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West Bank demolitions: Building up and tearing down on the way to annexation

Israel has not slowed down its demolition of Palestinian structures in the occupied territories in 2017, after a year which saw a record number of buildings destroyed. 

A Palestinian woman sits on rubble of a structure after it was razed by the Israeli army and Civil Administration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, on the outskirts of the West Bank, November 24, 2011. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

A Palestinian woman sits on rubble of a structure after it was razed by the Israeli army and Civil Administration in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, on the outskirts of the West Bank, November 24, 2011. (Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

Demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2017 have so far continued at much the same rate as in 2016, a year in which Israel destroyed a record number of buildings in the occupied territories.

In January alone, Israeli forces have demolished 121 structures in the West Bank and 16 structures in East Jerusalem, according to figures from the United Nation’s humanitarian agency that were provided to +972. The razing of these buildings displaced 211 people in the West Bank, including 123 children, and 26 people in East Jerusalem, including 11 children.

In 2016, Israel demolished 1,093 structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,601 people, according to the UN — the highest number on record since the agency started keeping track in 2009. The total number of demolitions in the occupied territories in 2016 was more than double that in 2015.

Most of the demolitions take place in Area C, which makes up 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli security and administrative control. Very occasionally, Israel also demolishes buildings in Areas A or B — which are ostensibly under Palestinian administrative control.

However, almost two-thirds of demolitions orders in Area C are issued against structures in communities that straddle the boundaries of Areas A or B. This is deliberate: most Palestinian cities are in Areas A and B, meaning that major Palestinian population centers such as Nablus and Ramallah have most, if not all, of their borders set by the reach of Area C territory, creating invisible walls around them. By issuing disproportionate numbers of demolition orders in Area C communities that straddle Areas A/B, the Israeli army’s Civil Administration is ensuring those walls remain intact. 

Two Palestinian families moved to live in tents next to their demolished houses in Khirbet Twaiel, West Bank, April 30, 2014. (Photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Two Palestinian families moved to live in tents next to their demolished houses in Khirbet Twaiel, West Bank, April 30, 2014. (Photo: Ahmad al-Bazz/Activestills.org)

Israel justifies administrative demolitions by arguing that the structures in question have been built without a permit. However, it is almost impossible for Palestinians in Area C to obtain building permits: between 2010 and 2014 the Civil Administration granted just 1.5 percent of requests.

Moreover the IDF admitted last year that when it comes to demolitions in the West Bank, “enforcement against Palestinians is hundreds of percentage points higher [than against Jews].”

As Alon Cohen-Lifshitz pointed out on this site last week, the Civil Administration did in fact significantly increase the number of building permits it approved for Palestinian construction in Area C in 2016, granting 37 compared with seven in 2015 and nine in 2014.

However, as Cohen-Lifshitz explained, the vast majority of these permits were granted to requests submitted by the Civil Administration itself. In other words, Israel is giving itself permission to build on Palestinians’ behalf.

This sounds all well and good, until you take into account where all of the Civil Administration’s building plans are located: adjacent to Areas A and B, right at the outer edges of territory that is under full Israeli control. Cohen-Lifshitz further pointed out that these new building projects are designed to house Palestinians who will, at some point in the future, be forcibly relocated from their existing homes.

The threat of forced transfer to just the other side of Palestinian Authority territory, the increase in demolitions, and the fact that most of these demolitions take place in Palestinian communities that straddle Areas C and A or B, are all in the service of one goal: the “clearing” of Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank in order to maximize the space available for settlement expansion, while concentrating Palestinians in ever-smaller areas.

As I wrote in a previous article on this topic, Israel’s practice of demolitions and its intent to sweep the people it has made homeless into ever-shrinking corners of the occupied territories signifies its policy in the West Bank: “to control and coop up its Palestinian population while engineering optimal conditions for its own deepening hold on the area.” It’s one small step from that to annexation.

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      • Lewis from Afula

        Yes, the establishment of the State of Israel was one of the major events of the 20th Century. All disenfranchised nations can learn from its history, including of course Native Americans.

        Reply to Comment
    1. Mark

      A Two Citizenships Solution vs. a Jewish-Arab State :

      A two states solution is meaningless without changing citizenship of Israeli Arabs .
      Israeli Arabs obtained Israeli citizenship illegally and against international law.
      Unfortunately, Israel long ago became a bi-national , it’s an incubator for Arab people.
      Jews will not survive in a bi-national state.
      Israel must stop to impose Israeli citizenship to the hostile nation.

      Immediately after the establishment of a new Arab state west of the Jordan River (or return Jordanian control ), the Arabs of Haifa, Nazareth, Lod, Galilee, Negev, Jerusalem etc. must become citizens of their new state.
      If the Jews do not want to continue to live in a bi-national state, and within a generation become a minority in Israel, they must prepare for a referendum (as in Scotland) based on the UN resolution to divide Palestine for Jews and Arabs.

      Fatah-Hamas government requires land free of Jews.
      Therefore, Israeli demands are legitimate and forced:
      1. To divide National Insurance for Jews and Arabs, by forming the funds from taxes collected separately from Jews and Arabs.
      2. To employ only the Arabs, who will replace Israeli citizenship to the status of Israel’s residents.
      3. Deductions from wages ( income tax and health tax) of Arab residents to transfer to the Palestinian Authority , of course along with responsibility for health, education , jobs and pensions to all Arabs who wish to remain in Israel.

      It’s possible to separate from the Arabs by the law, as the Czechs and the Slovaks or as the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus .
      First to separate economically and then geographically.
      Palestinian citizenship to the Arabs, Israeli citizenship to the Jews.
      Two Nations – Two States – Two Citizenships !

      Reply to Comment