Palestinians from Um Fagarah village, together with internationals and other Palestinian activists, protest house demolitions. (File photo via Activestills.org)
In September, the Israeli authorities demolished, forced people to demolish or seized 76 Palestinian-owned structures, all on grounds of a lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
A total of 136 people were displaced as a result, and nearly 300 others had their livelihoods or access to services affected, it said in its monthly update on West Bank demolitions and displacement for the month of September.
Since the declaration of the COVID-19 emergency on 5 March 2020, 461 Palestinian owned structures have been targeted in this context and 572 people displaced, representing a 31 percent increase (for both figures) compared with the equivalent period in 2019, and the highest such figures in four years, it said.
In a statement issued on 10 September, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the oPt, James McGoldrick, called on the Israeli authorities to immediately stop unlawful demolitions, which have “increased the needs and vulnerabilities of Palestinians, who are already trapped in the abnormality of prolonged military occupation.”
Of the structures targeted in September, 21 had been provided as humanitarian aid for over 30,000 Euros; this is the largest number of aid structures demolished or seized in a single month so far in 2020. Another five donor-funded structures, which cost over 40,000 Euros, were handed demolition or stop-work orders.
Over 30 percent of the structures targeted in September have been dismantled and seized, said OCHA. This practice, which has been on the rise in recent years, is based on military regulations allowing the summary requisition (without prior notice) of “newly installed” structures defined by an Israeli Civil Administrator (ICA) inspector as “movable”. These regulations were amended in August 2020 to extend the period to conduct such requisition to 90 days from the installation of the structure (up from 60 days previously).
Another nine structures were demolished on the basis of Military Order 1797, which allows for the removal of unlicensed structures deemed as “new”, within 96 hours of the issuance of the “removal order”. These legal tools and related procedures are of serious concern, as they prevent or significantly narrow the ability of affected people to be heard before a judicial body.
Fifteen of all structures targeted this month (homes, water and sanitation facilities, and animal shelters), including eight of the aid structures, were in the Massafer Yatta area of Hebron governorate, which is declared closed for Israeli military training (‘Firing zone 918’). In that context, the Israeli authorities have been seeking for years to evict the 1,400 Palestinians residing in 14 herding communities in this area.
The Palestinian Bedouin community of Ras at Tin (about 200 people), in the Ramallah governorate, is also located in a ‘firing zone’ and faces a range of pressures that, combined, create a coercive environment and a risk of forcible transfer for residents. Twice this month, the Israeli authorities dismantled and seized the ceiling of a donor-funded school in this community, alongside building materials, chairs and tables. The school began operating on 6 September, serving 50 Palestinian children, who previously had to walk five kilometers to reach the nearest school. The entire building is expected to be demolished soon, following the green light recently given to that effect by an Israeli court. Currently, there are 52 schools in Area C of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem with pending demolition or stop-work orders.
Also of concern, in September, the Israeli government allocated some $6 million to the recently established ‘Settlement Affairs Ministry’ to survey unauthorized Palestinian construction in Area C, according to an Israeli media report. The authority for monitoring and law enforcement in this matter, however, is with the ICA, which receives separate funding. About 0.6 percent of Area C has a planning scheme approved by the ICA, where Palestinians are allowed to legally build, most of which is already built-up.
In East Jerusalem, 15 structures were demolished during the month, eight of which were demolished by their owners, following the issuance of demolition orders. Self-demolitions have significantly increased this year, accounting for half of all targeted structures in East Jerusalem. This is attributed to a legislative amendment imposing fines for every additional day of usage of a structure slated for demolition.
On 1 October, in response to legal action taken by a human rights organization, the Israeli authorities indicated that they would freeze the demolition of inhabited homes in East Jerusalem in the context of the ongoing pandemic. However, in the absence of a complementary freeze on the accumulation of fines, self-demolitions are likely to continue.
Also in East Jerusalem, in three separate rulings issued in September, Israeli courts ordered the eviction of 12 Palestinian families from their homes in the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods, and the handover of the properties to Israeli settler organizations. One of the evictions is due by 5 November and the rest over the course of 2021. Over 200 families in East Jerusalem are at risk of eviction due to similar court cases filed against them.
For many Palestinian communities across the West Bank, the coercive environment they face also involves the destruction of property by Israeli settlers. In a worrying incident on 17 September near Biddya village (Salfit), Israeli settlers demolished an agricultural structure belonging to Palestinian farmers and uprooted 445 fruit trees. According to Israeli sources, the settlers claim ownership over the land and intend to establish a new settlement there, despite the lack of building permits or official approval.