Israeli demolition of a Palestinian home in the south of the West Bank. (WAFA Images / Mashhour Wehwah)
While there was a slight decrease in Israeli demolition of Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during December compared to other months of last year, 2020 nevertheless marks a four-year high in demolition and displacements, including incidents affecting donor-funded structures, according to a UN body.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory said in a report that in December, the Israeli occupation authorities demolished, forced people to demolish, or seized 67 Palestinian-owned structures across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, resulting in the displacement of 50 people, including 30 children, and otherwise affecting the livelihoods or access to services of over 400 others.
All structures were located in Area C of the occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem and were targeted due to a lack of building permits, which are nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain.
Seven of the structures located in three Area C communities had been provided as humanitarian aid, for a total cost of over 14,000 euros, added the report, titled “West Bank Demolitions and Displacement - December 2020”.
In one of the largest incidents, which took place in the Bedouin community of Ras ‘Ein al ‘Auja in the Jericho area, the Israeli authorities seized without prior notice seven structures, including three homes under construction and four livelihood-related structures, affecting 45 people.
Additional five structures were targeted in three Bedouin communities in the Jerusalem governorate, located in or around an area planned for a large settlement project (the "E1" plan). The plan, currently in its final approval stage, entails the construction of 3,500 housing units, placing 18 Bedouin communities at heightened risk of forcible transfer.
Additionally, in the northern Jordan Valley (Hammamat al Maleh), a donor-funded kindergarten serving a number of Bedouin communities received a demolition order.
Also in Area C, next to Suba village in the Hebron area, the Israeli authorities bulldozed some 30 dunums of agricultural land, on grounds that the area had been declared ‘state land’. As a result, agricultural terraces and surrounding fences were destroyed, and some 930 olive, grape, almond and cactus trees were uprooted, undermining the livelihoods of eight families.
The cumulative number of structures demolished or seized in 2020 (849) across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the number of Palestinians displaced as a result (996) are the largest since 2016. The number of donor-funded aid structures targeted in 2020 (156) is also the highest since 2016.
Commitments made by the Israeli authorities to halt the demolition of inhabited homes during the COVID-19 crisis have been largely disregarded, said the OCHA report. Along with the repeated targeting of water and sanitation facilities, these practices have undermined the ability of already vulnerable families to adequately cope with the pandemic.
One of the major trends observed in 2020 was the increased use of military orders and other legislation, preventing or limiting people’s ability to legally challenge the targeting of their homes and sources of livelihood in Israeli courts.
In Area C, 30 percent of the structures targeted in 2020 (202 out of 666) were seized without prior warning, up from 11 percent in 2017 and 8 percent in 2016. Another 13 percent of the structures in Area C (88) were demolished on the basis of Military Order 1797, which provides a 96-hour notice and very limited grounds for legally challenging a demolition.
In East Jerusalem, there was a major increase in the proportion of structures demolished by their owners, following the issuance of demolition orders, which reached 47 percent in 2020, up from an average of 23 per cent in the previous four years. This is attributed to new Israeli legislation, which limited the authority of Israeli courts to intervene and enabled the ability of the West Jerusalem Israeli municipality to exert pressure on affected families to demolish their properties by themselves.