Worrying increase in home demolitions

21 March 2011

21 March 2011

The latest numbers from the United Nations show a two-fold increase in the number of Palestinian homes and agricultural buildings destroyed by Israel this year, causing concern among officials.

The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) recorded 70 demolitions since the start of 2011, displacing 105 Palestinians, of whom 43 were under the age of 18. The demolitions were carried out across the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and ordered by Israeli police, municipal officials and by mandate of the Civil Administration.

Commenting on the jump, UNRWA spokesman in Jerusalem Chris Gunness told Ma‘an that officials were concerned, comparing the number to the average of 24 demolitions per month since 2000, when the Agency began monitoring.

"The High Commissioner for Human Rights described this as discriminatory," he said, referring to comments of Navi Pillay who visited the region last month. She said: "All settlement-related activities, and any legal or administrative decision or practice that directly or indirectly coerce Palestinians to leave East Jerusalem, including evictions, demolitions, forced displacements and cancellation of residence permits on a discriminatory basis, should be halted and restrictions on access to East Jerusalem by other West Bank inhabitants should be lifted," in a statement on her final day in the region.

"Pillay clearly related these demolitions to the peace process, to human rights," Gunness continued, calling the process of demolitions a "triple humiliation, with families forced to build illegally, faced with the demolition of their homes, a process that all too often occurs in front of the faces of their children."

In East Jerusalem, Israel has zoned 13 per cent of the city for Palestinian building, "most of which is already incredibly built up," Gunness noted. "They are forced to build without a permit."

In the West Bank, Palestinians are prohibited from building in zones declared by Israel to be military training zones, firing areas, state land, near settlements, or areas otherwise declared to be "Area C", which falls under Israeli Civil Administration. According to UN numbers, more than 60 per cent of the West Bank falls under one or more of these designates.

‘Slow demolition of the peace process‘

In the context of peace talks stalled since September 2010, the recent announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of another 500 settlement homes in the West Bank in reported retaliation for the slaying of a settler family by unknown assailants, and the consequent spike in settler violence against Palestinians, Gunness said of the parallel increase in home demolitions:

"We are seeing the bulldozing of people‘s hopes in a peaceful future and the slow demolition of the peace process itself."

Bedouin village receives demolition orders

The most recent demolition orders to hit Palestinians were delivered to the Auda family, an extended network of Bedouins living in the Arab Ar-Rashayida village.

Family members told Ma‘an on Friday that at least a dozen tents and animal shelters were included in an order delivered by representatives of Israel‘s Civil Administration.

Ali Auda, the head of the family, said the orders "say we are violating the borders of Israel under the Oslo Accords ... we are more than 450 metres away from where they put the signs."

He said if their homes were taken down, the family – 50 members in all – would have nowhere else to go.

"It is the farce of the 21st century, imagine, an occupying state telling Palestinians they are violating their own land."

Auda said he believed that his family was served eviction notices because "Israel wants to rid the area of its residents."

A spokesman for Israel‘s Civil Administration said he was unaware of any recent orders being delivered to the area.

Story courtesy of Ma’an News Agency

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