ISRAEL’S POLICY OF DEMOLISHING PALESTINIAN HOMES MUST END:
A SUBMISSION TO THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
BY THE ISRAELI COMMITTEE AGAINST HOUSE DEMOLITIONS (ICAHD)
Adv. Emily Schaeffer (Michael Sfard Law Office), Jeff Halper (ICAHD) and Itay Epshtain
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is a human rights and peace organization established in 1997 to end Israel’s Occupation over the Palestinians. ICAHD takes as its main focus – as its vehicle for resistance – Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Israel proper.
The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) submits the following information for consideration by the United Nations Human Rights Council at its March 2013 meeting in Geneva. This report focuses on Israel’s failure to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention, International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and other human rights and international humanitarian law conventions in relation to gross violations of its responsibility to respect the fundamental human rights of Palestinians living under its control, particularly those threatened with, or having experienced, the demolition of their homes and other properties.
Since 1967 Israel has demolished more than 28,000 Palestinian homes, businesses, livestock facilities and other structures vital to Palestinian life and livelihood in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). The motivation for demolishing these homes is purely political, and racially informed: either to drive the Palestinians out of the country altogether (the “quiet transfer”) or to confine the four million residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza to small, crowded, impoverished and disconnected enclaves. By such practices Israel effectively forecloses any viable Palestinian entity or the realization of Palestinian self-determination; it also solidifies permanent Israeli domination and illegal settlement expansion – de facto annexation of the OPT. Taken against the background of (i) Israel’s systematic destruction of more than 500 Palestinian villages, towns and urban neighborhoods in 1948 and after; (ii) the legal steps taken to alienate the Palestinian people from their lands, homes and properties subsequent to the 1948 war; and (iii) its ongoing policy of demolishing the homes of some 150,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel residing in so-called “unrecognized villages and neighborhoods,” the picture that emerges is one of institutional racial discrimination and promulgated ethnic displacement.
House demolitions and forced evictions are among Israel’s most heinous practices in the OPT – though they continue to be enacted on a broad scale within Israel as well. In 2012 alone:
- a total of 600 Palestinian structures, including at least 189 homes, were demolished by the Israeli authorities;
- 880 Palestinians, more than half of them (468) children, were forcibly evicted from their homes and subsequently displaced; and
- another 4102 people were otherwise affected, for example, due to demolitions of animal shelters, water cisterns and other structures related to their livelihood or by the destruction of infrastructure, including roads.
Ninety per cent of the demolitions took place in vulnerable communities in Area C, the rest in Occupied East Jerusalem (and these figures do not include forced “self-demolitions”). Several hundred other people were displaced as a result of evictions, settler violence and military training (statistics from the Displacement Working Group and ICAHD).
We are witnessing a process of ethnic displacement, what the Israeli government itself describes as “Judaization.” These institutionalized policies are intended to alter the ethnic, religious and racial composition of an affected population – Palestinians residing in Area C of the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. (Gaza, with acute human rights issues of its own, is outside the scope of this submission, although it should be noted that the demolition of homes there as a result of military attacks also constitutes a grave violation of international humanitarian law, perhaps even a war crime.)
Israel’s practices in the OPT violate the right to adequate housing enshrined in several bodies of international human rights law, specifically, contained, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Art. 25(1)); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 (Art. 11); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (Art. 17); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) of 1969 (Art. 5(e)(iii)); the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1990 (Arts. 16, 27); and General Comments 4 (1991) and 7 (1997) of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Israel’s policies and practices in the OPT may also constitute “inhuman acts” as defined in Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as a violation of the UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973.
The following submission, while not exhaustive, highlights the State party protracted non-compliance with obligations stemming from the Fourth Geneva Convention and ICERD, as well as with other human rights instruments. It also provides the Council with pertinent information on the plight of Palestinians under the effective control of Israel. In its 2004 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice rejected the Israeli position that the Fourth Geneva Convention and ICERD do not apply in the OPT, a ruling subsequently ratified by the United Nations General Assemby (UNGA). The UNGA recognition of Palestinian sovereignty over the OPT, including East Jerusalem, demolished completely Israel’s contention that, in fact, there is no Occupation. In our submission we urge the Council to insist forcefully on the application of international humanitarian law in the OPT, to act vigorously to protect the Palestinian people and their fundamental human rights and, particularly, to call for an end to that most painful policy of occupation – forced eviction and displacement as the result of the demolition of Palestinian homes and property.
The Scope of House Demolitions
Although exact figures are impossible to determine (the Israeli Government uses the broad term “structures” demolished rather than “homes”), the stages in Israel’s demolition campaign are as follows:
Stage 1: Inside Israel (1948–1960s)
- Between 1948 and into the 1960s Israel systematically demolished 531 Palestinian villages and eleven urban neighborhoods inside of what became the State of Israel, two-thirds of the villages of Palestine (Pappé 2006). This was not done in the heat of battle, but well after the residents had fled or were driven out, so that the refugees could not return and their lands could be turned over to the Jewish population.
Stage 2: In the Occupied Palestinian Territory (since 1967)
At the start of the Occupation in 1967, the policy of demolition was carried across the “Green Line” into the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. As of 2009, more than 24,000 Palestinian homes had been destroyed – homes, we must add, of people who had already lost their homes inside Israel in 1948 and after.
· At least 6000 houses were demolished immediately following the 1967 war. Four entire villages were razed in the Latrun area (now known as “Canada Park”), while dozens of ancient homes were destroyed in the Mughrabi Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to create a plaza for the Wailing Wall.
· In 1971 Ariel Sharon, then Commander of the Southern Command, cleared 2000 houses in the Gaza refugee camps (some say as many as 6000) to facilitate military control. (After being elected Prime Minister in early 2001 he has overseen the demolition of another 1500 homes in Gaza.)
· At least 2000 houses in the OPT were destroyed in the course of quelling the first Intifada in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
· Almost 1700 Palestinian homes in the OPT were demolished by the Civil Administration during the course of the Oslo peace process (1993–2000).
· During the second Intifada (September 2000–2004), between 4000 and 5000 Palestinian homes were destroyed in military operations, including hundreds in Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other cities of the West Bank, and more than 2500 in Gaza alone. Tens of thousands of other homes were left uninhabitable. Altogether around 50,000 people were left homeless (Human Rights Watch, Razing Rafah, October 2004). Hundreds of shops, workshops, factories and public buildings, including all the Palestinian Authority ministry offices in all the West Bank cities, were also destroyed or damaged beyond repair. According to Amnesty International, more than 3000 hectares of cultivated land – 10% of the agricultural land of Gaza – was cleared during this time. Wells, water storage pools and water pumps which provided water for drinking, irrigation and other needs for thousands of people, were also destroyed, along with tens of kilometers of irrigation networks.
· In the same period about 900 Palestinian homes were demolished by the Civil Administration for lack of proper permits.
· More than 628 Palestinian homes were demolished during the second Intifada as collective punishment and “deterrence,” affecting families of people known or suspected of involvement in attacks on Israeli civilians. On average 12 innocent people lost their home for every person “punished” for a security offense – and in half of these cases the occupants had nothing whatsoever to do with the acts in question. Though the Israeli government insisted that it pursued this policy to “deter” potential terrorists, 79% of the suspected offenders were either dead or in detention at the time of the demolition (B’tselem, Summary 2004:1,3).
· In sum, during the second Intifada, 60% of the Palestinian homes demolished in the OPT were destroyed as part of military “clearing operations;” 25% were demolished as being “illegal,” not having permits; and 15% for collective punishment (B’tselem, Summary 2004:2).
· Since the end of the Second Intifada (2005–2012), another 1500 homes have been demolished by the Civil Administration, the Ministry of Interior or the Jerusalem municipality for lack of proper permits.
· During the invasion of Gaza (December 2008–January 2009), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that 4247 homes were demolished and almost 15,000 damaged, many of them rendered uninhabitable; another 400 homes were destroyed in the 2012 invasion, with 3000 people displaced.
Stage 3: Back Inside Israel (1990s–present)
- Throughout Israel proper, in the “unrecognized” Palestinian and Bedouin villages, as well as in the Palestinian neighborhoods of Ramle, Lod and other Palestinian towns, houses continue to be demolished at an ever-accelerating rate. Some 100,000 “internal refugees” from 1948 and their families still live in more than 100 “unrecognized villages” located in the vicinity of their now-destroyed villages, where they suffer from substandard living conditions and constant threats of demolition. Entire Bedouin villages in the Negev, numbering some 60,000–70,000 residents, are threatened with demolition. Indeed, whereas Arabs comprise almost 20% of Israel’s population of, they are confined by law and zoning policies to a mere 3.5% of the land. In mid-2004 the Israeli government announced the formation of a “Demolition Administration” in the Ministry of Interior to oversee the demolition of the homes– of between 20,000 and 40,000 Israeli Arab citizens.
Israel’s Policy of Institutionalized Discrimination in the Granting of Building Permits to the Palestinian Population
In order to build homes in East Jerusalem and Area C (together 70% of the OPT), Palestinians must apply for a permit from the Israeli authorities controlling these areas. The vast majority of demolition orders are issued because a home or structure has been built without an Israeli permit. Under Israeli zoning policy, Palestinians can build in just 13% of East Jerusalem and in only 1% of Area C. In both cases these areas are already heavily built up.
However, more than 94% of all Palestinian permit applications have been rejected in recent years. This means that when a family expands or a community requires basic infrastructure, they face a choice between building without a permit and not building at all. Many end up building to meet their immediate needs in the hope that they will be able to avoid demolition. Unfortunately, the number of people affected by demolition continues to grow steadily.
In the West Bank and Gaza demolitions are executed for “administrative” reasons (lack of a permit) by the Civil Administration; in East Jerusalem they are carried out either by the Ministry of Interior or by the Jerusalem municipality. Regardless, the overall process is similar. Master plans and zoning regulations have been devised so as to limit Palestinian building, all carefully based on legal requirements. The entire West Bank has been designated “agricultural land,” while most of the unbuilt-upon land owned by Palestinians in East Jerusalem has been zoned as “open green space.” In both cases, it is therefore possible to deny building permits to Palestinians ostensibly on professional planning grounds. If the applicants nevertheless build on their own land (everyone must live somewhere), their “illegal” homes can be demolished without appearing to discriminate. (Whereas Jews may, in rare cases, receive a demolition order for an illegal porch or shed, no Jewish house has ever been demolished in either Jerusalem or the OPT, the removal of a few temporary trailers set up by settlers on remote hillsides excepted.) And the policy is explicit: “Our policy is not to approve building in Area C,” an Israeli Army spokesperson said openly to Amnesty International delegates in 1999. “There are no more construction permits for Palestinians,” reiterated Colonel Shlomo Politus, legal advisor to the Civil Administration, to the Israeli Parliament on 13 July 2003 (Amnesty, Under the Rubble 2004:4).
Since most Palestinians do not have home mail delivery (including in East Jerusalem), demolition orders are served in a very haphazard manner. Occasionally a building inspector may knock on the door and hand the order to anyone who answers, including small children. More frequently the order is stuck into the doorframe or even left under a stone near the house. On many occasions Palestinians have complained that they never received the order before the bulldozers arrived, and thus were denied recourse to the courts. In Jerusalem a favored practice is to “deliver” an order at night by placing it somewhere near the targeted home, then arriving early in the morning to demolish it. ICAHD has documented cases in which David Schneider, chief building inspector of the Ministry of Interior, has deliberately prevented lawyers or families who have obtained a last-minute court injunction from approaching him until the demolition has been completed.
If they do manage to reach the court in time, Palestinians may occasionally delay the order’s execution (at their own considerable expense). We are not aware, however, of any order ever having been overturned. Once it is affirmed, the bulldozers may arrive at any time – the same day, weeks or years later, or never. Palestinians, barred from any possibility of obtaining decent, affordable and legal housing, do a simple, cold arithmetic: thousands of demolition orders are outstanding, the various Israeli authorities destroy “only” 200–500 homes a year (military attacks and punitive demolitions aside), so, if I build, the chances are that I might buy a year or two or three before the bulldozers arrive. As in a perverse lottery, I might even “win” and escape demolition altogether.
Following the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the subsequently agreed division of the Occupied West Bank, Area C (60% of the West Bank) remained under full Israeli security and civil control, an arrangement that has remained since the halt in negotiations. This partition severely fragments Palestinian communities and isolates a great expanse of rural land in Area C, while enclosing heavily built-up enclaves in Areas A and B. This restricts the natural expansion of Palestinian communities in the West Bank that is required to maintain an adequate standard of living. Thus, while 150,000 Palestinians reside in Area C, the remaining 2.3 million are squeezed into 40% of the West Bank. Due to the discriminatory planning and zoning policies that Israel administers in an area already lacking basic public infrastructure, families are struggling to meet their basic needs. This has triggered a growing trend of displacement from Area C to both Areas A and B and within Area C, threatening the very existence of these communities; coupled with Israeli settlement activity, the way is paved for the Judaization of the West Bank.
Israel’s commitment in the ICERD is to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, color, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law – notably in the enjoyment of housing rights. However, Israel’s housing policy in Area C makes implementing this basic right all but impossible. In practice, construction is currently permitted in less than 1% of the area. The overwhelming majority of Area C is allocated to Israeli settlements and military installations, thus denying Palestinians permits to build on 70% of the land.
Allocating land for military training is not confined to unpopulated areas, but can also occur in the heart of Palestinian residential communities. In the remaining 30% of the land, permission to build is conditional on complementarity with a plan endorsed by the Israeli Civil Administration. Fewer than 1% of applications satisfy this requirement. Thus Palestinians are faced with the choice of building without Israeli permission or leaving their communities. This policy is regularly and violently enforced by the demolition of homes and other infrastructure such as schools and health clinics. By contrast, the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in Area C flourishes under detailed plans, approved by the Israeli Civil Administration, and incorporating expansion areas nine times the size of the current built-up areas. Furthermore, the fact that some of the officials staffing the Israeli Civil Administration and influencing planning and zoning policy are themselves settlers is worrying, and leads an almost inevitable conflict of interest.
The principal impact of Israel’s policies in Area C is the ethnic displacement of Palestinians from their rural communities, with thousands more at risk and the foreseeable obliteration of entire communities. This in turn has emotional and socioeconomic effects on the displaced families, especially considering that a large proportion of the inhabitants have the added vulnerability of previous displacement, having being made refugees in 1948. Their symptoms range from dependency on humanitarian aid to a deep psychological trauma, especially in children, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The severity of this impact is exacerbated by Israel’s interference with the aid provided by the humanitarian community, as evidenced by the repeated demolition of tents provided following house demolitions.
In addition to violating the right to adequate housing enshrined in the bodies of international human rights law listed in the Introduction, Israel’s policies and practices in Area C may constitute “inhuman acts” under Article 7(1)(d) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, as well as a violation of the UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid of 1973.
A key “front” in the struggle to contain or expel Palestinians is Jerusalem, and especially “East” Jerusalem where some 200,000 Palestinians reside. Although Israel insists that the city is now “united,” deriving its legitimacy from its history as Israel’s capital, the concept of “East” Jerusalem as a distinct entity is a fiction. During Jordanian rule (1948–1967), the Arab city of Jerusalem consisted of only six square kilometers – the Old City and its immediate surroundings. To this, Israel added another 64 square kilometers of West Bank land, gerrymandered to include as much unbuilt-upon land as possible for future Israeli settlements, while excluding large Palestinian populations and calling the whole “united Jerusalem.” Since that time all urban policy has been directed towards maintaining an artificial 72%/28% majority of Jews over Arabs (the proportion that existed when the two sides of the city were unilaterally “united” in 1967). A complex system involving the partisan use of planning and zoning mechanisms, of land expropriation and house demolitions, and of bureaucratic means of revoking Jerusalem residency has been developed to ensure the “Jewish character” of the city. In Jerusalem, explains Amir Cheshin, the long-serving Advisor on Arab Affairs for the Jerusalem municipality under Mayors Kollek and, for a time, Olmert.
Israel turned urban planning into a tool of the government, to be used to help prevent the expansion of the city’s non-Jewish population. It was a ruthless policy, if only for the fact that the needs (to say nothing of the rights) of Palestinian residents were ignored. Israel saw the adoption of strict zoning plans as a way of limiting the number of new homes built in Arab neighborhoods, and thereby ensuring that the Arab percentage of the city’s population – 28.8% in 1967 – did not grow beyond this level. Allowing “too many” new homes in Arab neighborhoods would mean “too many” Arab residents in the city. The idea was to move as many Jews as possible into east Jerusalem, and move as many Arabs as possible out of the city entirely. Israeli housing policy in east Jerusalem was all about this numbers game. (Cheshin et al., Separate But Unequal, 1999:10, 31–32)
(Despite this, the Jewish majority has dwindled to about 66%.)
Palestinian residents of nominal “East” Jerusalem are confined to highly circumscribed areas. Since 1967, 35% of the Arab-owned land of East Jerusalem has been expropriated for Israeli settlements, roads and other facilities, while another 54% of Palestinian-owned land, designated as “open green space” reserved for “public purposes,” is forbidden for Palestinian construction. Cheshin writes:
Planners with the city engineer’s office, when drawing the zoning boundaries for the Arab neighborhoods, limited them to already built-up areas. Adjoining open areas were either zoned “green,” to signify they were off-limits to development, or left unzoned until they were needed for the construction of Jewish housing projects. The 1970 Kollek plan contains the principles upon which Israeli housing policy is based to this day – expropriation of Arab-owned land, development of large Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, and limitations on development in Arab neighborhoods (Cheshin, p. 37).
This leaves only 11% of East Jerusalem available for Palestinian housing and communal needs, a mere 7% of the city’s total urban space.
Thus the stage was set for what became known in Israel as the “Quiet Transfer.” Its goal has been to confine Palestinians to small enclaves of East Jerusalem, to remove them from the city altogether, and ultimately to induce their emigration from the country. The system works like this:
- Since Palestinian residents of Jerusalem cannot acquire permits to build on the 89% of East Jerusalem that they own, the Palestinian sector currently lacks some 25,000 housing units. Since the Palestinians own land and have the resources to build at least modest homes, this shortage is artificial and induced, thus forcing Palestinians out of the city.
- The scarce stock of housing in East Jerusalem thereby raises the price of buying or renting to unaffordable levels. Seventy per cent of the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem live below the poverty line. In order to secure affordable housing, they must cross the city’s boundaries to less expensive accommodation found in the West Bank – in Palestinian areas that were cut out of the municipal borders in 1967.
- Unlike Jewish residents of the city, Palestinians wishing to retain their Jerusalem residency must continually prove to the Israeli Ministry of Interior that Jerusalem remains their “center of life.” Moving to affordable housing just beyond the municipal border invalidates that status, leading the Interior Ministry to revoke the Jerusalem residency of those “emigrants.” It is estimated that since 1967 about 6000 Jerusalem ID cards have been confiscated, forcing some 25,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites into exile or illegal residency in their own homes. Thousands of other Palestinian Jerusalemites cannot obtain permission for their spouses coming from other places to reside in the city.
According to B’tselem (The Quiet Deportation, 1997), Israel’s policy in East Jerusalem works as follows:
The Jerusalem Municipality expropriates land, prevents preparation of a town planning scheme for Palestinian neighborhoods, and refuses to grant building permits, CAUSING a severe housing shortage, FORCING residents to build without a permit, AFTER WHICH the Ministry of Interior and the Municipality demolish the houses, SO the residents move into homes outside the city, AND THEN the Ministry of Interior revokes their residency and banishes them from the city forever.
While not all unauthorized homes have been issued demolition orders, there are approximately1500 demolition orders pending enforcement in East Jerusalem. According to figures published by the European Union, at the end of 2009 more than 60,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem (20% of the Palestinian population in the city) were at risk of their homes being demolished due to unauthorized building. An additional consequence of the planning and building reality in East Jerusalem is overcrowding: the average housing density is nearly twice that of West Jerusalem.
Enforcement of building and planning laws, including demolition and the levying of fines, is executed in a discriminatory manner. While Jews represent approximately 64% of the population in Jerusalem, demolitions of their buildings represented only 28% of those carried out during that period. Overall, more than 70% of demolitions in Jerusalem are carried out against Palestinian buildings, but Palestinians account for only approximately 20% of the unauthorized building in the city. What is more, given the zoning and planning situation in Jerusalem, Palestinians are more likely to commit more serious building infractions than do Jews, who face far fewer obstacles in obtaining permits. As the municipality ostensibly prioritizes more serious infractions, entire Palestinian homes and structures are more likely to be demolished than are Jewish ones.
Additionally – and contrary to the claim made in Israel’s Country Report – Palestinians in Jerusalem are more likely than Jews to experience expedited demolitions and evictions and have limited opportunities to defend against them. As opposed to the types of orders more commonly served on Jewish structures, the majority of demolition orders served on Palestinian structures are administrative. These orders may be executed beginning 24 hours after their delivery, putting the owners on extremely short notice to launch a legal challenge to the demolition. Lastly, the more serious the offense, the greater the fine that may be levied on the offender. Thus Palestinians pay a disproportionately higher proportion of total fines to the Jerusalem municipality and Ministry of Interior for building infractions.
An additional, related phenomenon in East Jerusalem is forced (or court-ordered) evictions. Over recent years forced evictions have taken place in several neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, removing more than 200 Palestinians from their homes in order to allow Jewish building, typically based on claims of Jewish land ownership prior to 1948 or on the historical, religious or archaeological importance of an area. These evictions also increase the demand for housing, the motivation to build illegally and, indirectly, the number of demolitions, thus causing further displacement of Palestinians.
According to OCHA figures, as of October 2010 more than 60 Palestinians had lost their homes in the Sheikh Jarah neighborhood alone, and an additional 500 stood to lose their homes in ongoing proceedings launched by the various settler groups active in the area. Since late 2008 the Israeli authorities have evicted more than 60 Palestinians from their homes in the Karm Al Ja’ouni neighborhood, and current plans for the area threaten to evict an additional 300 Palestinians. In March 2011 the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that according to new development plans in the Al-Bustan area of Silwan, more than 40 Palestinian homes in the neighborhood were scheduled for demolition, which, if carried out, would evict some 500 residents. These are among the more egregious cases of state and municipality-sanctioned evictions of Palestinians in East Jerusalem in order to make way for Israeli settler development, and are an additional cause of Palestinian displacement and of increasing demand for housing in decreasing spaces in East Jerusalem.
Article 5, sub-article (e)(iii) of ICERD deals with the right to housing. The cumulative effect of Israel’s policies and practices in East Jerusalem leaves many Palestinians with no option other than building illegally or leaving the area (in most cases the place of their birth). Many Palestinians choose to build illegally in order to remain in the area for the reasons described above, and thus to risk the demolition of their homes. Needless to say, this is neither an adequate housing solution nor does it fulfill the right to obtain housing free of discrimination.
The Psychological Cost of Having One’s Home Demolished
When the bulldozer finally begins its systematic work of demolition, the whole process takes between five minutes (for a small home of concrete blocks) to six hours (for a five-story apartment building). At times demolition is resisted amidst violence; people are beaten, jailed, sometimes killed – and always humiliated. At other times the family and their neighbors watch sullenly as their home is reduced to rubble. One can only imagine their feelings and thoughts.
The human suffering entailed in the process of destroying a family’s home is incalculable. A home is not only a physical structure; it is the center of our lives, the site of our most intimate personal life, an expression of our identity, tastes and social status. It is a refuge, a physical representation of the family, an extension of our very selves. It is “home.” For Palestinians, homes carry additional meanings. Upon marriage, sons construct their homes near those of their parents, thus maintaining not only a physical closeness but continuity on one’s ancestral land. This latter aspect is especially important for farmers, and even more so as Palestinians have faced massive displacement in the past half century. Land expropriation is another facet of home demolition, an attack on one’s very being and identity.
Imagine the anxiety families endure throughout the weeks, months and years of waiting for bulldozers to arrive. “My morning routine,” says Neimah Dandis, whose home in Anata was finally demolished in November 2004 after a wait of eight years, “consisted of getting out of bed, going to the window to see if the bulldozers were approaching, then going to the bathroom.” Whether the home is demolished or not, the psychological tensions often lead to stress-related health problems, domestic violence and trauma, all aggravated by poor living conditions and financial strain. Men who fear for the safety of their homes and their families often quit their day jobs to be present in case the bulldozers arrive. The Israeli authorities know all this and even incorporate it into the “planning” process. ICAHD members have been told explicitly by legal officials in the Civil Administration that fear and intimidation are effective in deterring Palestinians from building.
When the dreaded day finally arrives, it does so almost without warning. Though families know their homes are targeted, actual demolitions are carried out at random, without pattern, and can strike anywhere at any time. (Usually demolitions do not occur on Fridays or Saturdays due to the Jewish Sabbath, or on Jewish holidays. These are the only times Palestinians can truly relax – an ironic twist on the idea of the “Day of Rest.”) Randomization is part of the generalized fear that underlies the policy of “deterrence.” The wrecking crews, accompanied by tens of soldiers, police and Civil Administration officials, usually come in the early morning hours just after the men have left for work. The family is sometimes given a few minutes to remove their belongings before the bulldozers move in, but because family members and neighbors usually put up some kind of resistance – or at least protest – they are often removed forcibly from the house. Their possessions are then thrown out by the wrecking crews (often foreign guest workers). Amnesty’s report Under the Rubble (2004:4) relates the story of As’ad Mu’yin and his cousin Ziad:
On 21 August 2003, on the morning of his wedding, As’ad Mu’yin had his house demolished; the house of his cousin Ziad As’ad, who had married a week earlier, was demolished at the same time. The two adjacent houses were in the West Bank town of Nazla ’Issa. As’ad Mu’yin had been living on the ground floor of the house with his parents and three brothers and had furnished and prepared the second floor to move in with his wife. The house was demolished before he could do so. The new furniture and the wedding gifts disappeared under the rubble, along with the content of the family home on the ground floor. He told Amnesty International: “The army came early in the morning, at about 7am. I was getting ready for the wedding, for a very happy day. They had bulldozers ... they gave us 15 minutes to leave the house. We had no time to salvage anything. They said that we did not have building permits .... But everyone knows that Israel does not give building permits to Palestinians in Area C.”
In addition to the emotional suffering of seeing their most personal possessions broken, ruined and thrown out in the rain, sun and dirt, demolitions constitute a serious financial blow, especially to the poor families who make up the vast majority of demolition victims. About 70% of Palestinians living in both Jerusalem and the West Bank/Gaza live below the poverty line. Families whose monthly income is around $500 are burdened by the Israeli courts with hefty fines in the range of $15,000–20,000, to be paid in monthly installments whether the house is demolished or not.
Demolition is experienced differently by men, women and children. Men are probably the most humiliated, since demolition means you can neither protect your family nor provide for their basic shelter and needs. It also means losing a living connection to your family land, your personal patrimony and that of your people. Men often cry at demolitions (and long after), but they are also angered, swear revenge and intend to build again (although some men withdraw emasculated from active family life). Since men usually have jobs and access to the world outside the home, they also have a certain outlet for venting their frustrations.
Demolitions alter, even destroy, a woman’s entire persona and role in the family. Palestinian women generally do not have careers outside the home. Their identity and status as wives, mothers and, indeed, persons is wrapped up in their domestic life. When their homes are demolished, women often become disoriented, unable to function without that organizing domestic sphere. Some sink into a kind of mourning, although in some cases, especially if the husband has withdrawn, they take on more assertive roles in the family. Demolition represents a double tragedy for women. Not only do they lose their own domestic space, but they are forced to move into the homes of other women, their mothers- or sisters-in-law. The overcrowding and tension this generates is exacerbated by the fact that the “guest” woman has little control over the domestic sphere, and over the care of her own husband and children, further diminishing her role and status. In many cases this results in severe tensions within the families, including domestic violence spawned by the wife’s demands (even unspoken) for a home of her own, and the husband’s inability to provide it. Eventually families may move into their own rented quarters – another expense – or even rebuild their home, having no choice but to risk another demolition. Whatever the case, for many women a demolished home, like a lost loved one, can never be replaced, and the wound never heals.
For children, the act of demolition and the months and years leading up to it are traumatic. Their lives are marked forever by witnessing the fear and powerlessness of their parents, feeling constantly afraid and insecure, seeing loved ones (relatives and neighbors) being beaten and losing their homes, experiencing the harassment of Civil Administration field supervisors speeding around in white Toyota jeeps – and then enduring the noise, violence and destruction of their home, their toys, their world–. Psychological services are largely absent in the Palestinian community, and children exhibit many signs of trauma and stress : bed-wetting, nightmares, fear of leaving home lest one “abandon” parents and siblings to the army, dramatic falls in grades, more school-leaving, as well the effects of exposure to domestic violence that sometimes follows impoverishment, displacement and humiliation. In the words of Salim Shawamreh, a resident of the village of Anata whose home has been demolished six times: “The demolition of a home is the demolition of a family.” According to the research of Eyad Serraj, a Palestinian psychologist who heads the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, young people from demolished homes are more likely than others to become suicide bombers.
Israel’s practices in the OPT violate the right to adequate housing enshrined in several bodies of international human rights law. Specifically, the human right to adequate housing is contained, inter alia, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (Art. 25(1)); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1966 (Art. 11); the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 (Art. 17); the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1969 (Art. 5(e)(iii)); the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1990 (Arts. 16, 27); and General Comments 4 (1991) and 7 (1997) of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The right to adequate housing is an essential component of the right to a decent standard of living. When guaranteed, it provides a foundation for the realization of other rights, including the rights to family, work, education and, ultimately, national self-determination. Israel is party to, and bound by, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which explicitly guarantees the right to adequate housing (Article 11.1): “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions.” The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights interpreted the content of human rights provisions in the Covenant (General Comment 4 – The right to adequate housing), so that the “right to housing should not be interpreted in a narrow or restrictive sense which equates it with, for example, the shelter provided by merely having a roof over one’s head or views shelter exclusively as a commodity. Rather it should be seen as the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.” These parameters include include the security of tenure, availability of services, and cultural adequacy. The Committee has also determined in its General Comment 7 (The right to adequate housing – forced evictions) that forced evictions are prima facie incompatible with the requirements of the Covenant, and that appropriate procedural protection and due process, and adequate alternative housing, resettlement or access to productive land must be guaranteed by a state party to the Covenant – as is Israel. Israel’s claim that the Covenant does not apply in the OPT has been dismissed by all the UN human rights treaty bodies that oversee treaty compliance.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is a body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the Covenant. In its 2011 concluding observations (which constitute the decision of the Committee regarding the status of the Covenant vis-à-vis a given state party) it called on Israel to stop forthwith house demolitions, forced evictions, and residency revocation in the OPT and East Jerusalem. After considering both the state report by Israel on compliance with the Covenant and the parallel ICAHD report, the Committee recommended that Israel review and reform its policies to align with recommendations made by ICAHD and partner human rights and peace organizations.
The Committee is deeply concerned about home demolitions and forced evictions in the West Bank, in particular Area C, as well as in East Jerusalem, by Israeli authorities, military personnel and settlers. The Committee urges the State party to stop forthwith home demolitions. The Committee also recommends that the State party review and reform its housing policy and the issuance of construction permits, in order to prevent demolitions and forced evictions and ensure the legality of construction in those areas (United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 2011)
In its 2007 concluding observations (CERD/C/ISR/CO/13), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended that Israel ensure that Palestinians enjoy full rights under the Convention without discrimination based on citizenship and national origin. The Committee noted with concern the application in the OPT of different laws, policies and practices applied to Palestinians on the one hand, and to Israeli-Jews on the other hand. It was concerned, in particular, by information about unequal distribution of water resources to the detriment of Palestinians, and about the targeting of Palestinians in house demolitions. The Committee called for a halt to the demolition of Palestinian properties and for respect for property rights, irrespective of the ethnic or national origin of the owner.
As the Occupying Power, Israel is obligated to safeguard the homes of the “protected” persons (Palestinians) under international humanitarian law (namely the Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention). Israel is a signatory, and hence bound by, the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Article 53 prohibits destruction of property that is not justified by military necessity. The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits both the transfer of an occupying power’s civilian population into the territory it is occupying and the transfer of an occupied civilian population out of its territory. Article 49 stipulates: “Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” Israel’s claim that the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to the OPT has been rejected by the international community, including the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice. Further, the Hague Convention of 1907 calls on State parties to respect, protect, and fulfill family honor and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practices.
According to the Israeli–Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995, powers and responsibilities related to zoning and planning in Area C should have been transferred to Palestinian control within 18 months. However, this has not happened in the 18 years since its signing, and Israel continues to displace the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, in contravention of international law and bilateral agreements.
- ICAHD calls on the state of Israel to dismantle its system of institutionalized discrimination over the Palestinian people, to repeal all discriminatory laws, and to cease forthwith acts of persecution against Palestinians in the OPT and in Israel.
- ICAHD calls on the UN Human Rights Council in its concluding observations to insist forcefully on the application of international humanitarian law in the OPT, to act vigorously to protect the Palestinian people and their fundamental human rights and, particularly, to call for an end to the demolition of Palestinian homes, property, schools, businesses and infrastructure.
- ICAHD calls for the transfer of powers and responsibilities related to planning and zoning in the West Bank, including Area C, to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with international law and bilateral agreements, and to allow for a planning system that includes community participation at all levels of the process.
- ICAHD calls for all refugees and internally displaced persons who have been forcibly displaced to be allowed to repatriate, return to their homes in safety and dignity, and be compensated for any harm they have suffered, including the destruction of land, homes and property.
- ICAHD calls all states, intergovernmental organizations and civil society to cooperate in bringing an end to the illegal situation arising from Israel’s practices of apartheid and persecution. In light of the obligation not to render aid or assistance to the occupier, all states and intergovernmental organizations must consider appropriate measures that will exert sufficient pressure on Israel, including the imposition of sanctions. Conflict management and a preoccupation with humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians must give way to effective conflict resolution.
- ICAHD calls on the Council to adopt the above-mentioned recommendations and to register them in the Council’s concluding observations.
- ICAHD calls on the Council to reiterate its position and that of other UN and international agencies that the demolition of Palestinian homes, the expropriation of Palestinian land and the resulting forced displacement , in particular in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, are not only illegal under international law but are also an obstacle to the enjoyment of human rights by the whole Palestinian population.
- ICAHD calls for an end to the Occupation of the Palestinian Territory and a prompt realization of Palestinians’ right to national self-determination.