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Occupation: House Demolitions
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“Any humanitarian looking at the sheer number of innocent civilians who have lost their homes can only condemn Israel’s house demolition policy as a hugely disproportionate military response by an occupation army.  The nearly 15,000 peole whose homes and possessions have been ground into sand by Israel’s bulldozers can hardly be blamed if they have come to believe that they are the victims of collective punishment.  It is a policy that creates only hardship and bitterness, and in the end can only undermine hope for future reconciliation and peace.”


Peter Hansen, Commissioner General of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.  UNRWA Press Release, 22 January 2004.


“The vast majority of demolitions, it must be understood, have nothing to do with terrorism.  According to UN figures, less than 600 of the 10,000 houses demolished [as of 2003] since the Occupation began in 1967 involved security suspects. All of the rest 94% were simply houses of ordinary people that were in Israel’s way.  That was the case of the home of Dr. Samir Nasrallah, which Rachel [Corrie] died protecting.  Dr. Nasrallah had engaged in no hostile activities, had not been charged with anything.  His house was demolished because, like dozens of others that have been bulldozed in that section of the dense refugee camp, it lay within a wide “security strip” that Israel wants to create along the border with Egypt.  No compensation was given to Dr. Nasrallah, no opportunity to appeal to the court, no alternative housing offered.  Simply demolition that leaves families homeless, impoverished, traumatized, ruined.  An illegal policy, since international law forbids the demolition of houses by an occupying power.”

“Honor Rachel, End House Demolitions,” Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, March 18, 2003, Arabic Media Network

The number of house demolitions carried out by Israel is truly alarming. It is estimated that over 24,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967, and that over 4,200 Palestinian homes were demolished in the bombardment of the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, from December 2008 to January 2009.

The Israelis’ reasons for these demolitions fall primarily into 3 categories:
1. Punitive - houses demolished as punishment for the actions of people associated with the houses,
2. Administrative - houses demolished for lack of a building permit, and
3. Land-clearing/Military - houses demolished by the IDF to achieve strategic goals or for Israel to put that land to other use.

The residents of these demolished homes are not offered compensation for their homes nor are they given another place to live.  
Palestestinian boy beside his demolished                  
They are left destitute and homeless.
house, May 2004, Rafah Refugee Camp
Photo: Palestine Today/Mohammed Saber
             
Regardless of the any reason given for
                                                                        demolitions, the demolition of homes is illegal
under international agreements to which Israel is a party, it is a tragic human experience for Palestinians, and it would be an unnecessary action if the illegal Occupation itself were ended.


My house is in the Rafah refugee camp, one meter from the Egyptian border, and west of the Israeli army post at Salah-a-Din Gate.  I live with my family of fourteen.  On Thursday [10 January], I was woken at about 2:00 am by the sound of tanks and bulldozers that had come from the direction of the Israeli army post.  I got out of bed and saw that my sons had also woken up.  The bulldozers were approaching the house and we decided to leave immediately.  We woke up the others and got out.  We manage to proced a few meters when three bulldozers reached the house.  I stood in the rain for a few moments, unable to believe I wouldn’t ever see my house again.  The children were screaming, and one of them asked me to run away because he was afraid I would get hurt.  We fled to the adjacent street.  I stood there with my wife, children, grandchildren and others in my family, and watched for ten minutes as the bulldozers destroyed our house.

Testimony of Saleh Hussein Mustafa al-Babli
B’tselem, “Policy of Destruction: House Demolition and Destruction of Agricultural Land I the Gaza Strip”  February 2002. Available from www.btselem.org



1. Punitive demolitions: Houses demolished as punishment for the actions of people associated with the houses, or are suspected of collaborating with others in those actions. The actions in questions have been everything from political organizing to attacks on Israeli civilians.  One of the most serious problems with the punitive house demolition policy is that it punishes innocent people for offences committee by others.

In many cases, the Palestinian who committed the action is not the owner of the demolished house.  Often, the suspect is already in custody, is serving a prison sentence, or is dead.  So the victims of the demolition are not the suspects but rather family members who are not guilty of any wrongdoing. Because these demolitions target those who have committed no offence, they constitute collective punishment and are illegal under international law.

Punitive demolitions were suspended by the military in February 2005 after it reached the conclusion that rather than deterring attacks, punitive demolitions only enflame the people and lead to more attacks. However, the practice was resumed in January 2009.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Occupying Powers are prohibited from destroying property or employing collective punishment. Article 53 reads: "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited."  According to the Israeli human rights organization, B'Tselem, 47% of  houses demolished as punitive punishment were never the homes of
attackers or suspected attackers on Israel but were houses adjacent to these homes. Additionally, only 3% of all occupants of demolished houses were given prior notice that the Israeli army would demolish their house or an adjacent one.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.”  Punitive demolitions, by definition, violate this statute.
 
2. Administrative demolitions: Thousands of Palestinians homes have been demolished on the basis that their construction is in violation of Israeli permit requirements. It is important to point out that in almost all cases, Palestinians have no choice but to build "illegally" because it is almost impossible for Palestinians living in certain parts of the West Bank, especially in East Jerusalem, to obtain permits for the construction of new homes, or additions onto an existing home. The process is long, expensive and complicated. More often that not, a permit is not granted. Palestinians are faced with the choice of staying in an overcrowded and sometimes uninhabitable home or building without a permit.  Many under these circumstances choose to build a new house and hope they won’t receive a demoliton order or that the demolition won’t be carried out.

Also if a house is in close proximity to a military base or a road used by the military or settlers, it may also face administrative demolition. Israeli officials explain this type of demolition by stating that Palestinians are violating the zoning and planning laws and that the demolitions are merely law enforcement. This type of demolition accounts for approximately 26% of defined demolitions. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention declares that the destruction of property “is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” With these demolitions there is no pretense of military action, and are as such clear violations of international law.

3. Land-clearing operations/Military demolitions: Houses demolished by the IDF in the course of military operations in order to clear a piece of land for a variety of reasons, to achieve a military goal, or to kill wanted persons as part of Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions.  Palestinian houses may be demolished when they are in the path of, or too close to, the building of Israeli bypass roads, buffer zones, Israel’s Separation Wall, settlements, and military posts.  Israeli authorities refer to these practices as “clearing” and justify them on the grounds that they are needed for security.
These demolitions account for about 65.5% of defined demolitions.

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention applies, and the Israeli
Defence Force itself found, referring to Operation Cast Lead, the massive destruction of homes “is very difficult to justify from a legal perspective, particularly if such justifications are called for in legal proceedings with international organizations."

4. Undefined demolitions: ICAHD is collecting information and investigating the status of many demolitions carried out between 1967-1982. Preliminary results indicate these will include demolitions from all categories but with the majority being land-clearing operations/military and punitive.


"Can we...even begin to imagine what it feels like to have bulldozers suddenly appear in the middle of the night and plow under everythingg a family has, as they and they children watch? Did the decision makers take into account the hatred they are sowing in the hearts of the children who witnessed the destruction of their homes?  And what will become of these wretched people now, people who even before their homes were razed were doomed to a sordid life....?  Where are they going to spend the bitterly cold nights?"


Gideon Levy, Israeli journalist, Ha'aretz newspaper, 21 January 2004




STATISTICS ON HOUSE DEMOLITIONS (1967-2009)

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions provides statistics on house demolitions carried out by Israel since 1967, based on information gleaned from the Israeli Ministry of Interior, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Civil Administration, OCHA and other UN sources, Palestinian & Israeli human rights groups, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, our field work and other sources. The following data was last updated inApril 2009.




Footnotes:
i   The Israel League for Human and Civil Rights (1970), “The United Nations Commission on the Israeli practices in the occupied territories.” Accessed 22 December 2008 via ttp://domino.un.org/.  United Nations General Assembly (1967)   “Report of the Secretary-General under General Assembly resolution 2252 (ES-V) and Security Council resolution 237 (1967).”  Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.domino.un.org. Abowd, Thomas Philip (2000) “The Moroccan Quarter: A History of the Present.”  Jerusalem: Jerusalem Quarterly.  Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org. Palestine Remembered (n. d.) “’Imwas”, “Bayt Nuba”, “Yalu”.  Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.palestineremembered.com.  This total does not include the numbers from the Jordan Valley villages of Nuseirat, Jiftlik, and Arajish, all of which were leveled, as those numbers are currently unavailable.

ii   United Nations General Assembly (1984) “Report of the Secretary-General, Living Conditions of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”  Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.domino.un.org. This is the source for all statistics on undefined demolitions between 1967 and 1982. In the actual report these are listed as punitive demolitions though a UN source states all demolitions were classified as “Collective Punishment.”

iii   Human Rights Watch (2004) Razing Rafah. New York: Human Rights Watch.  Halper, Jeff (2005).  Obstacles to Peace (2005) Jerusalem: PalMap. This number is from a mass demolition that took place in the Gaza Strip in August.

iv   UNISPAL (30 march 1979) Special Unit on Palestinian Rights bulletin no.3.  Retrieved 9 November 2006 from http://www.domino.un.org. This is also cited in the 25 May 1984 document from the UN General Assembly, “Living conditions of the Palestinian people in the occupied Palestinian territories. Report of the Secretary-General.”

v   Talmor, Ronny (1989) Demolition and Sealing of Houses as a Punitive Measure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip During the Intifada. Jerusalem: B’Tselem. This report is the source for the data on punitive demolitions from 1983-86.

vi   B’Tselem (2005) “Statistics on demolition of houses as punishment 1987-2005.” Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.btselem.org. All the statistics on punitive house demolitions from 1987-2005 come from this.

vii   B’Tselem (2006) “Statistics on demolition of houses built without permits.”  Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.btselem.org. All the statistics on administrative demolitions between 1987-1993 come from this.

viii   Margalit, Meir (2006) Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City. Jerusalem: IPCC. Margalit, Meir (2006). Personal communication with Dr. Margalit, field researcher for ICAHD. B’Tselem (2006)  “Statistics on demolition of houses built without permits.” Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.btselem.org. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2005-2008).  Weekly Humanitarian Briefings #s 86-240. ICAHD field work, All statistics about administrative house demolitions between 1994-2009 come from these sources.

ix   B’Tselem (2006) “Statistics on houses demolished for alleged military purposes.”  Retrieved 25 September 2006 from http://www.btselem.org.  UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2005-2008)  Weekly Humanitarian Briefings #s 86-240.

x   Demolition witnessed by ICAHD staff on 19 January 2009.

xi   Preliminary total for houses completely demolished in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Number provided by the UN OCHA through email communication on 10 February 2009. All demolitions occurring during Cast Lead are listed in 2009, despite several hundred occurring just before the new year.



See sources for all topics in this section, The Occupation.