House Demolitions in the West Bank
July 04, 2017
“The Israeli Authorities are putting Palestinians in an Impossible Situation. Whatever Choice they make, they face homelessness”- Amnesty International.
- Since the occupation of the West Bank -including east Jerusalem- and the Gaza Strip in 1967, the government of the State of Israel has commenced in a policy of forced displacement of Palestinians.
- One of many measures of forced displacement utilised were house demolitions.
- According to B’Tselem, house demolitions persisted in the Gaza Strip from 1967 until the unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and commenced in the enforcement of a land, naval and air blockade.
- According to the UN, since the Hamas take over in 2007, Gaza has been subjected to 3 wars, in 2008/2009, 2012 and 2014 that rendered thousands of Palestinians displaced.
- According to the Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the 2014 war on Gaza led to the destruction or severe damage of the houses of 100,000 Palestinians, 65,000 of which remain displaced.
- House demolitions in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, can be divided under two main categories: administrative demolitions and punitive demolitions.
- According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, 48,488 structures have been demolished by Israeli authorities since 1967.
- Palestinians are prohibited from rebuilding their houses on the same site, whether they were executed through administrative orders or as a punitive measure.
Administrative House Demolitions
Punitive House Demolitions
- Punitive house demolitions are those targeting the family homes of perpetrators of attacks against Israelis, including those killed during the attacks.
- This measure has been used as deterrence since 1967. In February 2005, the various Israeli authorities involved in house demolitions (Civil Administration, Ministry of Interior and Jerusalem Municipality) ceased to utilise this procedure in light of the findings of the report of the Shani committee, which stated that their deterrence efficiency was questionable.
- However, since June 2014 the utilisation of the procedure has resumed, when three settlers were allegedly kidnapped and killed.
- According to OCHA, 682 punitive demolitions have taken place from 1967 to 2005 and from June 2014 onwards. 57 structures have been demolished since June 2014, leaving 332 homeless, 182 (54.8%) of which were minors.
International Legal Framework Prohibiting House Demolitions
- Administrative and punitive house demolitions violate Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) on an adequate standard of living, including housing.
- While the applicability of international human rights law, including ICESCR, is said to be disputed by some legal scholars, the International Court of Justice iterated in its ruling on the Wall in 2004 in paragraph 112 that the ICESCR applies to the occupied Palestinian territory.
- In accordance with Article 42 of the Hague Regulations of 1907, the occupation of the West Bank, including the annexation of east Jerusalem amounts to an occupation, since the territory was placed under the authority of the hostile army.
- Therefore, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 apply in accordance with common Article 2(2) that sets the scope of the conventions to include partial and total occupation.
- Administrative and punitive house demolitions are in violation of several Articles of the “IV Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War on 12 August 1949,” as follows:
- Article 33 on individual responsibility, collective penalties, pillage and reprisals, renders punitive house demolitions illegal in light of its prohibition of collective punishment.
- Administrative and punitive house demolitions are as well illegal measures in light of the prohibition of Article 49 of individual and mass forcible transfer.
- Administrative and punitive house demolitions are further rendered illegal due to the prohibition in Article 53 of destruction of personal property.
- Administrative and punitive house demolitions are also in violation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and amounts to a crime against humanity (Article 7) and war crimes (Article 8), as follows:
- Article 7(1)(d) states that “deportation or forcible transfer of a population” is a prohibited act that amounts to a crime against humanity.
- Article 8(2)(iv) states that “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” is a prohibited act that amounts to a war crime.
- Article 8(2)(vii) states that “unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement” is a prohibited act that amounts to a war crime.
- Each of the aforementioned prohibited acts contains several elements of crimes that encompass the contextual element and characteristics of the act:
- The contextual element of crimes against humanity is the act being systematic and/or widespread and pursuant of a state policy.
- The contextual element of war crimes is an international armed conflict.
- Since the individual elements of crime of the three aforementioned prohibited acts are fulfilled through ample evidence generated through documentation of violations over the past decades, the realms of international criminal justice could prove to be the optimal medium for accountability.
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