Israeli punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes 'violate international law'

Israeli punitive demolitions of Palestinian homes 'violate international law'
Feature: By continuing to destroy Palestinian homes, Israel's collective punishment is aggravating an already tense political situation, increasing human suffering and breaking international law.
3 min read
20 November, 2015
Demolished family home of Abdelrahman Shaludi who killed two Israelis [AFP]

Two Palestinians were killed and nine injured in clashes on November 16, after three days of housing demolitions saw 20 Palestinians, including eight children, made homeless.

The demolitions took place after Israel destroyed the homes of five individuals allegedly involved in attacks against Israelis, damaging nine adjacent flats - making them unsafe to live in.

Israel's policy of punitive demolitions is "inherently unjust", said a senior UN official.

"I am distressed by reports of punitive demolitions carried out by Israeli security forces of five homes in the Jerusalem, Nablus, and Ramallah governorates in the last few days," said a statement issued by Robert Piper, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

At least 16 structures have been demolished, sealed or destroyed with explosives since June 1, 2014. This has displaced 90 Palestinians, including 51 children, according to the UN.

A further 55 people were displaced when 12 adjacent flats were severely damaged in the demolitions.

Israel's actions amount to a form of collective punishment - as not only the alleged offenders are punished, but also their families and neighbours, said the UN.

     Israel's actions amount to a form of collective punishment - as not only the alleged offenders are punished, but also their families and neighbours

Such forms of collective penalties are prohibited under international law.

According to the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem, Israel demolished 668 homes as punishment between October 2001 and December 2005, leaving 4,182 people homeless.

Israel has also demolished at least 1,746 homes for alleged military purposes since 2004, said B'Tselem. And according to UN statistics, about 1,500 homes were demolished in the Gaza Strip's Rafah area between 2000 and 2004.

Israel officially stopped demolishing homes in 2005 when it was deemed to be ineffective as a deterrent by a military committee.

However, it made an exception for one case in 2009, and then reintroduced the policy in the middle of 2014.

Expanding settlements

Israel has also been demolishing homes so that it can expand its own settlements.

In September, the UN issued a report on Israeli plans to demolish 17,000 Palestinian-owned buildings in Area C of the West Bank, a part of the West Bank under full Israeli military and civilian control.

Area C was designated by the 1995 Oslo II Accord and makes up 60 percent of the West Bank. It is home to more than 350,000 Israelis living in settlements deemed illegal under international law. The number of Israelis living here, in territory recognised as being under military occupation, is more than double the number of Palestinian residents.

Palestinian Bedouins have been affected by around 4,500 of these demolition orders in recent times.

Human rights organisations have argued that Israel plans to force Bedouins from their land so it can expand its Israeli-only settlements.

In July, there was global outrage at plans to demolish the village of Khirbet Susiya in Area C of the West Bank.

Israeli authorities said Susiya's structures were unlicenced and must come down. Residents and their supporters said Israel refuses to grant building permits to Palestinians while allowing Israeli settlements to thrive next door.

"The people are afraid," said Nasser Nawajah, a leading activist among Susiya's residents. He said his children could not sleep at night.