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Demolishing Palestinian structures is the norm — not the exception

A sharp increase in demolitions of structures in the West Bank displaces over 120 Palestinians, drawing media attention and a harsh response from the United Nations.

A home demolition in East Jerusalem. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Home demolition in East Jerusalem [Illustrative]. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Over August 17-18 Israeli authorities demolished around 40 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, displacing over 120 Palestinians. The demolitions were carried out during a record-breaking heat wave that has hit Israel-Palestine over the past week.

Monday’s total of 22 demolitions — in the Ma’ale Adumim area of the West Bank — displaced 78 Palestinians (including 49 children), the highest such number in one day since October 2012. Tuesday saw 17 structures demolished in the village of Fasayil in the Jordan Valley, leaving 48 homeless, including 31 children. All the affected families belong to Bedouin communities found throughout the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley.

The majority of the demolished structures are located within Area C of the West Bank, defined as being under full Israeli security and administrative control. However, the village of Fasayil is partly located within Area B, which is under Palestinian administrative control and Israeli military control.

The high number of demolitions provoked a strongly-worded press release from the United Nations, calling for “an immediate freeze on demolitions in the West Bank.” The statement notes that the majority of those that Israel has rendered homeless are already refugees. The Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank, Felipe Sanchez, is quoted in the statement as saying that “[m]any of these refugee families have now been displaced four times in the last four years.”

House owner weeps while Palestinian contract workers for the city of Jerusalem, demolish her house in Anata, April 14, 2008. (Meged Gozani/Activestills.org

A Palestinian woman weeps while Palestinian contract workers for the city of Jerusalem demolish her house in Anata, April 14, 2008. (Meged Gozani/Activestills.org

The attention that the spike in demolitions has garnered belies the fact that it is just that – a spike. Demolitions throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not sporadic occurrences but a daily fact of life for Palestinians in occupied territory.

A cursory glance at the Twitter feed of the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA-oPt) is enough to understand that the bulldozers are in perpetual motion. Between January 1st and August 18th of this year, Israel demolished 331 Palestinian structures in the West Bank (not including East Jerusalem) – an average of around 1.4 demolitions per day.

The last two weeks in particular have seen a sharp increase – 32 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished between August 4th and 10th, while the week of August 11th-17th saw 34 demolitions, according to data provided to +972 Magazine by OCHA-oPt.

The demolitions of August 17th and 18th also tell a wider story of displacement in various areas of the West Bank. Monday’s demolitions took place within the context of the ongoing threat of expulsion for Palestinians living in the Ma’ale Adumim and E1 areas of the West Bank, amid Israel’s plans to create a contiguous territory between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim.

Tuesday’s demolitions are part of a broader policy of dispossession and displacement of the Jordan Valley’s Bedouin communities, with the ultimate aim of forcing them out and annexing the Jordan Valley. Demolitions occur alongside Israeli military training exercises and designation of land as a firing zone, archaeological site or nature reserve, all of which displaces Palestinians and officially bars them from accessing their own land.

Israel justifies its demolition of Palestinian structures by arguing that they have been built without a permit. This explanation fails to take into account that it is almost impossible for Palestinians in Area C to acquire the necessary permission to build. Furthermore, such demolitions breach Israel’s responsibilities under international humanitarian law: as the occupying power, Israel is forbidden from forcibly transferring civilians unless it is for their own safety, or in the event of military necessity. Israel is also obligated to ensure the welfare of those whose territory it is occupying.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that around 60 structures had been demolished, displacing 170 Palestinians. The figures have been corrected to state that around 40 structures have been demolished, displacing over 120 Palestinians.

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