On June 10th 1967, the Israeli government demolished the Moroccan Quarter in the Old City of East Jerusalem to make easier public access to the Western Wall. After the Israeli army called on the inhabitants of the quarter to vacate their homes only a couple of hours before the demolitions took place, a call which was not heard by everybody in the quarter, 135 houses were demolished along with two mosques and other sites. 650 inhabitants were left homeless and several others dead under the rubble of their homes. This demolition was not the first of its kind in the Occupied Palestinian Territories but definitely the starting point to a lifetime struggle with illegal house demolitions by the Israel Occupying forces.
Since 1967, almost 18,000 homes have been demolished in the occupied Palestinian territories for three main reasons: collective punishment and for so-called operational and administrative reasons.
House demolitions started before 1967 by the British Mandate as a means to expel the Palestinians from their homes. Below is a brief history of house demolitions in Palestine:
- 1930s: British administration in Palestine uses house demolitions as a means of quelling the indigenous uprising against British rule.
- 1936-1939: British authorities demolish more than 5,000 Palestinian homes.
- 1948: the newly established state of Israel begins demolishing the homes of Palestinian refugees to prevent their return. More than 125,000 homes, some of which were damaged during the war, were systematically destroyed in a process referred to as "cleaning up the national views".
- 1950s: Israel expels Palestinians from border areas and from villages where part of the Palestinian population remained after the war and demolishes Palestinian homes.
- 1967: Destruction of housing stock during the war included 375 homes in Imwas, 535 homes in Yalu, 550 homes in Beit Nuba, an estimated 135 homes in the Moroccan quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, 1,000 homes in Qalqilya, in addition to thousands of homes of Beit Marsam, Beit Awa, Jiftlik, and al-Burj as well as refugee camps in the Jericho area and the Gaza Strip.
- 1970s and 1980s: Israel demolishes more than 10,000 refugee shelters in the Gaza Strip to create a so-called security corridor between the southern Gaza Strip and the Sinai and to widen roads in the camps for Israeli military patrols. Demolitions were also part of a campaign to forcibly resettle refugees outside camps.
- 1993-2000: Israel demolished more than 1,000 homes across the occupied Palestinian territories
- 2003: Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes inside Israel. Demolitions of Bedouin homes in the Naqab (Negev) increased by eight times. More than 100 homes were demolished. An additional 280 homes were destroyed in the Galilee and the Triangle. In total more than 500 homes were destroyed. There are an estimated 12,000 outstanding demolition orders in the Galilee and some 30,000 in the Negev to date.
2000-2004: According to United Nations statistics, 1,500 houses were demolished in the Rafah area alone in Israeli military operations.
September 2000-2007 – 1,900 homes were demolished by the Israeli civil administration for lack of proper permits. According to OCHA, over 94% of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C were denied between 2000 – 2007. Also according to OCHA, in the first quarter of 2008, 124 Palestinian structures were destroyed for lack of permits in the West Bank.
Between January and June 2008, B'Tselem reported that 37 houses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were destroyed for military purposes, leaving 141 people homeless. Ten houses in the West Bank were destroyed in the same period for lack of permits, leaving 41 people homeless.
In March 2011, The UN reported a two-fold increase in the number of house demolitions carried out by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) recorded 70 demolitions since the start of 2011, displacing 105 Palestinians, of whom 43 were under the age of 18. The demolitions were carried out across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and ordered by Israeli police, municipal officials and by mandate of the Civil Administration.
Talking to Ma’an News Agency, UNRWA spokesman in Jerusalem Chris Gunness said officials were concerned, comparing the number to the average of 24 demolitions per month since 2000, when the Agency began monitoring.
According to UNRWA reports, in 2010, the Israeli military destroyed more than 349 Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank (under full Israeli control), leaving almost 485 Palestinians, half of them children, homeless. This represents a significant increase over 2009, when 191 structures were demolished. Another 2,606 have seen their property or livelihood destroyed or damaged. According to official information provided by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, there are over 3,000 outstanding demolition orders for Area C structures.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates that at least 24,813 houses have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967.
- House demolitions continue.
Pretexts under which house demolitions are carried out:
The Israeli government uses house demolitions as collective punishment in response to attacks on Israel; families of attackers or of people suspected of carrying out attacks as well as their neighbors or in some cases whole neighborhoods are subject to this illegal violation of human rights. 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.
Before the policy of collective punishment by means of house demolitions was renewed during the second (Al Aqsa) Intifada, demolitions were only carried out after a military order was issued. Under Israeli law the demolition order is delivered to the family and the family is allowed to appeal to the military commander within 48 hours. Even if the appeal is denied, the family must be allowed to petition the High Court before the house is demolished. In reality, however this is not the case at all. During the current Intifada, Israel treated house demolitions as an imperative military action whereby most of the house demolitions took place at night, without any prior notice or demolition order.
The second reason given by the Israeli government for house demolition is an operational one which took place during military operations called "clearing operations". Under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the destruction of property during combat is not illegal as such. Destruction is prohibited unless there is an absolute military necessity to do so. It has been observed however that large-scale demolition operations carried out on civilian homes in the name of necessary military operations immediately after an attack on Israelis suggest otherwise. Gaza more than anywhere else in Palestine has become the target of such actions and false justifications. Miloon Kothari a UN Special Rapporteur speaking to Diakonia in response to Israel's attack on Beit Hannoun on November 8th, 2006 said: " Since 25 June 2006, the most recent Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip, I continue to receive alarming reports about deliberate attacks by Israeli forces resulting in the destruction of homes, civilian property and infrastructures in the Gaza Strip. Such acts have a devastating impact on civilians particularly, women and children, and create insecurity and psychological trauma. Thus, these forced evictions and unjustifiable destruction constitute breaches of international laws of human rights, war and humanitarian norms. International law strictly prohibits the destruction of private or public property when not absolutely necessary by military operations". Since the beginning of the uprising, 14,852 people have been made homeless by Israeli actions up to 2004.
The most common defense used for demolishing houses in east Jerusalem and Palestinian houses in Israel is for administrative reasons. The Israeli government demolishes houses in Area C (Palestine Areas under Israeli military and civil control) because of lack of building licenses even though attaining a building license in east Jerusalem or inside Israel is nearly impossible for Palestinians. Israeli army Legal Advisor Colonel Shlomo Politus told the Israeli Parliament in July 2003 that: "...there are no more construction permits for Palestinians," and the Israeli Army spokesperson told Amnesty International delegates in 1999 that "Our policy is not to approve building in Area C [of the West Bank]". Houses are demolished because Israel wants to expand the Israeli settlements in the West Bank as well as creating permanent facts on the ground. According to B'Tselem Palestinian houses under this justification are normally demolished to meet the following needs:
- Construction of bypass roads: Bypass roads are intended to enable the movement of settlers and military forces protecting the settlements. Houses lying alongside an existing or planned bypass road are designated for demolition.
- Removal of Palestinians from areas adjacent to Israeli settlements: Israeli authorities consistently demolish Palestinian structures that are perceived as hindrances to the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements. The proximity of the houses to the settlements obviously is not posed as an official reason for the demolition in these cases.
- To prevent transfer of land to Palestinians: Israel demolishes houses in areas located on land that it wants to keep for itself in the final-status agreement. By pursuing this policy, Israel is preventing the Palestinian Authority from demanding the land on grounds that Palestinians live there. Demolition of houses is a convenient way to expel residents from the area.
Israeli forces are still demolishing houses in large numbers under false pretenses and justifications to serve the overall purpose of the Zionist state to uproot and drive as many Palestinians out of their houses and lands as possible and to build more illegal settlements. According to B'Tselem's recent statistics, in the last two years (2006-2007) in the West Bank alone 165 houses were demolished leaving 724 people homeless, and between 2004-2007 in east Jerusalem alone 300 houses were demolished leaving 939 Palestinians homeless. House demolitions have a severe impact on the Palestinian people, affecting the economy and agriculture and causing severe trauma to children, women and men who fall victim to this war crime.
Electronic Intifada - A history of destruction Report, BADIL, May 18 2004