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Israel's home demolition policy: What you need to know | The reasons why Israel demolishes Palestinian-owned homes

Israel's swift expansion of unauthorized Jewish settlements and the concurrent demolition of Palestinian homes have sparked intense controversy. The driving factors behind these actions, the legal grounds for demolitions, and their compatibility with international law have become subjects of profound scrutiny.

Agencies and A News WORLD
Published August 08,2023

Israel's rapid expansion of illegal Jewish settlements while demolishing Palestinian homes has ignited a contentious debate. The motivation behind these actions, the basis for such demolitions, and their alignment with international law have raised significant concerns.

Recent reports highlight the frequent demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces, a central issue within the Israel-Palestine conflict that often remains obscured from the public eye.

Israeli authorities destroy Palestinian homes for two primary reasons: to establish new settlements or to expand existing illegal settlements.

However, these are not the sole drivers of demolitions in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel has historically demolished houses as a form of punishment for families associated with individuals believed to be involved in criminal activities.

The Israeli government regards this practice as permissible under its domestic law. The Emergency Defense Ordinance of 1945, still active under Section 119, grants local military authorities the authority, with a court order, to demolish homes if terrorism and violence escalate and become challenging to curb.

Initially, court decisions regarding demolitions were not open to appeal. However, since 1989, a clause allowing families to appeal demolition decisions was added. Despite numerous appeals, the Israeli Supreme Court has often supported the administration's stance and upheld demolition rulings.

The international legal perspective can be analyzed through two main frameworks. First, the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes housing as a fundamental human right. Second, the 1949 Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilians in Time of War applies to these regions due to their occupation by Israel.

According to Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has a right to property, and this right is inalienable. Under this fundamental declaration, which informs subsequent secondary texts, Israel's imposition of house demolition as a punitive measure is deemed both unlawful and disproportionate. Basic human rights to housing and residence are disregarded, and individuals, innocent of any wrongdoing, suffer due to their family connections to perpetrators.

Article 33 of the Geneva Convention prohibits retaliatory measures against offenders and their property, including collective punishment for committed offenses.

While there is no international law explicitly permitting house demolitions as administrative sanctions in addition to judicial penalties, as defined by Israel's domestic law, Israel often disregards international law and decisions from international bodies.

Following its occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, Israel embarked on a policy of Judaization targeting the historic city and its environs.

This strategy centered on two core elements: the government's establishment of settlements both east and west of Jerusalem and the enactment of legislation facilitating the city's Judaization.

To date, Israel has built 18 illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, housing over 220,000 Jewish settlers. Extremist Jewish organizations have also actively contributed to Judaizing East Jerusalem since its occupation, often with accusations that the government aids these efforts.

Some of the organizations involved in forcing Palestinians out of their homes by purchasing them well above market value, claiming Jewish ownership, include Elad, Ateret Cohanim, Temple Institute, Hay Fekiam, Temple Establishment Movement, and Jewish Leadership.

The concentration of Jewish organizations within the Silvan region and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem marks a key focus of Judaization policies. Jewish organizations typically claim that Palestinian homes belong to Jews and escalate these claims in court. Often, these cases rule in favor of Jewish organizations, enabling the invasion of Palestinian homes.

In the Silvan region, south of Masjid al-Aqsa, a different Judaization approach involves purchasing homes from unwilling Palestinian owners through brokers, transferring ownership to Jewish settlers.

This method, combined with aggressive offers above market value, has led to the invasion of around 100 Palestinian homes in the past decade, resulting in over 5,000 Jewish settlers living in Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.

Israel's strategy aims to reduce the Palestinian population in Jerusalem to 12% by 2020, employing confiscation of Palestinian homes under the "Law of Absence" or demolition on the grounds of lack of proper permitting.

Between 2001 and 2014, Israel destroyed 1,134 homes for lack of proper permits, equating to 6.25 Palestinian homes demolished each month and 2 Palestinians displaced every 10 days in the early 21st century.

Additionally, Israel imposes high tax rates on Palestinians in Jerusalem, making it difficult for them to reside in the historical city. Palestinians either turn to high-interest loans or build homes without permits to cope with these exorbitant taxes.

The Absence Law, passed in 1950 by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, targets Palestinians who immigrated into or out of Palestine post the 1948 War. The law seizes land or real estate from owners who have emigrated to Israel. Under this law, Israel has confiscated roughly 300 villages and 20,000 buildings.