2019 saw spike in Palestinian home demolitions by Israel, rights group finds
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2019 saw spike in Palestinian home demolitions by Israel, rights group finds

B’Tselem report shows number of razed buildings in East Jerusalem rose to a record high 265 last year

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Israeli police stand near an excavator as it demolishes a Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher on April 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israeli police stand near an excavator as it demolishes a Palestinian home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher on April 7, 2009. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The 2019 calendar year saw a spike in demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures and homes by Israeli security forces, according to figures released Tuesday by an Israeli rights group.

During that time, Israel demolished 265 structures in East Jerusalem — an unprecedented number since B’Tselem began keeping record in 2004. The figure includes 169 homes to 328 Palestinians. The average number of homes demolished in East Jerusalem until 2019 had been 54.

Israeli authorities argue that the razed structures were constructed illegally without the necessary permits and that cease work orders are often issued while the structures are still being built, which owners routinely ignore.

Responding to the claim, B’Tselem asserted that “Palestinians in East Jerusalem are effectively left with no choice but to build without permits as a direct result of Israeli policy which makes it practically impossible for them to obtain building permits.”

The same argument is used by Palestinians living in what is known as Area C, covering more than 60 percent of the West Bank, where Israel maintains full civilian and security control under the Oslo Accords and where over 240,000 Palestinians live alongside some 450,000 Israeli settlers. However, contrary to East Jerusalem, Israel hasn’t annexed the area beyond the Green Line.

Israeli security forces demolish a building near Beit Jala in the West Bank, August 26, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Palestinians are rarely granted building permits in Area C and recent years have seen the total number of approvals remain in the single digits, compared to the thousands green-lighted for Israeli settlers. In apparent recognition of the discrepancy, the cabinet last August approved a package of building approvals in Area C that included 700 permits for Palestinians and 3,000 permits for Israelis.

Against the backdrop of the disparity, the number of illegally built structures by Palestinians in Area C doubled in the past decade to over 60,000, according to figures from Regavim, a group that monitors illegal Palestinian construction.

Israel demolished 256 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, according to B’Tselem, including 106 homes and 150 non-residential structures. The number of homes demolished marked a spike compared to 2018 and 2017 when 81 and 103 were razed, respectively. However, the figure was lower than the average of the past decade, 152.

Separately, B’Tselem reported that Israel demolished the homes of 14 Palestinians in the West Bank who had carried out attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. This marked a slight increase from an average of 12 homes of attackers demolished in the past six years.

Most Israeli defense officials maintain the demolition of terrorists’ homes acts as a deterrent against future attacks. However, others believe that they hare merely a political tool used to placate parts of the public calling for more aggressive policies in response to terror attacks.

B’Tselem called the demolitions “immoral and constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law.”

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