Almost 1,000 Palestinians lost their homes due to illegal Israeli house demolitions in 2020, according to the United Nations.
Israel demolished 849 buildings belonging to Palestinians last year resulting in 996 people losing their homes – 489 among them children.
In the worst year for home demolitions since 2016, 664 demolitions took place in Area C of the West Bank which is fully controlled by the Israeli authorities and makes up around 61 per cent of the territory.
Another 175 homes were destroyed in occupied East Jerusalem with the remaining eight buildings scattered around Area A and B of the West Bank.
The largest single incident took place on November 3 in Humsa Al Bqai’a resulting in the destruction of 83 structures (around three-quarter of the community), displacing 32 adults and 41 children.
Destruction of private property is clearly prohibited under international humanitarian law, notably the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The Israeli authorities claim that the demolitions were carried out on buildings erected without a construction permit. However, acquiring such permits is nearly impossible for Palestinians. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has said that between 2016 and 2018, 98 per cent of requests for such permits in the Israeli occupied West Bank – 1464 in total – were rejected.
Upon notice from the Israeli authorities, Palestinians either have to choose to destroy their own homes or are forced to pay for the demolition – a choice many Palestinian families find impossible.
According to Dr Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations, these “illegal policies” continue due to “the absence of accountability.”
In a statement Dr Mansour said: “In fact, although Israel allegedly suspended its de jure annexation scheme, its de facto annexation project continues unabated in grave breach of the law. Measures to acquire more Palestinian territory by force, home demolitions, forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, and other blatant violations of human rights and international law are being taken daily in plain sight. Undeterred, Israel is also seizing more Palestinian land for settler-only highways, tunnels, and overpasses to connect illegal settlements, while further fragmenting Palestinian cities, towns, and villages.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) started documenting Israeli home demolitions in 2009. Since then, 7,280 buildings have been destroyed, resulting in the displacement of 10,976 Palestinians including 5,754 children.
“Together with other policies and practices, the threat of destruction of homes and sources of livelihood contributes to the generation of a coercive environment pressuring people to leave their areas of residence”, says the OCHA on its website.