The number of houses in the territories demolished by the state rose to record numbers after the start of the second intifada at the end of 2000. The number of houses demolished in the Gaza Strip, especially in Rafah, is unprecedented: 2,897 houses, as professionally and accurately documented by UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees).Data concerning house demolitions in the West Bank is more problematic because there are no international agencies working systematically in the field and because accessibility for Israeli organizations has become more difficult. Although statistics published by the IDF are of dubious credibility, a fairly accurate picture can be constructed by combining evidence from a number of sources.
In the West Bank , house demolitions fall into three categories: the punitive demolition of houses belonging to families of people involved in suicide attacks, operational demolitions carried out during military operations, and the administrative demolition of houses constructed without a permit.
The issue of punitive demolitions has been researched in depth by Btselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories . The organization found that since the beginning of the second intifada, about 675 houses have been demolished. Punitive demolitions were abolished in February 2005 following the recommendations of a special committee that was established by the Chief of Staff. The committee found that not only do these demolitions fail to deter potential suicide bombers, on the contrary, they only serve to increase feelings of hate and the desire for revenge.
Concerning operational demolitions, the available data is only partial. The biggest wave of house demolitions during a military operation was in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. According to Palestinian sources, 530 structures were demolished, while according to Israeli sources there were 420 demolitions. In addition, the Palestinian Human Rights Committee (PHRC) recorded another 15 structures demolished during the same period in the areas of Qalqiliya, Nablus , Salvit, al-Bira and Beituniya. It also documented 357 other structures that were damaged to various degrees, some to the point of endangering their residents. Over the past year operational demolitions have all but disappeared as well.
In contrast, administrative house demolitions have continued relentlessly, even increasing. According to official data published by the Civil Administration, about 1,000 houses were demolished in the West Bank between September 2000 and the end of 2004. The division is as follows:
An in-depth examination reveals that the number of structures demolished in reality is much higher, and that the true figure is concealed by means of manipulative accounting.
An in-depth examination of the 2004 report on the demolition of illegal houses, submitted to MK Zahava Gal-On (Yachad) by the Civil Administration, reveals a Machiavellian computation tactic. The Civil Administration calculates the number of reports filed against illegal structures and ignores the fact that one report often includes more than a single structure. The practice of including more than one structure per demolition report in the West Bank is of questionable legitimacy, especially since the practice does not exist in Israel . Thus, the demolition of a block of several buildings appears as a single demolition in the Civil Administration’s final report. For example, a demolition in the village of Samoua on January 28, 2004, file number 118/97, was listed as a single demolition although it included three inhabited structures of about 20 sq. meters each, in addition to an animal pen and building foundations. A demolition carried out in the village of Azoun on April 22, 2004 , was listed as being a single demolition although it was “a camp including seven tents.” This is true in many other cases. A demolition on November 4, 2004 , near Ramallah, file number 143/95, was listed as a single demolition despite the fact there were “four residential structures of about 25 sq. meters each.” Thus the number of structures actually demolished is greater than the figures in the official report.
A close reading of that same report finds that in total, at least 357 structures were demolished in the West Bank according to the following division:
|Residences and populated structures|
|Goat and sheep pens, chicken coops, agricultural structures|
|Shanties, shacks, tents, containers|
|Commercial structures, industrial, workshops, offices|
There are instances in which the report does not specify the number of structures demolished during one operation and merely uses the inclusive term “buildings” or “stores.” Such was the case in a demolition in Bartaa on July 20, 2004 , in which the term “stores” and “structures used as stores” appeared in the report without specifying the total number of structures.
It can be concluded that the number of structures demolished is about 70% higher than the official figures.
If the findings from the 2004 report are applied to reports from earlier years, the number of demolished structures reaches 1,700.
In addition, there is evidence of demolitions that are not mentioned in the aforementioned report, nor in any other report. These demolitions are probably the outcome of local power struggles or committed by groups of lawbreakers. For example, a resident of Walaja reported that Border Patrol forces demolished a structure he owned, which functioned as a storehouse for grain and farming equipment. They claimed that the structure “overlooked their checkpoint and put the soldiers there at risk.” Another instance is the home of the Shrabati family in Hebron , demolished by settlers from Kiryat Arba in the presence of soldiers. The soldiers did not intervene, claiming, “They were children.” There are instances in which houses sustained heavy damages during a punitive demolition and were not included in the statistics—neither as a punitive demolition nor as an administrative demolition.
For example, a building of 14 apartments belonging to the Suleiman-Qawasma family in Hebron was badly damaged on May 26, 2003 , during the ‘controlled detonation’ of the house of a suicide bomber. The surrounding houses suffered enough damaged to be deemed hazardous to their residents. Of course, these apartments become “uninhabitable,” but were not recorded in the statistics for punitive or administrative demolitions.
The number of houses demolished by the Civil Administration or local forces, directly or indirectly, exceeds the official figure presented by the state and exceeds even the informal figure calculated based on the in-depth analysis of the 2004 report.
To conclude, the number of structures demolished in the West Bank since September 2000 for punitive, operational, and administrative purposes is somewhere between 2,110 (according to Israeli sources) and 2,920 (according to our estimates).
The planning situation
Throughout the years of the occupation in the West Bank Israel has followed a policy of planning, development, and construction which limits construction by Palestinian residents as much as possible. Construction is prohibited to more than two thirds of Palestinian residents in the West Bank .
Israel froze the planning situation in cities and Palestinian villages. The current structural plans for these cities and villages are more than 50 years old. In fact, the structural plans in use are the Mandate plan S-15, approved in March 1948. Since the Israeli occupation in 1967, the state has taken no initiative to improve or develop these structural plans to meet the legitimate needs of the area’s residents. It is based on these plans that the majority of requests for building permits were rejected. Land registration has also been frozen since 1967; without land registration, requests for building permits cannot be filed, since there is no proof of ownership of the land. The Israeli Civil Administration controls the administration of construction authorities. Aside from the fact that the local population has no representation on these authorities, most of the workers are settlers who have a strong motive to prevent Palestinians from exercising their rights over the land. It is practically impossible for residents to obtain documentation or maps for their land. Secrecy surrounds the Civil Administration’s planning considerations, and basic information vital to construction planning is not available to those who request it.
Any Palestinian who wants to obtain permission to build on land in Area C must go through drawn-out, complicated, and costly proceedings which will most likely end in the rejection of his request. The truth is regulations established by the military administration in the West Bank allows for administrative demolitions without legal restrictions. Appeals and hearings take place before the authority that issued the order, i.e., the Civil Administration, not an independent legal institution. Nor are they conducted on the basis of evidence as is the practice in the judiciary.
House demolitions violate international law. The authority to demolish is limited, and demolitions for civil reasons are completely prohibited. Article 46 of the 1907 Hague Conventions, which addresses occupied territory, requires any occupying country to maintain the private property of those under occupation.
In Article 53 Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, it was decided that no occupying power can damage or destroy the property and personal effects of the local population (unless it is a military necessity). In addition, according to West Bank ordinance 974 of 1981, the Civil Administration must act in the interest and welfare of the population.
In addition, administrative house demolitions are illegal, whether under the administrative law enforced in the territories, international law, or administrative laws imposed on the occupying nation.
According to international law, construction and planning are wholly civil matters. The military authority does not have the right to interfere in planning and construction, except when it has clear ramifications for security.
Unacceptable considerations in the “administrative” demolition of Palestinian houses
House demolitions in the West Bank are not just an administrative procedure carried out based on planning considerations. In the context of the current conflict, it is a political act aimed at serving the policy of land annexation and has nothing to do with planning considerations.
In most cases, Palestinian homes are demolished for the following objectives:
Distancing Palestinians from areas close to settlements: Israeli authorities regularly demolish Palestinian buildings that represent an obstacle to the development and expansion of settlements. Of course, the proximity of these houses to settlements is not offered as an official reason for the demolition.
Creating ring roads: These roads are meant to facilitate the movement of settlers and the military forces that protect the settlements. Houses in the paths of these ring roads—whether they are already there or are planned—are candidates for demolition.
Preventing the handover of land to Palestinians: Israel demolishes houses in areas in Israel to maintain them as part of a final settlement, in an attempt to prevent the Palestinian Authority from demanding the land by claiming that Palestinians live on it. House demolitions are an easy, convenient means to expel the population of these areas.
Restrictions on residential construction in the West Bank (August 1990, summary)
The official data reveals that the authorities demolished more houses than they allowed to be constructed in 1987 and 1988. In a cautionary report, it seems that if construction followed the dictates of the permit-granting authorities, 150 additional houses would have been built every year in the three years from 1988 to 1990. During this period, the population increase alone created a need for more than 2,000 additional homes annually.
We can thus say that the planning and construction authorities betrayed the trust of its mission and duties. It exploited the excessive authority granted to it by military orders to prevent the local population from being represented in planning and construction institutions and abolished the possibility of judicial appeal that existed under Jordanian law, without any justification based on international law.
The State Comptroller’s 2003 report and in Talia Sasson’s report in March 2005 on illegal settlement outposts revealed the transfer of state money to settlement councils in the West Bank and Gaza to finance illegal construction throughout the West Bank . According to the State Comptroller’s report, which covered the period from the beginning of 2000 until June 2003, the Ministry of Construction and Housing financed construction and development projects worth NIS29.7 million in violation of the planning and construction law and in areas where construction was absolutely prohibited, whether due to lack of agreement on the part of the government, the lack of any structural plans, or for reasons related to the ownership of the land. In addition, in certain cases, the Ministry of Construction and Housing undertook to establish infrastructure at points where the Civil Administration had issued demolitions orders. The report also noted that none of the competent authorities—whether the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the Interior Minister, or the Interior Minister’s aide on settlement issues—ascertained whether construction permits had been issued by the local authorities in the West Bank before approving the transfer of money. The State Comptroller summarized the findings of the report in plain language: “A study of the financing offered by the Ministry of Construction and Housing for construction and development projects for local authorities in parts of the West Bank reveal that the Ministry is expending the country’s resources on illegal construction, on projects for which there is no construction permit, in areas where structural plans have not been approved, and in areas where the political leadership has not approved settlement. These are extremely grave findings.” (State Comptroller’s report on financing construction and development in the West Bank, p. 369)
The gravity of the situation only increases considering that during the same period the government demolished 628 Arab houses in the same area because they did not have building permits (Civil Administration report for 2000-June 2003). This means that the state allows Jews to commit building violations while prohibiting Arabs from building in the same area. For those who still do not grasp the significance of this situation, we say that unfortunately the seriousness of this phenomenon stems from the fact that government policy in this area is racist and discriminatory. When an action is prohibited to Arabs but permissible for Jews, and when they demolish Arab homes because they do not have permits while at the same time helping Jews to build without permits, there is no way to avoid calling things by their real name. There is no choice but to call these things racial discrimination, even if these two words will shock any Jew.
In addition, it cannot be said here that this is just an “isolated mistake” or “the actions of an individual that do not represent the whole,” because the State Comptroller revealed a phenomenon involving not only several government ministries, but also the army itself via the Civil Administration and the operations coordinator in the territories. That is, this is a truly racist policy.