House demolitions are regularly undertaken by the Israeli forces against Palestinian homes in the West Bank, including in East Jerusalem and Area C, despite the fact that private property is strictly protected. This article will help you understand more about how such policies and practices violate international law.
Demolition of Property
Israel has implemented, and continuous to pursue, the policy of demolishing structures owned and inhabited by Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), in violation of international law. Demolitions include residence and livelihood-related structures, with estimates indicating that at least 28,000 Palestinian structures demolished in the oPt since 1967.
Israel refers to three reasons for pursuing the policy and practice of property destruction: punitive, administrative and during the course of military operations.
In particular the ongoing “administrative” destructions in the West Bank are of significant concern.
Administrative demolitions of structures take place when there is an apparent lack of an Israeli issued ‘ building permit’, predominantly in Area C and in East Jerusalem, which are under exclusive Israeli planning authority.
There is no administrative exception under Article 53 of GCIV, the only lawful justification being when destruction is required by absolute military necessity. Occupying Powers cannot bypass their legal obligations or sidestep prohibtions by engaging in “administrative” processes.
Significantly, in almost all cases, Palestinians have no choice but to build ‘illegally’, as permits are almost impossible to obtain.
Israeli officials explain this type of demolition by stating that Palestinians are violating the zoning and planning laws and that the demolitions are merely means of law enforcement and upholding the rule of law. However the planning system in place is not in line with international law.
This type of demolition accounts for approximately 23% of all demolitions between 1967-2012, and has continued in 2013, following a significant increase between 2009 and 2011 when there was a 130% increase in the number of structures demolished and a 175% increase in the number of people displaced in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2012, a total of 613 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished, resulting in the displacement of 886 individuals.
Since property belonging to protected persons – public buildings or private houses – is protected under international humanitarian law (IHL), if and when demolitions take place, it must be within the strict bounds of IHL as applicable during times of occupation.
Article 53 of the Geneva Convention prohibits destruction of property that is not justified by absolute military necessity and states that extensive destruction is a grave breach of the conventions.
In addition to the protections safeguarded by IHL, Israel’s policy and practice of demolitions and forced eviction in the oPt violate the right to adequate housing enshrined in several bodies of international human rights law.
Connection to Other Illegal Policies
Such practices should not be considered isolated and it is important to be aware of the link between administrative demolitions and settlement expansion, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Prof. Richard Falk stated that the:
information […] inevitably leads to the conclusion that Israel is implementing a deliberate policy of forcing Palestinians out of their homes and off their land, in order to establish more illegal settlements and to proceed with the de facto annexation of the West Bank, if not altogether, at least in relation to its substantial part.
Punitive demolitions are when specific structures are demolished as punishment for the actions of people associated with the structures – ranging from political affiliation to indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians.
This policy was suspended by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in February 2005 after it reached the conclusion that rather than deterring attacks, punitive demolitions only enflamed the populace and led to more attacks. The practice was resumed on 19 January 2009, following an Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruling in the case of Abu-Dahim v. Home-Front Commander regarding a house demolition in East Jerusalem. Although punitive demolitions are presumed by many to be the main reason for house demolitions, they account for only 6% of all demolitions between the years 1967-2012.
In relation to punitive demolition, IHL prohibits the punishment of protected persons for offences they have not personally committed; this is called collective punishment pursuant to Fourth Geneva convention Article: “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” Additionally, the 1907 Hague Regulations Article 50
No general penalty, pecuniary or otherwise, shall be inflicted upon the population on account of the acts of individuals for which they cannot be regarded as jointly and severally responsible.
Demolition of houses targets and harms the family of those Palestinians whom allegations are made against by Israel. Therefore, the family is punished due to no fault of their own and merely because they live or have lived with the suspected person. Moreover, punitive demolitions conducted by Israel cannot be argued to meet the requirements of military necessity, as they are planned in advance, commonly following technical preparations.