Israel Destroys More Homes in the West Bank
March 6, 2016
Al Jazeera & Emily Mulder / Al Jazeera & Dalia Hatuqa / Al Jazeera
A United Nations report says a total of 41 structures including a school were destroyed south of Nablus displacing 36 Palestinians. Israel has issued more than 14,000 demolition orders against Palestinian-owned structures in Area C between 1988-2015. Palestinians say the cost of losing a home doesn't surpass the value of life cheapened by decades of Israeli occupation.
Israel Demolishes Palestinian-owned Homes in West Bank
(March 4, 2016) -- Since the beginning of 2016, Israel has demolished, on average, 29 Palestinian-owned buildings a week, according to the UN [EPA]
Israeli forces have demolished dozens of structures, including a school, in the northern West Bank this week, leaving 10 families homeless, according to a new United Nations report.
In as statement issued on Friday, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance and Development Aid said the demolitions took place on Wednesday in the village of Khirbet Tana, south of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
In total, 41 buildings were destroyed, displacing 36 Palestinians, including 11 children, the UN said.
"These are some of the highest levels of demolition and displacement recorded in a similar timeframe since 2009," the statement said.
Khirbet Tana is home to approximately 250 people who rely on herding and agriculture for their livelihood, according to the report.
Because the residents need grazing land for their livestock, most have "little choice" but to stay in the area.
"Due to the community’s location within an area declared as a 'firing zone' for training purposes, residents are denied building permits and have experienced repeated waves of demolitions, the last one taking place on February 9," the report said.
Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that last month the number of such demolitions had tripled on average since the start of the year.
"Since the beginning of 2016, Israel has demolished, on average, 29 Palestinian-owned structures per week, three times the weekly average for 2015," he said.
Last week, the European Union hit out at Israeli authorities after they demolished a school funded by the French government.
COGAT, the defence ministry body responsible for coordinating Israeli government activity in the Palestinian territories, put the number of buildings at 20.
In the West Bank, an estimated 18 percent of the area has been declared by the Israeli authorities as "firing zones", and 38 Palestinian communities are located within these areas.
Because the Israeli Civil Administration prohibits building in these areas, wide-scale demolitions frequently take place.
The Israeli military is also frequently accused of carrying out punitive demolitions against the family homes of individuals suspected of attacks against Israelis.
While the Israeli military stopped punitive demolition orders in 2005, following reports by an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks, the practice was resumed in July 2014.
Throughout occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, some 90,000 Palestinians are facing potential displacement, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
House Demolitions: Israel's 'Court-sanctioned Revenge'
Emily Mulder / Al Jazeera
NABLUS, occupied West Bank (October 14, 2015) -- The Hashiya family is waiting for their house to be demolished as punishment for a crime they did not commit.
They are not the first -- and will likely not be the last -- Palestinian family to be displaced due to Israel's use of punitive demolitions, ordered on the family homes of individuals suspected of carrying out attacks.
But the logic of the practice is lost on Khalid Abu Hashiya, father of six and resident of the New Askar refugee camp in Nablus. Israeli authorities issued a demolition order on their home after authorities said his son, Noor, killed Almog Shilony, in Tel Aviv on November 10, 2014.
Noor Abu Hashiya, now 19 years old, is serving a 139-year sentence for the fatal Tel Aviv attack. The day after the attack, Israeli forces detained Khalid and four of his sons before issuing the demolition order.
After nearly a year of radio silence regarding when the demolition would take place, the Hashiya home was ransacked by Israeli forces shortly after two Israeli settlers were killed by suspected Palestinians near Nablus on October 1, and the Hashiya family was given a demolition date.
"They want to destroy the house to make other people stop and look at our case [as an example]. To stop fighters," Khalid said. "But I am proud of my son. I'm not sorry. Houses are less expensive than human beings. We have to live in our country."
According to Israeli rights group B'Tselem, the punitive demolition of the Hashiya home is deemed as "court sanctioned revenge".
While the Israeli military stopped punitive demolition orders in 2005 following reports by an Israeli military committee that the practice did not deter attacks, the practice was resumed in July 2014, with the exception of one demolition in 2009.
Human Rights Watch demanded at the time that Israel stop the policy, referring to the discriminatory practice in the occupied territories as a war crime.
HRW also pointed out that the 2005 Israeli military report "noted that punitive home demolitions increased hostility towards Israel".
According to Aziz Abbasi, a Palestinian youth activist in occupied East Jerusalem, the sporadic attacks committed by a few lone Palestinians against Israelis in recent weeks were likely triggered by Israel's collective punishment policy.
For example, Abbasi told Al Jazeera that Alaa Abu Jamal -- who rammed his car into Israeli passengers before being shot dead on Monday -- "a week ago, witnessed the demolition of his uncle's house and his sister's house".
"As he was trying to resist the Israeli demolition [of his relatives' houses], he was humiliated and dragged face-down for 200 metres by Israeli soldiers," Abbasi added. "They are forcing young men to [commit these attacks]."
Israel has carried out thousands of punitive demolitions since 1967, according to documentation by Israeli watchdog group HaMoked.
HaMoked petitioned Israel's High Court against the decision to demolish the Hashiya home on the grounds that "the proximity between the order's issuance date and the recent wave of attacks, reinforces the impression that this is not a deterrence measure, but a vindictive indiscriminate response". The petition was officially rejected on October 9.
The Hashiya family was unaware when -- or if -- the demolition order would be carried out in early October, when Israeli forces entered their home, took video footage, and delivered papers stating they could no longer use the house, Khalid said.
An Israeli army spokesperson refused to comment to Al Jazeera on the interactions between Israeli authorities and the Hashiya family, and the Israeli defence ministry was not available for comment.
The Hashiya home is wedged carefully into the tight refugee camp, where many buildings share foundations and supporting walls.
The demolition order is stirring up strife in the Nablus refugee camp, where the homes of at least 12 neighbouring families are at risk of destruction or severe damage.
"When they destroy a house, they destroy all the other houses," explained Basma, a neighbour who requested her real name be omitted.
Sitting in the house -- now covered only in the clutter and dust of a frantic move-out -- she told Al Jazeera, "There are so many people here", gesturing to neighbouring homes in all directions.
The Hashiya home is sandwiched between five-story buildings that Basma estimates hold 12 families and around 100 people, the majority of whom are children. Khalid's brother also lives on the second story of the home.
"It's not just the house, on the outside," Basma says. "It will affect the children... it will affect them inside [psychologically]."
Children in the neighbouring homes have had trouble sleeping at night out of fear for when Israeli forces enter the camp for the demolition. Basma says she isn't sleeping either.
B'Tselem's investigation into demolitions carried out earlier this month reported severe damage to nearby homes, despite Israel's pledge to the Supreme Court in 2014 to do "everything in its power to prevent damage to adjacent units".
As attacks have become near-daily in recent weeks in Israel and occupied Palestine, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also publicly condemned attacks by Israelis, saying "Israel is a country of law and order. We bring anyone to justice who commits acts of violence, on either side, Jew or Arab."
In practice however, little has been done to curb violent attacks by Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank as well as Israelis who have held marches in occupied Jerusalem chanting "Death to Arabs".
In the first week of October alone, over 130 settler attacks on Palestinians were reported, and legal recourse is being prevented for three Jewish extremists suspected for an arson attack that left an 18-month-old Palestinian and his parents dead on July 31, according to Haaretz.
Meanwhile, two punitive demolitions were carried out last week and authorities sealed a room in the family home of an alleged Palestinian attacker, leaving 13 Palestinians -- who never perpetrated attacks -- homeless, including seven children.
Walid Assaf, the Palestinian Authority's Minister of the Commission Against the Wall and Settlements, meanwhile, says the Palestinian Authority is incapable of preventing the Israeli military's forced entry into Palestinian areas to implement such demolitions, leaving residents with no options for protection.
For Khalid, the cost of losing a house doesn't surpass the value of Palestinian life that he watched decades of Israeli military occupation cheapen.
Khalid sees the loss of his home as minimal in comparison to the sacrifice he believes his son made in the ongoing fight to return self-determination and value to Palestinian lives.
Awaiting the demolition of his family home in the refugee camp, Khalid sees the punitive demolition process as a clear legal demarcation of the privileging of Israeli Jews over the lives of Palestinians. "When they [Israelis] kill Palestinian people, they don't detain the killers. They don't destroy their houses," Khalid said.
"Judgments [handed down by Israeli courts] do not bring justice in Israel. Rights belong to the people that are strong. They are not for the poor, they are not for Palestinians."
Report Reveals Scale of Israel's Home Demolitions
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 recognized 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 790sq m per settler, versus 60sq m per Palestinian.
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