During the second intifada, Israel employed a policy of demolishing houses, uprooting orchards and destroying farmland in the Gaza Strip. This policy was mostly applied before Israel implemented the disengagement plan in 2005, in areas surrounding the settlements and around army posts, mostly along the Egyptian border.
This policy was part of Israel's defense strategy in the Gaza Strip. The chief of staff had good reason to say that, “The D-9 [bulldozer] is a strategic weapon here.” Israel sought to create “security strips” around places where Israeli civilians or armed forces were located, in order to prevent terrorist attacks.
The houses were usually demolished at night, without giving the residents any warning. In certain areas, where there were exchanges of gunfire between Palestinians and Israeli forces, some residents left their homes and moved to safer dwellings. However, in most cases, some members of the family stayed at home to protect their property. Dozens of testimonies given to B'Tselem indicate that these residents were forced to flee after waking to the sound of tanks and bulldozers at their door. The possessions in the house were buried under the ruins.
Israel called this policy "clearing," a name that concealed the destructive and long-term consequences for residents of the Gaza Strip. Thousands of people were made homeless and thousands lost their sole source of income for many years. Israel caused this damage to people although it did not contend that they themselves had been involved in attacks, or attempted attacks, against Israeli civilians or security forces.
In January 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, Israel again carried out wide-scale house demolitions. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3,500 residential dwellings during the operation, leaving some 20,000 persons homeless. The house demolitions included the entire residential neighborhood of ‘Izbat ‘Abd Rabo, south of Jabalya. Most of the demolitions took place after the army had gained control of the area.
Destroying many hundreds of acres of agricultural land based on the claim that Palestinians had fired from them, and demolishing entire residential neighborhoods on the charge that tunnels had been dug under some of them, constitute excessive injury to the civilian population that cannot be considered legal. This is a policy of collective punishment directed at people whom Israel does not even claim were involved in attacks on Israeli civilians or security forces. Despite these violations of international humanitarian law, Israel has refused to compensate Palestinians whose property was damaged in these actions.
Israel must protect Israeli civilians and soldiers, but not by causing such extensive harm to the Palestinian population.