Sharp increase in demolitions threatens to destroy West Bank communities

02 August 2011

UNRWA calls for accountability and an end to discriminatory practices

2 August 2011
Jerusalem

Statement by UNRWA spokesperson, Chris Gunness

A boy from the Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar stands in the yard of his demolition-threatened school.
Demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank have escalated alarmingly. Figures released today by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) show that 700 people were displaced in the first six months of 2011 (excluding July), compared with 594 in the whole of 2010.

UNRWA is concerned that 15 per cent of those displaced are Palestine refugees. The vast majority of demolitions have been carried out in Area C, the 60 per cent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control for security, planning and building.

June and July saw a sharp increase in the number of demolitions of Palestinian homes and infrastructure, according to the latest UNRWA figures. In June alone 132 structures were demolished. This is more than the total for the previous three months. In June and July, 605 Palestinians were displaced or affected by demolitions, more than half of whom are children.

Under a planning system condemned as discriminatory by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Israeli authorities have allocated only 1 per cent of Area C for Palestinian development. This means that it is virtually impossible for a Palestinian to obtain a permit for construction, while Israeli settlements receive preferential treatment in the allocation of water and land, and approval of development plans.

Most demolitions have targeted already vulnerable Bedouin and herding communities. In many cases, demolition orders have been issued to virtually the whole community, leaving these communities facing a real danger of complete destruction. UNRWA is particularly concerned about the situation of about 20 Bedouin communities living in the Maale Adumim settlement area in the periphery of Jerusalem. The vast majority are refugees and they recently faced a new wave of demolition orders, stop-building orders, property confiscations, settler harassment and multiple warnings of imminent eviction by the Israeli Civil Administration. They are now left with the risk of losing homes and means of livelihood once again.

A young Bedouin looks on as her family packs up all their belongings and moves from their home of 35 years following settler attacks.
The UN estimates that there are more than 3,000 demolition orders outstanding in Area C, including 18 issued to schools. None of these are UN schools. In addition to demolitions, Israeli restrictions on movement, confiscation of land and resources, revocation of residency rights, harassment from the Israeli military, settler attacks, and lack of protection against settler attacks lead to displacement in the West Bank.

Most recently, in July 2011, 19 Bedouin families – 127 people – decided to move from their Area C homes under fear of further settler attacks. This followed the detention of three community members for stone-throwing against settlers who forced their way into the Bedouins’ homes. The community has made clear to UNRWA that it is the lack of protection by the Israeli authorities against settler attacks which forced them to leave their homes.

The escalation in demolitions and recent settler activity in areas targeted for settlement expansion is a cause of great concern. This practice, combined with other Israeli policies in Area C, has exacted a terrible price from the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank, driving already poor families deeper into poverty. There is growing evidence that it is destroying the very fabric of these communities and ultimately contributing to a demographic shift which is changing the ethnic make-up of the West Bank.

Along with other UN agencies, UNRWA calls on the Government of Israel, among other measures, to end the displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in the oPt, including immediately ceasing demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures, until Palestinians have access to a fair and non-discriminatory zoning and planning regime. We call for transparency, accountability and an end to policies and practices that violate Israel’s obligations under international law.

For the latest demolition figures, see our demolition watch section.

Ends

For more information, please contact:

Christopher Gunness
UNRWA Spokesperson
Mobile: +972 (0)54 240 2659
Office: +972 (0)2 589 0267
c.gunness@unrwa.org

Background Information

UNRWA is a United Nations agency established by the General Assembly in 1949 and is mandated to provide assistance and protection to a population of some 5 million registered Palestine refugees. Its mission is to help Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank and the Gaza Strip to achieve their full potential in human development, pending a just solution to their plight. UNRWA’s services encompass education, health care, relief and social services, camp infrastructure and improvement, and microfinance.

Financial support to UNRWA has not kept pace with an increased demand for services caused by growing numbers of registered refugees, expanding need, and deepening poverty. As a result, the Agency's General Fund (GF), supporting UNRWA’s core activities and 97 per cent reliant on voluntary contributions, has begun each year with a large projected deficit. Currently the deficit stands at US$ 68 million.

For more information, please contact:

Gaza Emergency Donate Message 3
US$ 149 PROVIDES A FAMILY WITH MATTRESSES, BLANKETS & A SLEEPING MAT