By IRIN – Ramallah
Rasmiyye Hamande has lived in a cave in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) for most of her life, which may have been a blessing in disguise. ‘This cave,’ she says, ‘can’t be demolished so easily.’
Other places in the village of Al-Mufaqara, in Area C – the 60 percent of the West Bank under Israeli military control – are more easily destroyed.
Some 622 structures were demolished by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2011, a 42 percent increase from 2010. 2012 could well surpass last year’s numbers, as by the end of July, some 395 demolished structures in oPt were registered by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Al-Mufaqara is one of 12 villages in an area recently declared “firing zone 918” by Israel.
The Israeli Ministry of Defense wants to demolish eight of these villages and evacuate their residents to make way for a military training. About 1,500 Palestinians are expected to be forcibly displaced if this demolition is carried out
The army says the training exercises in firing zone 918 are necessary to deal with shortcomings exposed during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, and the Ministry of Defense has indicated that the villagers will still be allowed to use the land on weekends and Jewish holidays.
Firing zones like this one, all officially intended for military training, make up about 18 percent of the West Bank; 45 percent of all demolitions in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank since 2010 have taken place in firing zones.
When and Why Are Palestinian Structures in Area C Considered Illegal by Israel?
All structures need government-approved permits; those without can be demolished. But acquiring a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration – a military body tasked with overseeing oPt – for Palestinian construction in Area C is close to impossible.
According to OCHA, the Civil Administration rejected 94 percent of Palestinians’ building permit applications in Area C between 2000 and 2007. In 2010, only 4 out of 444 building permit applications in Area C were approved. The Civil Administration told IRIN that there is no set time period for the review of requested building permits, and that every applications is examined differently.
In villages outside firing zones, the main problem is restrictive Israeli planning. Requested building permits must fit into spatial plans that have not changed since they were drawn up in the 1930s, when the area was under British administration.
Inside closed military zones, access is prohibited without a special permit, unless one is a permanent resident. Permits for construction are only available if the Israeli commander in charge issues a special order.
Structures are also prohibited on land considered by Israel to be archeological sites. This is the case in Susiya, in the South Hebron Hills; 70 percent of the existing structures in the community have pending demolition orders.
All told, 70 percent of Area C is off-limits for Palestinian construction and another 29 percent is heavily restricted.
Demolition orders can target solid houses, tents or other structures including school, water wells, solar panels, electricity grids and animal shelters. Out of the 622 structures destroyed by Israeli forces, 222 were homes, 170 were animal shelters, two were classrooms and two were mosques.
What Can Affected Communities Do Against Demolition Orders?
The Civil Administration first issues a so-called “stop-work order” to the owner of the structure. In the order, the date and place of the hearing and the relevant sub-committee of the Civil Administration is noted. Those affected may raise their objections to the order during the sub-committee hearing, with the theoretical option to acquire a permit retroactively.
After the hearing, the Civil Administration usually issues a final demolition order, against which a new petition is possible. If the court rules in favor of the affected communities, or suggests modifications, the demolition is suspended. Once the court legally backs the demolition, it can be executed.
Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Civil Administration, told IRIN that in the cases of the Susiyah community and firing zone 918, “The court initially told us to wait with the demolition.” But the court also found that building in these areas was illegal, citing previous rulings that prohibited construction in those areas. Currently neither of these communities has been entirely evacuated, though both have histories of demolition and expulsion.
Are the Demolitions Legal under International Law?
Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
Article 46 of the Hague Convention states that “the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected.”
The Israeli government holds the view that the West Bank is not under occupation, but has the status of “disputed territory”, which limits the applicability of the provisions of International Humanitarian Law.
What responsibility does Israel have towards Palestinians living in structures set to be demolished?
Ramesh Rajasingham, head of OCHA in oPt, said that Israel as an “occupying power has an obligation to protect Palestinian civilians and to administer the territory in a manner that ensures their welfare and basic needs. The ongoing destruction of civilian homes does not meet that obligation.”
In the case of the Palestinian village of Zanuta, which is built on an Israeli archeological site, the court asked the state to provide alternatives for those living in homes set to be demolished.
According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “The state representative responded saying that it was not the responsibility of the military authority to find a solution.”
What Happens After a Demolition Is Carried Out?
Humanitarian organizations like OCHA often provide emergency shelters for Palestinians whose homes have been destroyed. But even these emergency shelters, if built without permits in Area C, may be considered illegal by the Israeli Civil Administration.
In many cases, such as in firing zone 918, Palestinians reconstruct their homes after demolition. Others might live with family members until finding a new home.
A minority among them also have second homes in Areas A or B, the 40 percent of the West Bank under full or partial administration of the Palestinian Authority.
For the residents of the eight villages still designated for demolition in firing zone 918, expulsion is still hard to imagine.
Khalid Jabareen, from one of the villages, told IRIN: “We see in the media how the world lives, how Israelis live. Compared to this, I can say that we don’t live.”
– IRIN humanitarian news and analysis, a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Visit: www.irinnews.org.