Israel destroyed nearly 90 Palestinian-owned structures last month, rendering 202 people homeless, half of them children. The demolitions mark a fourfold increase in the average number of demolitions carried out by the Israeli government in 2020.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, in spite of Israel’s promise to refrain from home demolitions during the pandemic, the government has instead has stepped up the practice. The average number of demolitions in 2020 now stands at 60, compared to 36 in 2017. The period from March to August of 2020, a period marking the height of the coronavirus pandemic, showed the highest rate in four years.
In nearly every incident during August, the reason given for the demolitions was a “lack of building permits,” a problematic allegation as it is “virtually impossible” for Palestinians to obtain permits from the Israeli government thanks to a “restrictive planning regime” that applies only to Palestinians.
Set up to fail
One Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem describes the typical procedure: after spending about $22,000 on pre-application requirements, Alaa Borqan applied for a building permit – a process that can take five years and cost upwards of $50,000 – but was denied. Like many who need space for a growing family or business, he decided to take his chances and build anyway.
Borqan invested all of his savings, took on $230,000 in loans, and spent four years building his four-bedroom home before Israel fined him $17,000 for building without a permit and forced him to raze it with his own hands or pay a government demolition crew to do it for him.
While Borqan now pays $800 a month for an apartment for his family, many Palestinians end up homeless or are forced to move in with relatives – which can require expanding their home, which requires a permit, and the cycle continues.
Homes and businesses all over East Jerusalem and the West Bank have been served with open-ended demolition orders; others are “illegal” but have not been tracked down yet. OCHA reports that “At least one-third of all Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem lack an Israeli-issued building permit, potentially placing over 100,000 residents at risk of displacement.”
Israel takes a village
In what can only be described as an ongoing human rights travesty, Israeli forces razed an entire village in August, the Bedouin village of Al-Araqeeb in the Israeli desert for the 177th time in ten years. The demolition was the sixth in 2020 alone. Middle East Monitor reports that the residents of Al-Araqeeb have deeds to their land and pay taxes but Israel refuses to recognize the existence of the village, withholding services like electricity, water, and schools, in hopes of pressuring them to relocate to a place of Israel’s choosing.
The village of Wadi as Seeq also experienced demolitions in August, displacing 24 Palestinians and destroying the shelters they used to house their livestock.
A mosque in East Jerusalem faces imminent demolition after an Israeli court threw out an appeal by residents. Funded through donations, the mosque was constructed eight years ago and serves the area’s 7,000 residents.
To make matters even more daunting for would-be Palestinian builders, Military Order 1797 enables Israel to begin demolition of new structures within four days if no permit is produced, expediting a procedure that was often drawn out for months while Palestinians fought (and almost invariably lost) a court battle. The order also “virtually strips the affected residents of the right to due process and the capacity to challenge the demolition orders through legal avenues…fast-tracking the forced transfer of the occupied population” – a crime against humanity according to the International Criminal Court.
The Israel government is not opposed to all construction projects though. In March, Israel approved plans for the construction of almost 3,500 settlement housing units on Palestinian land, a move expected to cause the forcible transfer of about 3,700 Palestinian Bedouins.
While the East Jerusalem mosque has been given a month’s notice for demolition, the situation is completely different for one Israeli outpost – illegal even by Israeli government standards – that has also been slated for destruction.
Mitzpeh Kramim, built on privately-owned Palestinian land, is one of a very few areas colonized by Israelis that has been unable to withstand the Israeli High Court – at least so far.
In contrast to the one-month warning the East Jerusalem mosque received, or the four days granted under Military Order 1797, the Israeli community has been given three years to relocate, and the Israeli government and offered to foot the bill. Israeli lawmakers have vowed to pass a law in the interim to make that court decision null and void.
Israeli settlements are illegal according to the United Nations and the International Court of Justice; the demolition of homes is also a violation of international law. Even the United States has sided with the international community on the illegality of settlements until President Donald Trump finally reversed that position. Many experts consider the practice a form of ethnic cleansing and the Israeli government’s discriminatory housing laws to be state-sanctioned apartheid.
Feature photo | Palestinians inspect a house after it was demolished by the Israeli army in the West Bank city of Jenin, Feb. 6, 2020. Majdi Mohammed | AP
Kathryn Shihadah writes for MintPress News and If Americans Knew. She speaks regularly about the injustice and demonization Palestinians face at the hands of Israel with complicity from the United States, especially to Christian audiences. Kathryn has lived in the Middle East for ten years and has traveled extensively. She blogs at PalestineHome.org.