Israeli demolitions of Palestinian structures in West Bank have tripled – UN report
The average number of demolitions a month has soared by more than 200 percent to 165 since January, the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said, according to Reuters. February saw the unprecedented number of 265 demolished buildings.
Israel is issuing an increasing number of demolition orders for Palestinian buildings, arguing that their construction was illegal. At the same time it is practically impossible for a Palestinian to obtain a construction permit in the West Bank, which is occupied by the Israeli military.
Some 2,020 Palestinians filed a request for building permits in West Bank areas between 2010 and 2014, but only 33 of them were approved, according to Israeli Civil Administration data. Structures such as a fence or a tent also need official approval.
“It is a very marked and worrying increase,” Catherine Cook of the OCHA said, adding that the situation in the West Bank hasn’t been this critical since 2009, when the UN started monitoring the damage and began collecting data.
“The hardest hit are Bedouin and Palestinian farming communities who are at risk of forcible transfer, which is a clear violation of international law,” Cook noted.
The buildings that are being demolished include houses, Bedouin tents, livestock pens, outhouses, schools and even EU humanitarian structures. Last month, for example, a school sponsored by the French government was brought down, causing outrage in the EU.
The “large-scale” demolition of Palestinian homes has been slammed by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
“I am appalled. Looking in the eyes of a young Bedouin boy in a red shirt standing amongst the crumpled ruins of his demolished home, how can anyone justify this?” Lance Bartholomeusz, UNRWA director, said in a statement.
This year over 700 Palestinians living in the West Bank have been displaced, which is close to the total number of displaced last year, it also says.
“As the UN has said repeatedly, these demolitions must stop,” the statement concludes.
On the other hand, Israel’s actions were defended by the coordinator of the Israeli government's activities in the West Bank, Major General Yoav Mordechai, who was summoned to the Israeli parliament on Wednesday.
“I want to state unequivocally that enforcement is more severe towards the Palestinians,” Mordechai told them. Moreover, much of the enforcement with regard to the Palestinians takes place on private Palestinian land, Mordechai said, amid concerns that he is bringing down Palestinian construction while focusing on illegal Israeli buildings.
“To demolish the homes of Palestinians who are protected under the Geneva Conventions and to build [Israeli] settlements is a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” said Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.