Housing

by EA Helen, EA Jamie & EA Mike    –    9 min read

‘Ilham’s family was issued with a house demolition order from the Israeli authorities a month before. She paid ₪30,000 (around £6,500) to postpone the demolition for just a few weeks. Soldiers arrived at 4am to begin demolishing Ilham’s home. The family began moving possessions out of the house during the night, and then watched as three bulldozers tore down their year-old home.

‘Ilham’s cousin, Mysa’a, tried to persuade Ilham’s three children (aged three, four and seven) to come into her house next door, away from the demolition, but they refused to leave their mother’s side. Mysa’a says her seven-year-old niece was in tears as her bedroom was destroyed.’ (EA Helen)

Since 1967 when the Israeli military occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, there have been two Israeli government practices which together make a Palestinian’s right to secure housing very difficult to realise:

Demolitions – of Palestinian houses, tents and animal shelters, as well as schools, places of worship and medical facilities

Settlements – the building of housing units for Jewish-Israelis only in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem

A Palestinian child stands in front of her demolished home

The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim on the outskirts of East Jerusalem

Demolitions

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) has estimated that since 1967 almost 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished by the Israeli authorities.

As in many other parts of the world, Palestinians must apply to the authorities for permission to build homes and other structures, such as schools and medical clinics. However, unlike in other places, these applications are made to an occupying authority and are almost certain to be rejected. In addition to the small probability of success, these applications can cost thousands of pounds and take years to be processed.

This means that when Palestinians need to build new structures, they often do so without Israeli permission. The Israeli authorities then issue a demolition order to the owners. After some time, which ranges from hours to years, soldiers and bulldozers demolish the buildings and often charge the owners for the cost of the demolition. In 2020, Israel demolished more than 843 Palestinian homes and structures in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem (UNOCHA).

Building permits are especially hard to obtain in Area C of the West Bank, where the Israel maintains full military control. These statistics show the number of permits granted by the Israeli authorities to Palestinians in Area C  between 2010 and 2018:

[Source: Peace Now]

Palestinian requests for building permits:    4,090

Issued:    97

Palestine 2%

Not issued:    3,993

Jordan 98%

Between 2019 and 2020, only 32 building permits were issued to Palestinians in Area C, while over 18,000 plans and permits were approved for Israeli settlers living illegally on occupied territory during the same period.

‘In the midst of an unprecedented health and economic crisis, more Palestinians in the West Bank including East Jerusalem lost their homes in the first 10 months of 2020 alone than in any full year since 2016.’

B’Tselem

Demolition of three Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem.

Even during the pandemic, the demolition of Palestinian homes continued unabated. The impact of all demolitions is that Palestinians are forced to leave the area in which they live, meaning that this practice constitutes a form of forced displacement which is illegal under international law. Between 2009 and 2020, Israeli authorities demolished 7,248 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, leading to the displacement of 10,932 people (UNOCHA).

‘The demolition of Palestinian residential and livelihood structures is the most direct trigger of forced displacement in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Such demolitions have a grave humanitarian impact on the lives and livelihoods of those affected.’

UNWRA

The traditional Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmer has faced the demolition of many of their residential structures 

The traditional Bedouin community in Susiya, South Hebron Hills has faced the demolition of many of their residential structures 

Traditional Palestinian shepherding (Bedouin) communities are particularly vulnerable to evictions and demolitions. These tented communities are predominantly based in Area C and in the suburbs of East Jerusalem, which Israel has unlawfully annexed into its sovereign territory.

‘On 3 Nov 2020, with the eyes of the world on the US elections, Israel demolished an entire Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley. A convoy of bulldozers drove up to the tiny shepherds’ community of Khirbet Humsah and razed it to the ground… Thousands of people living dozens of communities in the West Bank live in constant fear of demolition, as Israel seeks to reduce Palestinian presence in Area C and take over the coveted land’ (B’Tselem).

Video credit: B’Tselem

‘The Israeli planning regime in the occupied territory is discriminatory and restrictive, and rarely grants Palestinian applications for building permits. This results in a coercive atmosphere, where property demolitions, or the threat of demolitions, drives Palestinians away from their homes, lands and livelihoods.’

UN Special Rapporteur 

Salvaged belongings from the rubble of a demolished home in the Jordan Valley

Settlements

Figures for the end of 2017 estimate that over 620,000 Israeli citizens live in settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. There has been a significant increase in the settler population since 2000. Most of the international community holds that these settlements violates Article 49  of the Fourth Geneva Convention which does not allow an occupying power to transfer any of its population into occupied land. The United Nations has repeatedly called for the Israeli government to stop building these settlements, for instance in UN resolution 2334, as recently as 2016.

The Israeli government position is that these planned settlement communities in the West Bank are legal. Israel argues that there is no occupation as the land had no sovereign power in control when they captured it. Therefore, they say that the West Bank is ‘disputed’ territory whose ultimate status will be determined when peace is eventually negotiated. Therefore, despite condemnation from most of the international community, the Israeli government have continued with its settlement expansion programme.

In the same period of 2020, when 843 Palestinian homes and structures were demolished for having no planning permission, the Israeli government gave the go ahead for 1,2159 new units for Israeli use only within the settlements of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

‘In contrast to the restrictive planning for Palestinian communities, Israeli settlements – all of which are located in Area C – are allocated vast tracts of land, drawn up detailed plans, connected to advanced infrastructure, and the authorities turn a blind eye to illegal construction in them.’

B’Tselem

Palestinians in Umm al Khair, Hebron, where homes are frequently demolished by Israeli authorities look over Karmel settlement

The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim in the background with the Palestinian village of Jaba al Baba in the foreground

Figures for the end of 2017 indicate than more than 200 settlements have been established in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem:

[Source: B’Tselem]

Settlements officially recognised by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior:   131

Palestine 54.35%

‘Unauthorised outposts’ – settlements established without prior building permission, but usually with retroactive authorisation and assistance from the Israeli government:   110

Palestine 45.65%

Additionally, there are 11 settler neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem and several smaller settler enclaves throughout East Jerusalem and Hebron

Settlements deeply impact how people live their lives in the occupied West Bank. Israeli human rights group Yesh Din point out that settlement building involves the illegal appropriation of Palestinian land on a huge scale. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land used by Palestinians for farming, grazing and living has been seized unjustly. Land has been taken to build hundreds of kilometres of roads that are solely for use by settlers. The route of the Separation Barrier runs up to 20km deep into Palestinian land, effectively annexing it to Israel to allow for settlement development on the ‘Israeli’ side of the barrier.

‘Settlements are the single most important element shaping life in the West Bank. Their destructive impact on the human rights of Palestinians far exceeds the hundreds of thousands of dunams seized to build them.’

B’Tselem

Successive Israeli governments have provided incentives for Jewish Israeli citizens to move to the West Bank. They have offered a better quality of life and more affordable, subsidised housing. Generous loans and grants have been advanced and incentives given to attract teachers, parents and businesses. Other Israelis choose to live in settlements for ideological, nationalist and religious reasons.

Polls indicate that settlements divide opinion within Israel. A consistent result seems to be that over a third of Israeli Jews see the settlements as an obstacle to peace. There is no doubt that Israeli settlements and the heavy military protection they receive is a major source of tension and violence. Despite the global pandemic, 2020 witnessed a sharp spike in settler violence against Palestinians.

What does international law say?

'Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively…is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.'

Article 53, Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949

'The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.'

Article 49, Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949

'The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.'

Article 11, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966

'To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring and maintaining, with the cooperation of national and local authorities, the medical and hospital establishments and services, public health and hygiene in the occupied territory.'

Article 56, Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949

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