Israel’s latest round of home demolitions in the Palestinian villages of Umm Al-Khair and Sussia in the occupied West Bank appear to be part of a surge in the use of demolitions seen in 2016. Up until 1 August, 684 Palestinian-owned structures have been levelled, displacing 990 residents. That’s more Palestinians displaced so far in 2016 than in the whole of 2015.
These home demolitions in the Occupied West Bank have been used by Israel as a means of creating space to expand illegal Israeli settlements and discourage Palestinians from living in Area C, which is an area that engulfs around 60% of the Occupied West Bank and falls entirely under the Israeli occupation’s military and administrative control. So on what grounds does Israel carry out its land seizures and home demolitions?
From the very outset of Israel’s occupation of Palestine in 1967, it has established a planning and construction policy that heavily restricts construction by Palestinians while allowing and facilitating Israeli settlements expansion. These restrictions left many Palestinian structures – including homes, schools and even agricultural infrastructure – subject to demolition orders on the grounds that no building permits have been issued and have thus been built illegally, even though many of them pre-date the occupation.
A Punitive Measure
Since 1967, Israel has also used home demolitions as a punitive measure. Israel’s declared rationale of the demolitions was that harming the property of the families of Palestinians who perpetrated attacks against Israelis or who were suspected of involvement in attacks would deter others. In 2005, the policy ceased as a military commission found that the deterrent value of demolitions had not been proven and that the policy may even have the opposite effect. The practice, however, resumed in the summer of 2014.
Israel has stepped up its demolition activity in recent years, and has displaced at least 3,799 Palestinians since the beginning of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s term in March 2009 (UNOCHA).
Settlement building and Israel’s demolition policies, which often go hand in hand, are both explicit violations of international law. The Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the establishment of Israeli settler communities in the Occupied Territories, and it restricts demolition of property to cases of “military necessity”.
In addition, these policies undermine the prospects for the internationally supported two-state solution, by making it almost impossible for Palestinians to build in Area C of the West Bank, while allowing the expansion of Israeli settlements in the area.
This has been of concern to Western governments, so much so that the US State Department said in a recent statement that the demolition of Palestinian homes and settlement construction “is part of an ongoing process of land seizures, settlement expansion, legalisations of outposts, and denial of Palestinian development that risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”
But this begs the question: If these policies have been recognised by the West as “very troubling”, “provocative and counterproductive”, then why are the demolitions still taking place? Why is Israel not being held accountable?