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17 Feb, 2017 09:30

Record number of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel in 2016 – rights group

Record number of Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel in 2016 – rights group

In 2016, Israeli authorities had sped up demolishing homes of Palestinians in the occupied territories, rights group B’Tselem reported. The number was the highest in 12 years, during which the group kept systematic statistics of the demolitions.

B’Tselem says the demolitions campaign intensified in August 2015 and unofficially halted later in the year, only to be resumed in 2016. Last year Israel demolished 274 homes in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem), thereby rendering homeless 1,134 individuals, including 591 minors.

In East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities demolished 73 Palestinian homes in 2016, while 15 others were demolished by their owners on orders from the municipality. Violation of the orders would have carried hefty fines and would not likely prevent the demolitions or being charged the cost of carrying them out. Together those actions rendered 295 people homeless, including 160 minors, B’Tselem said. The authorities also demolished 48 non-residential buildings.

“Despite the differences between Area C and East Jerusalem in terms of which authorities operate in each area and the laws applied by Israel, the policy Israel pursues in the two areas is similar, and designed to minimize the number of Palestinians in as much land as possible,” the group said. “Authorities cynically cite illegal construction as a pretext for the demolitions, while at the same time authorities are the ones that prohibit legal construction by Palestinians.”

The rights advocates accuse the Israeli authorities of failing to authorize enough construction permits to meet the demand of the growing Palestinian population, leaving Palestinians with no choice but to build homes illegally. B’Tselem believes it to be part of a policy aimed at making living conditions for Palestinians unbearable and forcing them to leave.

“This policy, which all authorities work to uphold, severely and directly violates the most fundamental human rights of tens of thousands of Palestinians, and indirectly those of hundreds of thousands more. At the same time, the policy also offers decisive evidence that Israel has long-term plans to continue controlling the area, while oppressing and dispossessing its residents,” it said.

The Israeli authorities deny the accusations.

“The Civil Administration conducts enforcement operations against illegal construction in Judea and Samaria in accordance with the political echelon’s instructions,” the coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit told Ynet, the online branch of the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot.

“In the past year, the Civil Administration approved zoning plans for the villages of Taanakh and Izbeit at-Tabib, and these days it is advancing the zoning plans of the city of Qalqilya, Nabi Ilyas, Hableh and Dahar al-Malakh. In addition, the Civil Administration is looking into and advancing several plans to legalize infrastructure and housing for the Bedouin population in Judea and Samaria, in the Ma’ale Adumim area and the Jordan Valley, as part of which the families will be allotted plots of land including proper housing infrastructures such as water, electricity and sewage, while maintaining the population's lifestyle.”