Razed to the ground: Israel steps up demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C
From January to June 2016, Israeli authorities demolished 168 dwellings in Palestinian communities in the West Bank. As a result, 740 people – including 384 minors – were made homeless. According to B’Tselem’s figures, this six-month period alone saw more demolitions than any individual year over the past decade (with the exception of 2013, when authorities demolished 175 homes).
The policy adopted by the Israeli authorities vis-à-vis these communities keeps residents from maintaining any semblance of a normal routine, imposes a life of constant uncertainty on local residents, and constitutes harassment per se. Even those individuals whose homes were not demolished live with the constant fear that their homes might soon be demolished and that they will be forced to leave the area they call home. This government policy, systematically implemented for years, constitutes the forcible transfer of Palestinians who are a protected population in an occupied territory, and as such breaches international humanitarian law.
Home demolition plays a key role in Israeli policy implemented in the West Bank. Demolitions are carried out only in what has been designated as Area C, which comprises about 60 percent of the West Bank, and which Israel views as primarily meant to serve its own needs, and in East Jerusalem. Accordingly, Israel acts to establish facts on the ground so as to create a reality that would be difficult to change. The state takes action to displace and expel Palestinians citing flimsy legal pretexts. For example, one reason given for home demolition is “illegal construction” – an untenable argument given the absence of any real possibility for Palestinians to build legally.
The separation of Area C from the remainder of West Bank land helps Israel shirk its obligations to the entire Palestinian population of the West Bank. Israel instead lays the responsibility at the door of the Palestinian Authority that was supposedly given certain powers in Areas A and B. Yet this division is entirely artificial. It does not reflect a geographic reality or Palestinian life as a whole. The policy Israel implements in Area C impacts all West Bank residents as their future depends exclusively on Israel.
The majority of the West Bank’s land reserves and natural resources lie in Area C so that making use of them – for expanding Palestinian communities or building factories, for agriculture, for laying water pipes or paving roads – is subject to Israeli approval, and such authorization is rarely granted. Israel also retains exclusive control of the movement of people and goods in the West Bank as well as of the border crossings with Israel and Jordan. It also carries on arresting and trying thousands of Palestinians a year in its military courts, the majority of whom do not live in Area C.
Carrying out demolitions and devastating communities do not constitute implementation of “the rule of law”. Rather, these actions are a longstanding, systematic dispossession to which all Israeli authorities are party.
Rizqiyeh ‘Abd a-Rahman Bani Fadel, 62, lives in Khirbet a-Twayel in the Jordan Valley. She gave spoke to B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i testimony on 8 May 2016, and told her of the conditions in which she lives with her husband, their son, and his family:
We have 13 children who are all grown up and married. Only one of them, Safi, who is 24, lives with us. When he got married three years ago, we converted part of a shack we were using as a pen into a room for him, and he lives there with his wife and his three-year-old son. We did this because we aren’t allowed to build. If we build, the authorities immediately issue a demolition order on the pretext of building without a permit, even though this is our land. My husband inherited it from his father, who inherited it from his father before him. Israel doesn’t give anyone permits. In 2011 we built a room of light concrete blocks and a corrugated metal roof, and applied for a permit. I was really happy with that room, which had two windows and was much better than the light shelters we live in. But a few months later they demolished the room.
After the demolition we moved back into a small tent. I felt suffocated. The tent was low – you couldn’t even stand up in it for prays. In winter, water seeped in and you couldn’t sleep there or be in the tent at all, day or night. We had to put up a lightweight shed that I made myself, sewing together empty rice and sugar sacks with plastic sheeting that we bought. The shed improved matters, but we are still afraid that they will demolish it too. At night we listen all the time for the sound of military vehicles that could come at any moment – not only to demolish our home, but the homes of everyone who lives in this area. That makes it hard to sleep. In 2014 they demolished our power grid, and we haven’t restored it since, because we’re afraid that soldiers will just come and tear it down again. We make due with having lighting inside the tents and sheds. We used to go visiting one another in the evening after we’d finished all our chores and finished the milking in the afternoon. But since they demolished the electric poles we’re confined to our homes, because we’re afraid to go out in the dark.
From the time the sun rises, and through to the afternoon, we wait anxiously to see if they’re going to come. Every day that goes by without them coming, I breathe a sigh of relief. Even though every passing day brings me closer to the end of my life, I’m very pleased that the day went by without them demolishing my home – this little shed that means we have a roof over our heads.
Jasser a-Najadah, 45, lives in Khirbet a-Duqaiqah in the South Hebron Hills. He spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Manal al-Ja’abari on 15 May 2016, and told her about his family’s living conditions and their fears for the future:
I live with my wife and our 15 children in a house made from concrete with a corrugated metal roof. My youngest is a four-month-old baby boy and my eldest is 19, a daughter. We don’t have any other home and the children don’t know any other place. I built this shack in 2014 after our canvas tent was ruined by that winter’s snow and rain. I wanted to build a concrete house to shield our little children from the winter cold and the summer heat. About a year ago, two Israeli military jeeps and a jeep from the Planning Department of the Civil Administration came by. They handed me a document and told me that they’re planning to demolish the house. I don’t know why they prevent us from building on the land we inherited from our parents. I’m very scared that they’ll demolish the house, and I’m worried about our young children.
Nadyah al-Hanani, 42, a married mother of five, lives in Khirbet Tana in the Jordan Valley. She spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i on 10 April 2016 and described the impact the demolition of the local school has had on her family’s life:
We have a married daughter and four sons – the youngest is eight and the oldest is 16. We live in the cave where I was born and which had been home to my parents. Early on the morning on 7 April 2016, while I was milking the sheep, I heard soldiers reach our community. I was terrified, because this means demolition and devastation. The Israeli military has been demolishing buildings in Khirbet Tana for years. One of the bulldozers started demolition work and moved closer to our area. It demolished our livestock pens and the entrance to our cave. I felt that my heart would burst. It’s the fourth time this year that they’ve demolished our pens and the entrance to the cave.
I feel sorry for my children who work day and night to clear the debris and rebuild. We have to build pens quickly so that we don’t lose our sheep; if they’re left without shelter they may get lost or else fall prey to wolves and foxes. So instead of playing and doing their homework, my children now spend their time building and sorting things out. But the hardest thing for me is that my youngest son Yusef, who is eight and in second grade, has to move to Beit Furik to go to school. The military demolished the only school we had. It had taught children up to the fourth grade. Now Yusef lives with his married sister in Beit Furik. He spends the week there, and comes home to us on Thursday afternoons. On Saturdays, at the end of the day, he returns to Beit Furik with his older brothers, who also had to move in with relatives in Beit Furik once they reached the fifth grade. I cry when my sons go off to school, especially the little one, who filled my life and brought me joy. He was taken from me. Now he’s far away because of the military.
Samaher Bani Fadel, 39, a married mother of four, lives in Khirbet a-Twayel in the Jordan Valley. On 8 May 2016 she spoke with B’Tselem field researcher Salma a-Deb’i and told of her family’s difficult struggle to make a living and their fear of the demolitions:
We’ve been living in a cave since the military demolished our home in 2014. The house was made from light concrete blocks and had a corrugated metal roof. We used to use the cave as a sheep pen, but we had to move in ourselves because of the rain. My husband and I sleep in the cave. Our three sons are grown men so they cannot sleep together with their parents. Instead, they sleep in the tractor’s tarp-covered wagon. Our daughter is married and doesn’t live with us. We’re in a really bad state – we don’t have anything apart from a shack that we use as a sheep pen, and we’ve been served a demolition order for that, too. We have 120 sheep, and that’s our only source of income. We’re very worried that they’ll demolish the pen. We used to have over 200 animals, but we had to cut down our flock because the military restricts our grazing areas and we can’t afford to buy feed year round.
Where can we go? We don’t have anywhere else. The nearest village, ‘Aqraba, is overcrowded and there is no pasture land for the flocks and nowhere to build pens for them. Our difficult living conditions combined with concerns about the future are killing us a little bit each day. Whenever I hear on the news that demolitions are underway in some area I am seized by anxiety and feel that our turn is getting nearer. Every day I look around me nervously to check that there aren’t any soldiers. Once I dreamt that soldiers were demolishing the cave and the shack. I wept and cried out in my sleep.
Why do they deny us the right to live in dignity? Why shouldn’t we have a home with a roof, doors, and windows like other people? Why shouldn’t we have proper toilets? We’re afraid to go to the toilet at night for fear of reptiles and hyenas. We bathe in laundry tubs inside the cave. Is there anyone else in this century that still has to bathe this way?