Monday, November 23, 2020

World outcry against Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories

By Mike J.C. - December 21, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [House Demolition] [European Union] [UN]

Israeli soldiers destroying a Palestinian house near Salfit. Photo (archive) by Lazar Simeonov.


Over the last month, the United Nations, the European Union, a coalition of dozens of leading human rights and development organizations have each condemned Israel’s ongoing and discriminatory policy of demolishing Palestinian houses and infrastructure in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

While the destructive practice is not new—dating back the British occupation of the interwar period and reaching a crescendo during the 1947-1949 period known to Palestinians as al-Nakba, or 'the catastrophe,’ when 500 towns and villages were wiped off the map in what is now Israel—the last decade and specifically the last few years have seen a marked increase in the number of demolitions inside the occupied territories. The communities most impacted today include the densely populated neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the exposed Bedouin communities of the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley. No less at risk are tens of thousands of Bedouin residents of the Negev Desert inside Israel, who continue to face the threat of forced transfer under the terms of the Prawer-Begin Bill, currently making its way through the Israeli Knesset, despite recent reports that the plan had been shelved in the wake of fierce global civil society opposition.  

On 11 December, the United Nations responded to a spate of demolitions across the Jordan Valley, which Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley characterized as “the forced eviction, displacement and dispossession of vulnerable Palestinians.” Rawley elaborated, “Such actions cause human suffering. They also run counter to international law [and] are particularly disturbing as they leave families without shelter and compromise their livelihoods just as weather conditions are deteriorating.” In the hours and days following the statement, one of the worst winter storms in living memory bombarded the region, leaving millions without power or heat from Gaza to Jerusalem, across the West Bank and throughout neighboring countries. “These demolitions must be brought to an immediate halt,” Rawley asserted.

According to the UN press release, Israeli authorities have destroyed more than 630 Palestinian buildings, including homes and infrastructure, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the beginning of the year, “forcibly displacing 1,035 Palestinians, including 526 children.”

The recent UN condemnation follows a 4 December joint statement issued by 36 of the world’s leading human rights and development NGOs, including Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Human Rights Watch, Lutheran World Federation, Oxfam, Save the Children, and more. The coalition points out that “Since the resumption of the peace process in July, Israel has destroyed 207 Palestinian homes and property in the occupied West Bank, displacing 311 Palestinians, over half of whom are children.” Such demolitions are “in direct violation of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law,” since they “often occur to facilitate the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, with 60% of demolitions occurring in Palestinian communities close to settlement zones.”

Over the years, human rights organizations have been among the most vocal critics of Israel’s targeting of Palestinian livelihoods in the occupied territories, but the joint statement signifies a coordinated effort to make a resounding call that the international community cannot ignore. 

The European Union, which has often espoused the appropriate rhetoric against Israel’s violations of international law, especially regarding the building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land, has just as often turned a blind eye in practice. However, the condemnation of home demolitions has recently risen in prominence in the EU’s criticisms of Israeli policy. 

For example, the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), which determines the EU’s relations with outlying states in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, frequently issues 'progress reports’ on each of the countries within the neighborhood’s jurisdiction. The most recent report on Israel, issued in late November, wrote that Israeli  “home demolitions are a clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV)’s prohibition on destruction of civilian property (GCIV, Art. 53, see also 46 Hague Regulations). They also put the protected Palestinian population at risk of, or actually cause, forcible transfer.” The report holds that “Both wanton and extensive destruction of civilian property and the forcible transfer of protected populations are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions entailing specific consequences under international law (see GCIV, Art. 147).” 

It remains to be seen whether the EU will put teeth to its words, but similar concerns were echoed in a recent EU draft resolution pledging unprecedented aid to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority should a peace agreement be reached in the coming months, under the auspices of the US-led nine-month negotiation process. The proposed package is meant to entice the parties to reach a settlement, yet it also draws attention to the destruction of Palestinian homes in a general statement about Israeli practice and discourse, lamenting a "deep concern with regard to incitement, violent incidents in the occupied territories, house demolitions and the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza." 

Again, the words are laudable, but there is no indication from reports on the draft resolution of any tangible consequences if Tel Aviv does not alter its ways. Enforceable repercussions must be outlined if Israel’s colonial-military complex is to be slowed in its momentum of displacing Palestinian families and shattering livelihoods. In the shadow of such destruction, most on the ground perceive the ongoing “peace process” as hollow obfuscation, and the prospects of a genuine peace fade further into the distance. Concerted global outcries are a welcome and urgent development, but they must be accompanied by concrete action. 

The Palestine Monitor has covered many of the recent home demolitions and expulsion plans now raising international ire and levels of official rebuke. Our staff visited affected communities in the Jordan Valley, including the northern village of Al-Jiftlik and the town of al-Auja near Jericho, as well as the besieged communities of the South Hebron Hills and East Jerusalem. As these families continue to face eviction, home destructions, and new demolition orders, The Palestine Monitor will continue to cover their stories. 


See also, “A joint statement from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine Palestine (ECCP)” 

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