Key Facts

Why does Israel demolish Palestinian homes?

The policy of house demolitions has two goals: first, to make life so miserable for the Palestinians that they leave the country. It is estimated that up to 300,000 Palestinians have left the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the past ten years, most of them middle-class, young, educated, and economically active. This is what we refer to as “selective transfer,” and it is intended to weaken Palestinian society and make it more malleable to Israeli rule. Second, to drive Palestinians off their land in Area C and into Areas A and B. This has largely succeeded. Area C is 62% of the West Bank, yet today contains only about 5% of the (West Bank) Palestinian population.


How many houses have been demolished since the Occupation began?

Since 1967, about 27,000 Palestinian homes and other structures (livestock pens and fencing for example) crucial for a family’s livelihood, have been demolished in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), including East Jerusalem. It is impossible to know how many homes exactly because the Israeli authorities only report on the demolition of “structures,” which may be homes or may be other structures. When a seven-story apartment building is demolished containing more than 20 housing units, that is considered only one demolition. Some homes are as yet incomplete when they are demolished, but the financial loss to families (70% of the Palestinians live below the poverty line, on less than $2 a day), plus the inability to obtain decent and adequate housing, constitutes a fundamental violation of tens of thousands of people to shelter.




What are the reasons given by the Israeli government for demolishing Palestinian homes?

Throughout the OPT Israel follows a policy of not granting Palestinians building permits. How is this done in a country that claims to be a democracy? Discrimination against Palestinians (and this is true for the Palestinian citizens of Israel as well) is embedded in the dry technicalities of planning, zoning, and administration. Almost the entire West Bank has been declared by Israel “agricultural land,” so that when Palestinians request permission to build on their own properties they are refused. Virtually all of East Jerusalem has been zoned as “open green space,” meaning a Palestinian can own land but cannot build upon it, the land being “reserved” for future urban development (read: Israeli settlements and roads).

In Jerusalem, moreover, the official policy of the Israeli government is to maintain a 72%-28% majority of Jews over Arabs in the city (the actual ratio today is about 64%-36%). All urban policies related to housing and residence – permits for Palestinians to live in the city (they only have permanent residency that can be revoked, not Israeli citizenship), land expropriation and zoning restrictions, house demolitions, settlement expansion into Palestinian neighborhoods, the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestinian society and its subsequent impoverishment, routes of highways through Palestinian communities or, conversely, neglect of Palestinian infrastructure – are tied to what in Israel is called the “Quiet Transfer,”: reducing, fragmenting and isolating as much as possible the Palestinian presence in order to “judaize” Jerusalem (an official term actually used by the Israeli government in planning).


Are house demolitions a form of punishment to terrorism?

No. In only 2% of the 27,000 cases of demolition were security reasons given. In fact, the IDF officially stopped their policy of punitive demolitions in 2005.


Why do Palestinians build if they know their houses are likely to be demolished?

Palestinians simply have no choice. The Israeli Occupation has lasted for over 45 years, two generations. Couples have families, often 7-8 kids, and their kids have kids; they all need places to live (In Palestinian culture, a young man cannot marry unless he can offer his bride a home). Most continue to live in inadequate conditions, often crowded in with their parents, whose own home is too small and cannot be enlarged. Those that are desperate make a cold calculation: Israel has issued tens of thousands of demolition orders. Maybe, if I build, they won’t come for a year, maybe three years; maybe I’ll “win the lottery” and they will never come. So, left without a choice, Palestinian families gamble. For most, simply a decent home where they can live in security and raise their families is just a dream.


If the West Bank is zoned as agricultural land and Palestinian building in East Jerusalem is prevented to preserve open green space, then how did Israel manage to construct the settlements – about 350,000 Israelis living in more than 120 officially-recogn

The answer is simple: Israelis sit on the planning committees. The Jerusalem municipality constitutes the District Planning Commission and the Ministry of Interior has the Regional Planning Commission. To rezone land from agricultural/green space to residential takes a minute if that is the intention of the these planning bodies, both of whom vigorously advance the settlement movement while restricting (or completely preventing) Palestinian construction. Then there is the Civil Administration, Israel’s military government, who through the IDF Commander of the Central Command can expropriate any land in the West Bank for “immediate military purposes”, that often later become Jewish settlements.


Are Israel's house demolitions legal under international law?

No. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Occupying Powers are prohibited from destroying property or employing collective punishment. Article 53 reads: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” Under this provision the practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is banned, as is the wholesale destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure.

Are Israeli settlements legal under international law?

No. Under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel is prohibited from establishing settlements: “The Occupying Power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.”


What other international laws does the Israeli Occupation violate?

Virtually all of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands violates human rights conventions – and especially the Fourth Geneva Convention that forbids an occupying power from making its presence a permanent one. Thus:


  • Articles 50 and 51 of the “Protocols Additional to the 1949 Geneva Convention” emphasize the protection of civilians in time of war. "The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians…. The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations."

  • Article 3 prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," a routine element of Palestinian life under Israel's occupation.

  • Article 32 forbids assassinations, and any brutalization of the civilian population, including their treatment at checkpoints and in "security searches."

  • Article 33 prohibiting pillage would obtain to Israel’s extensive use of West Bank and Gazan water resources, especially as they are denied the local population. It also prohibits the use of collective punishment, as represented by the imposition of closure, curfew, house demolitions and many other routine actions of the Occupation Authorities. 

  • Article 39 stipulates: “Protected persons [residents of occupied lands] who, as a result of the war, have lost their gainful employment, shall be granted the opportunity to find paid employment.” It thereby prohibits the imposition a permanent “closure” on the Occupied Territories, such as Israel has done since 1993.

  • Article 64 forbids changes in the local legal system that, among other things, alienate the local population from its land and property, as Israel has done through massive land expropriations.

  • Article 146 holds accountable individuals who have committed “grave breaches” of the Convention. According to Article 147, this includes many acts routinely practiced under the Occupation, such as willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury, unlawful deportation, taking of hostages, extensive destruction, and appropriation of property. Israeli courts have thus far failed to charge or prosecute Israeli officials, military personnel or police who have committed such acts.

  • The PLO also bears a measure of responsibility for the violations of its own people's rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to Article 8, the PLO had no right in the Oslo Agreements to abrogate their rights and suspend the applicability of the Convention, since “Protected persons may in no circumstances renounce in part or in entirety the rights secured to them by the present Convention.” Had international humanitarian law been the basis of the Oslo peace process rather than power-negotiations, the Occupation would have ended and the conditions for a just peace would have been established, since virtually every element of Israel’s occupation violates a provision of the Fourth Geneva Convention. 

How much of the OPT do Palestinians actually control?

All the OPT comprises only 22% of historic Palestine between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. The fragmentation of the Palestinian territories began in the Oslo “peace process,” when in the Oslo II agreement of 1995 the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B and C. Today the Palestinian Authority controls Area A (18% of the West Bank, though in fact Israel invades at will) and Area B (another 22% of the West Bank, although Israel controls the security and patrols the territory). Area C, 60 of the West Bank (where the settlements are), is under full Israeli control. East Jerusalem, where 240,000 Palestinian live and which the international community considers occupied territory, has been formally annexed by Israel and, from Israel’s perspective, is not part of the occupied territories. The PA is forbidden to have any presence in East Jerusalem. Gaza, only 6.5% of the OPT, is under PA/Hamas control. Under the Oslo agreements Gaza is considered an integral unit of the OPT and should be treated as one in the same as the West Bank. In fact, Israel has besieged and isolated it completely in the late 1980s.


All in all, then, the Palestinian sort of control about 40% of the OPT and thus only 10% of historic Palestine. 

What aspects of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza are most likely to be denied or ignored by the average Israeli?

All of it. It’s hard to convey, but Israeli Jews just don’t care about the Occupation. They don’t see it, it does not affect their lives, they live in relative prosperity and security, the “Arabs” (the term Palestinians is not even used) are “over there” somewhere – in short, the Occupation (another term we don’t use in Israel, preferring just to refer to “the Territories”) is a non-issue. 

Is a two-state solution still possible?

We at ICAHD have come to the conclusion that the two-state solution is gone, buried by the settlements, the Israeli-only highways, the Wall and the other massive, permanent “facts on the ground” that Israel has imposed on the OPT. There is simply no place left for a Palestinian state that would be truly sovereign, economically viable, and territorially congruent. The Palestinians cannot be blamed for the demise of the two-state solution; it is the Israeli government that eliminated the possibility.


To the degree that Israeli rule over the entire Land of Israel has been made a permanent reality, we are witnessing the establishment of a new apartheid regime. Israel has separated the Jewish from Palestinian populations (“apartheid” literally means separation in Afrikaans), and has then imposed a regime by which the Jewish population institutionally and physically dominates the Palestinians. 

What solution does ICAHD advocate?

ICAHD does not advocate for a particular solution, believing that that is the Palestinians’ prerogative. If the Palestinians think a two-state solution would work (and this is still the policy of the PA), we would support it. We would also support a one-state solution, be it bi-national or democratic, and also other possibilities – a regional confederation, for example.

ICAHD will support any solution that it inclusive of both Israeli and Palestinian peoples, will bring an end to all violence, and is rooted in human rights. Rather than a particular solution, we advocate for an approach to peace that contains the following elements:


Do Israelis support the work of ICAHD?

The Israeli public has disconnected from the issue of the Occupation and peace with the Palestinians. As life becomes ever quieter and more normalized Israelis feel less and less a need to change the status quo, especially if it means removing settlements. And as peace with the Palestinians disappears from the public discussion, so does the ability of the peace movement to engage the Israeli public, the media or decision-makers. ICAHD's message is not necessarily rejected by Israelis, but is completely outside the public debate. That is why we devote most of our advocacy to civil society abroad.