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Ongoing home demolitions in the West Bank don’t stop for pandemic

Home demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem have increased over the past several years. That increase did not stop in 2020, despite the COVID-19 global pandemic, and increased home demolitions have not stopped since. Most recently, the Bedouin community of Khirbet Humsah, a village in the northern Jordan Valley was demolished on February 1, 3, and 9 and its 60 residents displaced, twice. 

For Khirbet Humsah, these most recent incidents were not the first, nor second time this community experienced massive home demolition since the onset of the pandemic. On November 3, 2020, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozed over 70 structures that included homes and schools, leaving 41 minors and 32 adults homeless. The largest single-day home demolition in 10 years, the demolition included 18 tents used by people for housing and other needs, 29 tents and sheds used for livestock, in addition to toilets, solar panels, and feeding/ watering troughs for livestock, according to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The United Nations and European Union condemned the destruction. Many wonder if it was coincidentally planned for the day after the United States elections, a day long-expected to keep journalists otherwise occupied. In any case the demolition came after months of Israeli forces harassing villagers.

IDF make some Palestinian homes and villages difficult to live in by restricting water access.

Sadly, these are not the first homes to be destroyed in Area C (much of the rural area of the West Bank, whose security and civil control and infrastructure is governed by Israel, per the Oslo Accords) of the occupied Palestinian territories. In 2020, the IDF destroyed 173 housing units, leaving 1,006 people homeless in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the highest rate since 2016. Only six of those homes were destroyed punitively, in response to terrorist attacks at least allegedly performed by one of the home’s occupants (B’Tselem also condemns these demolitions as a form of collective punishment, since those committing acts of terror often stop living in the home before it is destroyed. It is also not clear whether courts consistently condemn the alleged terrorist in advance of demolition).

Aside from a brief pause in March, home demolitions have gone uninterrupted during the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

In addition to demolishing homes, perhaps as a mechanism of forced displacement, IDF make some Palestinian homes and villages difficult to live in by restricting water access. On October 28, 2020, for example, the IDF cut off water access for Magyayir al-’Abid and Khirbet al-Majaz, two West Bank villages south of Hebron. This destruction has significant consequences for these villages due to the State of Israel’s exclusive control of water in the West Bank. All of the village’s drinkable water comes from Israel, who severely limit Palestinian construction of water infrastructure. The State of Israel has clearly attempted to turn Khirbet al- Majaz into a military training site, pending legal approval expected in the coming months.

Khirbet Humsah was destroyed on the grounds that it is in Firing Zone 903

The government of Israel justifies these destructions on three bases: permit violations, self-defense, and Israeli claim to land ownership. Khirbet Humsah was destroyed on the grounds that it is in Firing Zone 903 and therefore obstructing Israeli military practices. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) also announced that the village was constructed without permits, and that residents would be safer elsewhere, removed from Israeli military practices. (Khirbet Humsah’s land was declared a firing zone already in 1972). 

It is important to note that between 2016 and 2018, the State of Israel approved just 1.4 percent of Palestinian building requests in Area C. Notably, Israel frequently grants permits to settlers, Israeli citizens living in small communities in the occupied West Bank, under Israeli law and military protection (widely denounced as illegal according to international law specified in the Fourth Geneva Convention). 

Residents are allowed to demolish their own home so as to avoid paying a demolition fee.

COGAT claims to have secured residents of Khirbet Humsah’s agreement to leave the area in advance of the demolition, but residents claim otherwise. Occupants are sometimes given a warning generally between 10 minutes and 24 hours before the bulldozing of their home. In other cases, residents are allowed to demolish their own home so as to avoid paying a demolition fee.

The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) condemned these and other demolitions in the West Bank. Palestinian Authority Prime Minsister Mohammed Shtayyeh has called for internaional sanctions against Israel in response to ongoing home demolitions, calling specifically on the EU and the US. Progressive advocacy group J Street also requested US President Biden to investigate “whether any US-sourced defense articles were used in this operation in violation of the Arms Export Control Act.” Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) also raises concerns about “all forms of violence regardless of actor” and is committed to “encourage negotiated, just, and peaceful resolutions to conflicts in the region and the demilitarization of the conflict.” They have also requested the State Department ensure that “U.S.-supplied military equipment in the West Bank is not being used” for home demolitions.

Churches for Middle East Peace are also advocating for the release of humanitarian funding to the West Bank and to Gaza and to UNRWA. You can take action to call on President Biden to release the funding immediately.

Photo provided by Churches for Middle East Peace.  

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