Friday, January 22, 2021

2011: A Record Year for House Demolitions & Displacement in the West Bank

By George Mandarin - February 02, 2011
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [House Demolition] [Aqraba] [Displacement]

Photo by Dylan Collins

“Palestinians urgently require ready access to a fair and non-discriminatory planning and zoning system that meets their needs for growth and development.” -UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard

Akin to most Israeli Occupation Authority (IOA) atrocities in the West Bank, home demolitions and forced displacements rose tremendously during 2011. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s (OCHA) latest report, approximately 1,100 Palestinians, half of which were children, were displaced due to home demolitions by the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) in 2011, signaling an 80% rise from 2010 figures. An additional 4,200 people’s livelihoods were affected by the demolitions.

The IOF demolished 622 private Palestinian structures in the West Bank during the year, including 222 homes, 170 animal shelters, two classrooms, and one mosque two times, marking a 42% increase in comparison to 2010.

The small village of Aqraba can be used as a microcosm for understanding how and why demolitions of Palestinian homes and displacement of rural Palestinian villagers is on the rise throughout the West Bank. 


Positioned southeast of Nablus in the northern West Bank, the village of Aqraba used to stretch eastward all the way until the Jordan River. That is no longer the case. Aqraba’s once expansive agricultural land was drastically reduced after the 1967 Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Approximately 80% of the villages 144,000 dunums of land was confiscated by the IOA and redistributed to either illegal Israeli settlements, “Closed Military Areas,” or ”Closed Natural Areas.” All of this land, roughly 115,000 dunums, now falls within Area C of the West Bank, and has been under full Israeli civil and military control since stipulated in the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Almost all of the home demolitions (90% according to OCHA’s report) in 2011 were located in Area C of the West Bank. Area C makes up approximately 62% of the West Bank. The Oslo Accords left over 400 Palestinian villages with large sections of their built up areas within IOA controlled Area C.

Despite continued efforts by the IOA to annex more of Aqraba’s land, the village’s stoic farmers are resolute in their determination to continue cultivating their land.

After receiving six home demolition notices within the last 10 days, 20 Aqraba farmers declared an open-ended hunger strike on Saturday in opposition to continued attempts by the IOA to push them from their land.

Once the second largest producer of wheat in the entire West Bank, Aqraba farmers and herders now struggle daily to sustain a subsistence living. With access to only 20% of their farmland, poverty rates in the small farming-based village have sharply risen, with over 50% of its 9,500 inhabitants living well below the poverty line.

“Farming is all we know,” says Aqraba Mayor Abu Assam, “and we do what we can with what little land we’ve been left.” The majority of Aqraba’s farmers, those that have been barred access to their lands, have been forced to find agricultural work elsewhere, be it inside the state of Israel or within one of the many surrounding Israeli settlements.

On a visit through the West Bank last Friday, UN humanitarian coordinator Maxwell Gaylard said, “Israel as the Occupying Power has a fundamental responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control and to ensure their dignity and well-being… The wholesale destruction of their homes and livelihoods is not consistent with that responsibility and humanitarian ideals.”

Aqraba’s residents could not agree more.

Why Demolitions?

According to the IOA, structures are only demolished when they lack the required building permits, stating that such permits may be procured from any of the local Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) offices within the West Bank.

In Area C of the occupied West Bank, any Palestinian home or animal shelter built without an Israeli-permit is deemed illegal. One might ask, “Well why don’t Palestinians take the time to obtain the appropriate steps to obtain the required permit and build their desired structure legally?”

Easier said than done.

OCHA observers state, “In reality, it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits. The zoning and planning regime enforced by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem restricts Palestinian growth and development, while providing preferential treatment for unlawful Israeli settlements.”

According to B’Tselem, the IOA has, for all intents and purposes, frozen planning, development, and building in Palestinian towns within Area C. Land registration for Area C has been suspended (that is, for Palestinian development purposes) for the last 30 years, making it a relatively simple process for Israeli administrators to deny any sort of landownership claims and subsequent building permit requests from Palestinian residents therein.

“Aqraba villagers are consistently denied permits to build on lands which their families have owned for over 150 years” says Mayor Abu Assam, an allegation quickly affirmed via a short tour through Aqraba’s Area C land, dotted with century and a half year old rock dwellings, some of which are still in use.

Left with no other choice, Aqraba’s farmers as well as countless Palestinians throughout the West Bank, are forced to build their homes and animal shelters without the required Israeli-permits, risking imminent future demolition. Bereft of an accountable Civil Administration, building their homes illegally is truly their only way to survive and shelter their families. For Palestinian residents in Area C, their everyday existence is a form of resistance to an occupation slowly taking everything they have.

The root source of demolition and displacements for Aqraba residents are the nine Israeli settlements located within Aqraba’s territorial expanse. The settlements of Massu’a, Argaman, Peza’el, Gittit, Gilgal, Tomer, Yafit, Ma’ale Efraim, and Itamar create endless complications for Aqraba farmers. As these colonies unceasingly expand, largely due to the tax breaks and economic benefits endowed their residents, the IOA earmarks more land for their enlargement, and in turn, the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) carries out further demolitions.

IOA Discrimination via Demolitions

Palestinians are not the only ones to carry out widespread permit-less building within Area C of the West Bank. Israeli settlers have built thousands of homes, as well as industrial structures and public facilities, without the required building permits within Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Furthermore, even with the required ICA building permits, the entirety of these Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. Their illegality has been spelled out clearly through numerous UN resolutions and most powerfully via the 2004 International Court of Justice ruling specifically against them.

Israel’s colonial settlers are given blatant preferential treatment by the IOA when it comes to construction in the occupied West Bank. As a rule, the IOA refrains from demolishing illegally built structures in the Israeli settlements. In fact, countless illegally built structures within the settlements, as well as entirely separate illegal outpost settlements, have been retroactively legalized by the IOA upon their completion.

OCHA’s recent report included the fact that “over 60% of the Palestinian-owned structures demolished in 2011 were located in areas allocated to settlements.

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