- House demolition in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict
House demolitionis a controversial tactic used by the Israeli Defence Forces(IDF) in Jerusalemand the West Bankand Gaza Stripduring the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.Official IDF explanations for house demolitions include use as a counter-insurgencysecurity measure to impede or halt militant operations,as a regulatory measure to enforce building codes and regulations [ [http://news.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150532005?open&of=ENG-2MD Israel/Occupied Territories: House Demolition] ] ,and as a deterrenceagainst terrorismby punishing those suspected of aiding militants, and/or their families. [http://www.btselem.org/English/Punitive_Demolitions/Index.asp House demolitions as punishment] B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories ]
A subject of considerable international controversy, human rights organizations have criticized the use of house demolitions by Israel as ineffective and a violation of international law, and have suggested that Israel's actual motivations are as a means of collective punishment against Palestinians and Israeli demographic objectives to seize property for the expansion of Israeli settlements. [ [http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/rafah1004/5.htm#_Toc84676179 Mass Demolition: Security Rationales, Demographic Subtexts] ]
House demolition is typically justified by the Israeli Defence Forces on claims of:
* Deterrence, achieved by harming the relatives of those who carry out, or are suspected of involvement in carrying out, attacks. [http://www.btselem.org/English/Punitive_Demolitions/Index.asp House demolitions as punishment] B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories ]
* Counter-terrorism, by destroying militant facilities such as
bombs labs, headquarters, and offices.
* Forcing out an individual barricaded inside a house, which may be rigged with explosives, without risking soldiers' lives.
* Self-defence, by destroying possible hideouts and RPG/
Combat engineering, clearing a path for tanks and heavy APCs.
Human Rights groups such as
Amnesty Internationalwho oppose the house demolitions accuse the Israeli government and IDF of other motives:
Collective punishment, the punishment of an innocent Palestinian "for an offence he or she has not personally committed." [http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/WebART/380-600038?OpenDocument Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention] , International Committee of the Red Cross]
* Annexation of land to build the
Israeli West Bank barrieror to create, expand or otherwise benefit Israeli settlements. [ [http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150072007?open&of=ENG-2D2 "Update to Amnesty International’s briefing to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination"] , Amnesty International, 1 February 2007]
According to the United Nations, about 1,500 homes were demolished by the IDF in the Rafah area in the period 2000-2004. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3557804.stm BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israeli troops raze Rafah houses ] ] The IDF maintains that this was done in order to prevent smuggling tunnels and other threats (i.e. from snipers) to its soldiers who are patrolling the border. For example, following a rocket attack that killed five Israeli soldiers, that apparently came from a row of buildings in Rafah, Israel demolished those buildings.http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22&ItemID=5544 Israel's top court approves razing Palestinian homes, Znet] An IDF spokeswoman has stated that the IDF, in destroying tunnels, exercises "the utmost care to pinpoint the tunnels and do as little damage as possible".
Human Rights Watchissued a report, in which they say that they "researched the tunnel situation on the border by speaking with Rafah residents, IDF officers, PNA officials, foreign diplomats in Israel, Israeli and foreign journalists, Egyptian security officials, and experts familiar with the nature of Rafah’s subsurface soil." Based on this research, HRW believes "that the IDF’s pattern of house demolitions is inconsistent with its stated goals," and that "in some cases, the destruction was disproportionate and arbitrary." [http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/rafah1004/6.htm#_Toc84676183 Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip] , Human Rights Watch]
Demolitions are carried out by the Israeli Army Engineering Corps using
armored bulldozers, usually Caterpillar D9, but also with excavators (for high multi-story buildings) and wheel loaders(for small houses with low risk) modified by the IDF. The armored D9 is often used when there is a risk to the forces, such as when armed insurgents are barricaded inside or a house is full of explosives. [Israeli-Weapons.com, [http://www.israeli-weapons.com/weapons/vehicles/engineer_vehicles/bulldozers/D9_D10.html D9 & D10] ] Multi-story building, flats, and explosive labs are demolished by explosive devices, set by IDF demolition experts of Yaalom's "Sayeret Yael". Amnesty International has also described some house demolitions that were carried out by the IDF using "powerful explosive charges".
The use of house demolition under
international lawis today governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention, enacted in 1949, which protects non-combatants in occupied territories. Article 53 provides that "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons ... is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations." [http://www.icrc.org/ihl.nsf/CONVPRES?OpenView Fourth Geneva Convention] , International Committee of the Red Cross]
Israeli use of house demolitions has been particularly controversial. However, Israel, which is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, asserts that the terms of the Convention are not applicable to the
Palestinian territorieson the grounds that the territories do not constitute a state which is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention. [Alan Dowty, "The Jewish State: A Century Later", University of California Press, 2001, ISBN 0520229118, p. 217.] [Gerson, Allan. "Israel, the West Bank, and International law", Routledge, 28 September 1978, ISBN 0-7146-3091-8, p. 82.] [Roberts, Adam, "Decline of Illusions: The Status of the Israeli-Occupied Territories over 21 Years" in "International Affairs" (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 64, No. 3. (Summer, 1988), pp. 345-359., p. 350] This position is rejected by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, which notes that "it is a basic principle of human rights law that international human rights treaties are applicable in all areas in which states parties exercise effective control, regardless of whether or not they exercise sovereignty in that area." [http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde150332004 Israel and the Occupied Territories Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property] . Amnesty International, 18 May 2004.]
As a punitive measure
Amnesty International has criticised the lack of
due processin the use of house demolitions by Israel. Many demolitions are carried out with no warning or opportunity for the householder to appeal.
In 2002, a proposed demolition case was appealed to the
Israeli Supreme Courtwho ruled that there must be a right to appeal unless doing so would "endanger the lives of Israelis or if there are combat activities in the vicinity." In a later ruling the Supreme Court decided that demolitions can be carried out if advance notice would hinder demolition. Amnesty describes this as "a virtual green light" to demolition with no warning.
House demolitions were used in the region under the British Mandate. In 1945 the authorities passed the "Defence (Emergency) Regulations" [ [http://www.ihlresearch.org/opt/pdfs/briefing3403.pdf Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research] The Legality of House Demolitions under International Humanitarian Law. Accessed
30 June 2007.] and Regulation 119 made this practice available to the local Military Commander without limit or appeal.
In a 1987 letter, the British said this regulation had been repealed in 1948. [In a 1987 letter, the British Foreign Ministry indicated that "in view of the Palestine (Revocations) Order in Council 1948 (S.I. 1948/1004, at 1350-51), the Palestine (Defense) Order in Council 1937 and the Defense Regulations 1945 made under it are, as a matter of English law, no longer in force." See Emma Playfair, "Demolition and Sealing of Houses as a Punitive Measure in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank," Al Haq, 33, April 1987.] However, the repeal was not published in the Palestine Gazette, as required in law at that time, and Israel still operates the contentious policy of punitive military house demolition under the 1945 British DER 119.
House demolitions are usually done without prior warning and often during the night. The home's inhabitants are given little time to evacuate - usually between a few minutes to half an hour. [ [http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE150781999?open&of=ENG-370 Israel: House demolitions -- Palestinians given "15 minutes to leave...]
Amnesty International. December 8, 1999]
February 2005, the Ministry of Defense (Israel)ordered an end to the demolition of houses for the purpose of punishing the families of suicide bombers. [ BBC News, [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4274977.stm "Israel limits house demolitions"] , Thursday, 17 February 2005]
Criticism and responses
The effectiveness of house demolitions as a deterrence has been questioned. In 2005 an Israeli Army commission to study house demolitions found no proof of effective deterrence and concluded that the damage caused by the demolitions overrides its effectiveness. As a result, the IDF approved the commission's recommendations to end punitive demolitions of Palestinian houses. [ [http://www.diakonia.se/sa/node.asp?node=859 Is the House Demolition Policy Legal under International Humanitarian Law?] ] A number of
Human rightsorganizations, including Human Rights Watchand the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, oppose the practice. Human Rights Watch has argued that the practice violates international laws against collective punishment, the destruction of private property, and the use of force against civilians. [ [http://hrw.org/press/2002/10/gaza1024.htm Human Rights News: IDF House Demolition Injures Refugees] ]
Yaacov Lozowick, however, implied that there is a moral basis for demolishing the houses of families of suicide bombers, stating:
"Demolishing the homes of civilians merely because a family member has committed a crime is immoral. If, however,... potential suicide murderers... will refrain from killing out of fear that their mothers will become homeless, it would be immoral to leave the Palestinian mothers untouched in their homes while Israeli children die on their school buses." [
Yaacov Lozowick(2004): "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars" ISBN 1400032431. p.260]
In May 2004, The Israeli Foreign Ministry publicly stated:
"...other means employed by Israel against terrorists is the demolition of homes of those who have carried out suicide attacks or other grave attacks, or those who are responsible for sending suicide bombers on their deadly missions. Israel has few available and effective means in its war against terrorism. This measure is employed to provide effective deterrence of the perpetrators and their dispatchers, not as a punitive measure. This practice has been reviewed and upheld by the High Court of Justice" [House Demolition, Legal Background. [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFAHeb/MFAArchive/2004/rafiah190504] ]
In 2003 Rachel Corrie was killed by a bulldozer in a combat zone while protesting the use of bulldozers to destroy Palestinian houses. [ [http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/03/16/rafah.death/ Israeli bulldozer kills American protester] , CNN.Com,
25 March 2003] The IDF said she was killed by accident during routine terrain leveling and debris clearing, the bulldozer operators were unaware of her presence, and there was no house demolition in progress at the time. Observers with Corrie said that she and others had made their presence known to the operators, who appeared to be headed towards a house with four adults and five children inside. [ [http://www.jewishjournal.com/home/preview.php?id=14265 Two Families’ Dreams Were Not Demolished] ]
Corrie's death aroused particularly intense international scrutiny of Israel's policy of demolition. After the incident, the U.S. Department of State outlined its views:
Our policy on demolitions has been stated repeatedly and is well known. We have been very clear that we view demolitions as particularly troubling. They deprive a large number of Palestinians of their ability to peacefully earn a livelihood. They exacerbate the humanitarian situation inside Palestinian areas, undermine trust and confidence and make more difficult the critical challenge of bringing about an end to violence and restoring calm. [Cordesman, Anthony H., "Arab-Israeli Military Forces in an Era of Asymmetric Wars". Greenwood Press: 2006, page 72.]
House demolition has been used in an on-again-off-again fashion by the Israeli government during the
Second Intifada. More than 3,000 homes have been destroyed in this way. [ [http://www.btselem.org/english/Publications/Summaries/200411_Punitive_House_Demolitions.asp Through No Fault of Their Own: Israel's Punitive House Demolitions in the al-Aqsa Intifada] . B'Tselem] House demolition was used to destroy the family homes of Saleh Abdel Rahim al-Souwi, [Katz, 160] perpetrator of the Tel Aviv bus 5 massacre, and Yahya Ayyash, [ [http://www.passia.org/palestine_facts/chronology/1996.htm Palestine Facts] . Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs] Hamas's chief bomb maker, known as "the engineer", as well as the perpetrators of the First and second Jerusalem bus 18 massacres, and the Ashqelon bus station bombing. [Katz, 280-281]
According to the Israeli human rights organization
* From October 2001 to December 2005, Israel has demolished 668 homes as punishment, leaving 4,182 people homeless. [
B'Tselem, [http://www.btselem.org/english/Punitive_Demolitions/Statistics.asp B'Tselem - House demolitions as punishment - Statistics:] ]
* Israel has demolished 1,746 homes for alleged military purposes since B'Teselem started keeping statistics in this category in 2004. [
B'Tselem, [http://www.btselem.org/english/Razing/Statistics.asp B'Tselem - Demolition for Alleged Military Purposes - Statistics:] ]
As a regulatory measure
Some house demolitions are allegedly performed because the houses may have been built without permits, or are in violation of various building codes, ordinances or regulations. Some International human rights groups and community figures claim that Israeli authorities are in fact systematically denying building permit requests in Arab areas as a means of appropriating land. This is disputed by Israeli sources, who claim that both Arabs and Jews enjoy a similar rate of application approvals. [http://www.jcpa.org/jlmbldg.htm Illegal Construction in Jerusalem] ]
According to Amnesty International, "The destruction of Palestinian homes, agricultural land and other property in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, is inextricably linked with Israel’s long-standing policy of appropriating as much as possible of the land it occupies, notably by establishing Israeli settlements." In October 1999, during the "Peace Process" and before the start of the Al Aqsa Intefada, Amnesty International wrote that: "well over one third of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem live under threat of having their house demolished. ... Threatened houses exist in almost every street and it is probable that the great majority of Palestinians live in or next to a house due for demolition." [http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde150591999 Israel and the Occupied Territories: Demolition and dispossession: the destruction of Palestinian homes] .
"House demolitions ostensibly occur because the homes are built 'illegally' - i.e. without a permit. Officials and spokespersons of the Israeli government have consistently maintained that the demolition of Palestinian houses is based on planning considerations and is carried out according to the law. ... But the Israeli policy has been based on discrimination. Palestinians are targeted for no other reasons than that they are Palestinians. ... [Israel has] discriminated in the application of the law, strictly enforcing planning prohibitions where Palestinian houses are built and freely allowing amendments to the plans to promote development where Israelis are setting up settlements."
Meir Margalitof Israeli Committee Against House Demolitionswrites:
"The thinking is that a national threat calls for a national response, invariably aggressive. Accordingly, a Jewish house without a permit is an urban problem; but a Palestinian home without a permit is a strategic threat. A Jew building without a permit is ‘cocking a snook at the law’; a Palestinian doing the same is defying Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem."Dr.
Meir Margalit, (2007): [http://www.icahd.org/eng/images/uploaded_admin_content/NoPlaceLikeHome_withCover.pdf "No Place Like Home"] ]
Current Demolition Crises
The Palestinian village
Aqabah, located in the northeastern West Bank, is currently being threatened by demolition orders issued by the Israeli Civil Administration against the entire village. [http://www.metimes.com/Politics/2008/05/15/the_lament_of_iqrit_and_kafr_birim/5264/] The Civil Administration had previously expropriated large areas of privately registered land in the village, and as of May 2008it has threatened to demolish the following structures: the mosque, the British government-funded medical clinic, the internationally-funded kindergarten, the Rural Women's Association building, the roads, the water tank, and nearly all private homes. According to the Rebuilding Alliance, a California-based organization that opposes house demolitions, Haj Sami Sadek, the mayor of the village, has circulated an open letter asking for assistance. [http://www.rebuildingalliance.org/blog/?p=425] [http://rebuildingalliance.org/campaignJordanRiverValley.php] Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitionsare said to be supporting the campaign.
In May 2008, a UN agency said that thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank risk being displaced as the Israeli authorities threaten to tear down their homes and in some cases entire communities. "To date, more than 3,000 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank have pending demolition orders, which can be immediately executed without prior warning," the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report. [ [http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/afp/080527/world/mideast_conflict_demolitions Israeli demolition threatens 3,000 Palestinian homes: UN - Yahoo! Canada News ] ]
Statistics for Jerusalem
Statistics have been compiled by ICAHD recording the number of demolitions of existing houses in the two parts of Jerusalem. According to ICAHD, there are many more building violations in the western (non-Palestinian) parts of Jerusalem, but the great majority of actual demolitions are carried out in the eastern (Palestinian) parts. ICAHD statistics on house demolitions in Jerusalem were cited in the "2005 County Reports on Human Rights Practices" by the
United States Department of State[http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2005/61690.htm 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Israel and the occupied territories] , United States Department of State, 8 March 2006] . For 2004 and 2005 ICAHD's figures are as follows:
ICAHD's report further claims that building inspectors record only a small proportion of the infractions in West Jerusalem (usually illegal extensions or porches), and say that no entire residential building in the Western section has ever received demolition orders or been demolished.
ICAHD's conclusions have been disputed by the
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who argue on their website that the larger number of Palestinian demolitions is simply due to the fact that many more Palestinian homes have been built illegally. They claim to have "document [ed] a pattern of politically-motivated behavior and criminal profiteering that characterizes much of the construction in the Arab sector of the Holy City." [http://www.jcpa.org/jlmbldg.htm Illegal Construction in Jerusalem] Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, (undated)] .----
After territorial withdrawals
In recent years, the Israeli government has demolished some houses or other residences, and other property belonging to Israeli settlers, when conceding some land and territory to the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that this is due to a request from the Palestinian authorities to replace single-family dwellings with apartment buildings, better suited to the needs of the local population. [http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace+Process/Guide+to+the+Peace+Process/The+demolition+of+Gaza+settlement+homes+16-Aug-2005.htm The demolition of Gaza settlement homes - Background brief] , Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website (retrieved 08-18-2007)]
* [http://www.icahd.org/eng/ Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions]
* [http://www.btselem.org/english/Planning_and_Building/Statistics.asp B'Tselem - Statistics on demolition of houses built without permits in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem)]
* [http://www.rebuildingalliance.org The Rebuilding Alliance]
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