This article is published in Mondoweiss.
(2 February 2015)
Israel destroyed 590 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2014, displacing 1,177 people, according to a new study by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). This constitutes the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since the UN began monitoring the issue in 2008.
Amira Hass summarizes the findings of the OCHA report in Haaretz. She indicates that, in 2014, the Civil Administration of the Israel Defense Forces destroyed
- 493 buildings in the West Bank;
- the homes of 969 Palestinians in the West Bank;
- 97 buildings in East Jerusalem;
- the homes of 208 Palestinians in East Jerusalem; and
- an average of 9 Palestinian buildings per week.
In three days, from 20-22 January, 77 Palestinians, over half of whom were children, were made homeless by these demolitions. In just the week of 19-26 January, Israel destroyed 41 Palestinian buildings and delivered 45 construction stop orders and two demolition orders. All of these structures were owned by Bedouins and other pastoral communities. Some of the destroyed buildings had been donated by European humanitarian organizations, and Israel issued an order to stop construction on a park funded by foreign donor countries.
Israel’s extrajudicial demolitions continue into 2015. In January alone, Israel destroyed 77 buildings belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank, leaving 110 people, roughly half of whom were children, homeless in the cold of the winter.
UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator James W. Rawley argues the demolitions violate international law. “Demolitions that result in forced evictions and displacement run counter to Israel’s obligations under international law and create unnecessary suffering and tension,” he said. “They must stop immediately.”
OCHA writes, in an official statement,
The planning policies applied by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem discriminate against Palestinians, making it extremely difficult for them to obtain building permits. As a result, many Palestinians build without permits to meet their housing needs and risk having their structures demolished. Palestinians must have the opportunity to participate in a fair and equitable planning system that ensures their needs are met.
Hass also draws attention to the fact that “Israel does not allow Palestinians additional construction relative to the natural population growth, and does not allow connecting hundreds of communities with some 300,000 Palestinian residents to infrastructure.” This leaves Palestinians with three options, she says:
(a) living in crowded housing and poor conditions,
(b) moving to Areas A and B of the West Bank, which is difficult to do and expensive, or
(c) building without permits.
Given their lack of opportunities and resources, most Palestinians have no other choice but to repeatedly rebuild their homes without permits, Hass explains.
The 493 West Bank buildings destroyed were located in Area C, an administrative division, outlined in the 1995 Oslo II Accord, which comprises close to three-quarters of the West Bank. Area C remains under control of the Israeli military, after Israel illegally occupied it in the 1967 war. The October 1998 Wye River Memorandum required that Israel withdraw from 13% of Area C, but, after only pulling its troops from 2% of the land, Israel reoccupied all of it in its 2002 Operation “Defensive Shield.”
Today, Palestinians do not have control over 99% of Area C—61% of the entire West Bank. This is the region in which the West Bank’s most important and lucrative natural resources are concentrated. In a 2013 report, the World Bank said that without “the ability to conduct purposeful economic activity in Area C, the economic space of the West Bank will remain crowded and stunted, inhabited by people whose daily interactions with the state of Israel are characterised by inconvenience, expense and frustration.”
Almost 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, under complete control of the Israeli military. In an additional 2014 report in Haaretz, Hass notes that
The Palestinian population in Area C is considered to be especially vulnerable and in need of international assistance because of limited access to educational and health-care institutions, harassment by settlers, proximity to firing zones and insufficient connection to water and electricity infrastructure.
Between 300,000 and 400,000 Israeli settlers also illegally live in Area C. More are flooding in, as the region is increasingly colonized. In May 2014, far-right, ultra-nationalist Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel said the possibly of a Palestinian state was in its “dying throes” and declared that the settler population would be 550,000 or 600,000 by 2019.
100,000 Homes Destroyed in Gaza
Palestinians in the West Bank were not the only ones Israel made homeless in 2014. In its 51-day summer attack on Gaza, codenamed Operation “Protective Edge,” Israel destroyed or damaged 100,000 homes, affecting more than 600,000 people, according to UN estimates.
- 26 schools were destroyed;
- 232 schools were damaged;
- 73 mosques were destroyed;
- 205 mosques were damaged;
- 13 public hospitals were destroyed or damaged;
- 17 private and non-governmental hospitals were destroyed or damaged;
- 23 ministry health centers were destroyed or damaged;
- 4 private and non-governmental health centers were destroyed or damaged;
- 50% of farmland was greatly damaged;
- 419 businesses and workshops were damaged; and
- Gaza’s only power plant was destroyed.
In all, 100,000 Gazans were made homeless in the aftermath of the attack. The UN estimates it will take $7.8 billion and more than 20 years to rebuild Gaza. Although $5.4 billion in aid was pledged in an international conference in Egypt in October 2014, “virtually none” of this has reached Gaza, according to UNRWA. Thousands of Palestinians have been left homeless during a frigid winter. Several people, including infants, have died from the cold.
UNRWA Director in Gaza Robert Turner commented
It is easy to look at these numbers and lose sight of the fact that we are talking about thousands of families who continue to suffer through this cold winter with inadequate shelter. People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble; children have died of hypothermia. US$ 5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable.