Over 500 Palestinians have been displaced by the demolitions since the start of 2016, the vast majority of them in the West Bank.
Israel demolished 313 Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between January 1 and February 15 2016, more than half the total such number in all of 2015. More than a third of those demolitions were carried out within the space of a week, between February 9 and 15, according to the UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA.
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The intensive rate of demolitions since the start of the year is in marked contrast to a relative lull at the end of 2015, which itself followed several waves of mass demolitions throughout last summer. Over 500 Palestinians have been displaced by the demolitions since the start of 2016, the vast majority of them in the West Bank.
Particularly affected have been Palestinian communities in the South Hebron Hills, the Jordan Valley and the E1 area around Ma’ale Adumim, according to Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem. The overarching reason behind the demolitions vary across these three areas.
In the South Hebron Hills, eight villages lie within ‘Firing Zone 918,’ a military training zone unilaterally declared by the Israeli army. For the past 15 years, the army has been trying to force the Palestinians out of this territory in order to be able to use it for military drills. The most recent spate of demolitions took place at the beginning of February when the Civil Administration — Israel’s military government in the West Bank — demolished 22 structures in two separate villages.
The Jordan Valley is a long-term annexation target of the Israeli government. Demolitions, disruptive and destructive military drills and arbitrary rezoning of land are all being used in order to bundle the area’s Palestinian residents into smaller and smaller enclaves, with the ultimate aim of squeezing them out altogether. The Civil Administration carried out a string of demolitions in the Jordan Valley in January and the first part of February.
Palestinians living in the E1 area around the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, meanwhile, are under ongoing threat of expulsion due to Israel’s plans to create a contiguous territory between Jerusalem and the settlement. Several rounds of demolitions occurred there in January. On Sunday the only school in Abu al-Nuwaar, a Bedouin community in the E1 area, was demolished by Israeli authorities.
About a third of the structures in the West Bank destroyed by Israel this year were European-funded, according to a report in Haaretz [Heb]. The rate here has significantly ramped up since 2015: 104 European-funded structures have been demolished this year, compared with 108 last year.
According to the Haaretz report, the Civil Administration has come under pressure from within the government to speed up the pace of home demolitions, although the administration did not confirm whether this had indeed led to the increased activity since the beginning of the year.
Israel has issued over 14,000 demolition orders against Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli security and administrative control, since 1988. Around 3,000 demolitions have been carried out in that time, leaving some 11,000 orders outstanding that affect over 17,000 structures.
The Israeli government argues that such demolitions are ordered and carried out due to of a lack of building permits, but between 2010 and 2014 only 1.5 percent of permit requests by Palestinians in the West Bank were approved.
Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the body that presides over the Civil Administration, did not respond to a request for comment on the matter. Should a response be received, it will be added to this post.
Update: After this post was published, +972 Magazine received the following response from COGAT: “Regarding the enforcement against illegal building, the Civil Administration, by its authority and power, takes enforcement measures against illegal construction, in accordance with the priorities and the operational considerations.”
COGAT did not respond to the question of how much territory in Area C of the West Bank had been allotted for Palestinian development, and what proportion of Area C’s Palestinian residents would be served by these plans.