place in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Ma’azi Jaba’, which is one of the 46 communities in the central West Bank at risk of forcible transfer due to a “relocation” plan advanced by the Israeli authorities.
Around 100 Palestinians, half of them children, were displaced from their homes in Khirbet Ras al Ahmar in the northern Jordan Valley for six hours to make way for an Israeli military training exercise.
This is the second instance since the beginning of the year that this herding community has been temporarily displaced. This practice negatively affects the livelihoods and access to services of already vulnerable communities, and often results in damage to their property.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces opened fire towards civilians in the Access Restricted Areas (ARA) on land and at sea, on at least six occasions. No casualties were reported. On two occasions, Israeli forces entered and leveled land inside Gaza, forcing farmers to flee the area. Israeli forces also arrested four Palestinians at the Erez Crossing who arrived to the crossing after receiving permits to travel into the West Bank, and another three while trying to smuggle themselves into Israel.
Members of armed groups in Gaza fired at least two rockets, one of which landed in southern Israel and the other dropped short inside Gaza; no injuries or damage were reported. In response, the Israeli air force attacked and destroyed/damaged a military facility with no casualties reported.
For five days during the week, Israeli forces prevented Palestinians from accessing the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound; women were not allowed to enter in the morning hours until 11:00am, and men were ordered not to stay more than one hour inside the compound, in order to facilitate and secure the entry of Israeli groups into the compound. This prevented over 500 students from accessing three schools operating inside Al Aqsa Mosque compound, as well as the conduct of regular prayers.
Restrictions on Palestinian access to Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in 2014 led to a marked escalation in confrontations between Israeli forces and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, alongside a sharp rise in casualties.
One Israeli settler attack resulting in damage to Palestinian property was recorded in Mazra’a Al Qibliya village (Ramallah) involving the setting of fire to a quarry truck belonging to a Palestinian from the village.
On 27 August, in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem, Israeli settlers moved into a building comprising twelve apartments after reportedly purchasing it from the Palestinian owner.
All the Palestinian tenants of the building evacuated their homes in advance, except one family residing in the basement, who remained there.
This is the sixth building in the Silwan neighborhood occupied by Israeli settlers since 2000. The settlements established in recent years in the heart of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem have been a constant source of tension and undermined the safety and freedom of movement of Palestinian residents.
At least one Israeli settler was injured by Palestinians, including a man shot when traveling near the Jit junction (Qalqiliya).
The Rafah Crossing was closed in both directions by the Egyptian authorities during the week. The crossing has been continuously closed, including for humanitarian assistance, since 24 October 2014, except for 29 days of partial openings.
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