Israeli home demolitions break records, shatter lives in 2016


Israel has demolished or seized a record number of Palestinian buildings throughout the West Bank in 2016, according to the United Nations, displacing over 1,500 people.

According the electronic Intifada in its year-end report, the UN humanitarian coordination agency OCHA states that Israel demolished 1,089 structures, double the number in 2015.

The demolitions and seizures displaced 1,593 persons and affected the livelihoods of another 7,000.

These are the highest figures for displacement and demolitions in the occupied West Bank since OCHA began tracking them in 2009.

The staggering rate of demolitions and displacement kicked off early in 2016, and barely relented over the 12 months.

On one cold morning in February, the Israeli army conducted what some described as the single largest demolition in over a decade, razing 23 Palestinian homes in two villages in the South Hebron Hills and leaving 100 people homeless.

Permit predicament
In June, the nonprofit Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, or Euro-Med, recorded more demolitions of European-funded structures in the first three months of 2016 than in all of 2015.

An average of 165 privately and internationally funded structures were demolished or partially destroyed each month, according to Euro-Med, representing a more than three-fold increase from the previous rate of 50 demolitions per month between 2012 and 2015.

The OCHA report notes that the majority of demolitions were officially carried out because the structures had been built without permits.

But building licenses are nearly impossible to obtain for Palestinians.

According to recent data from Israel’s Civil Administration, the military bureaucracy that rules the lives of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Israel has demolished 18 times as many structures as the number of building permits it granted Palestinians in Area C of the West Bank.

Under the Oslo agreements of the early 1990s, the West Bank was divided into areas A, B and C. Areas A and B are under nominally full or partial control of the Palestinian Authority, while Area C, which makes up about 60 percent of the land, is under full Israeli military control.

The Israeli group Bimkom-Planners for Planning Rights obtained the data documenting that Palestinians requested a total of 1,253 building permits between 2014 and 2016 and were granted a mere 53.

Of the three years, 2016 saw the highest number of permits issued, at 37 for 428 requests through June.

Forced transfer
Occupied East Jerusalem also saw a doubling of demolitions, with 154 structures destroyed between January and October alone.

On one day in October, Israel destroyed the homes of more than 40 people in the city. This included the multi-unit building of the Jaafreh family in the Silwan neighborhood, which had been the home to an extended family of 30, mostly children.

The building, belonging to the Jaafreh family, had been built 17 years earlier. The family had tried in vain to get permits from the Israeli authority for the past nine years.

“These demolitions are intended mainly to keep Palestinians confined to small pockets and to maintain the induced housing shortage so that Palestinians will be forced out of the city, thereby keeping the desired overwhelming Jewish presence in the city,” Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, told the publication Al-Monitor in August.

As for Israel’s demolitions in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron hills, some analysts fear the increase portends annexation.

Last week, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that reaffirmed, for the first time in years, that “all [Israeli] measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem” are violations of international law.

This includes settlement construction and the “demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians.”

Over the summer, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported the record number of demolitions.

It noted that most were carried out in small, underprivileged communities located far from Palestinian population centers, primarily in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills, as well as east of Jerusalem.

B’Tselem describes Israel’s policy of systematic demolitions as constituting the “forced transfer” of Palestinian residents in the occupied West Bank.

“The extensive demolitions are part of a broader Israeli policy in Area C,” B’Tselem writes. “This policy is based on the approach that this area, which spans some 60 percent of the West Bank, is intended primarily to serve Israeli needs.”

“Accordingly, Israel acts to establish facts on the ground and to create a reality that it will be difficult to change in any future agreement.”

Indeed, these “facts on the ground” have already delivered an apartheid one-state reality.

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