Since 1967 and the beginning of the Occupation, the Israeli government has demolished over 28,000 houses belonging to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. These demolitions are part of a web of policies designed to force Palestinians off their own land to make room for expanding Israeli settlements, construct a 26-foot high “separation barrier” that cuts deep into Palestinian territory, create a network of Israeli-only bypass roads, and generally “thin” Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants. Ninety-five percent of these houses belong to innocent people and families and have nothing to do with terrorism or security; they are not charged with crimes nor detained as security risks. In 2005, the Israeli military admitted that their policy of punitive house demolitions was harmful to Israel’s interests and abandoned that practice.
Q: Why does Israel demolish homes in the Occupied Territories?
A: The motivation for most demolitions is to insure Israel’s permanent control of the Occupied Territories. Home demolitions are part of a systematic policy designed to force Palestinians to abandon the land they own to make way for Israeli settlements, to construct the “Separation Barrier” or Israeli-only bypass roads, and generally to “thin” Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants.
A report issued in 2004 by B’Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, highlights three types of house demolitions:
Administrative demolitions of homes built without a permit. These demolitions take place in East Jerusalem and in Area “C” – the 60% of the West Bank over which Israel retains complete authority. According to figures from the Israeli Civil Administration, Israel demolished 768 structures in the West Bank between 2001 and 2003 because they were built without a permit, which the Israeli government hardly ever grants to Palestinians wishing to build, even when they own the land. This practice of not granting permits allows Israel to confine the Palestinian people to small, crowded, impoverished and disconnected enclaves, leaving the rest of the land free for Israeli settlement.
What the Israeli government calls “clearing operations” to address what they define as “military needs.” These operations take place primarily in the Gaza Strip. From the beginning of the Intifada through October 2004, the IDF (the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel’s army) has demolished some 2,540 homes in Gaza, housing 23,900 Palestinians, in the course of the IDF’s “clearing operations.”
Demolitions carried out as collective punishment, either targeted at relatives and neighbors of Palestinians who carry out or are suspected of involvement in attacks against Israelis or against Palestinian civilian populations in general. These punitive actions, illegal under international law, targeted some 628 homes, housing 3,983 persons. In February, 2005, the Israeli military announced that they would no longer conduct these kinds of punitive house demolitions, which account for less than 600 of the total number, because their own studies show they do not reduce the level of violence against Israel, and actually harm Israel’s own interests.
Q: Are Israel’s house demolitions legal under international law?
A: No. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Occupying Powers are prohibited from this kind of activity. Article 53 reads: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited.” Under this provision, the practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is banned, as is the wholesale destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure.
Q: What is an Israeli settlement?
A. Since 1967, Israel has established over 214 settlements in the West Bank. More than 450,000 Israelis now live beyond the “Green Line:” more than 200,000 in the West Bank and the other 240,000 in East Jerusalem. Contrary to popular belief, settlement expansion gained momentum during the years of the Oslo Peace Accords. During that time the Israeli government extended large settlement blocs strategically in the north, around East Jerusalem, and in the South. These large settlement blocs, which look like modern subdivisions, offer high quality government subsidized housing to the people who live there. In 2005, when over 7500 settlers were forcibly removed from Gaza in a much-publicized campaign, a report by Settlement Watch found that this removal was far outweighed by the resettlement of 14,000 people in Jewish settlements in the West Bank that year. For example, the East Jerusalem settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim projected growth from 30,000 to 45,000 inhabitants or settlers in that year, which they expect to double to over 70,000 settlers by 2010.
In addition to these large settlement blocs, ideological and religious Jews have established smaller settlements throughout the West Bank. These Jews are acting on their belief that the land is Biblically ordained for the Jewish people. Many settlements are serviced by special bypass roads that cut through wide swaths of Palestinian land and are restricted to Israeli vehicles. All settlements and roads are guarded by Israeli soldiers and checkpoints placed to insure the safety of settlers at the expense of the freedom of movement of Palestinians on their own land within the West Bank.
Q: What does the building of the Wall have to do with the demolition of Palestinian homes?
A. The Israeli government’s policy of settlement expansion, house demolitions, and construction of the Wall work together to accomplish what B’Tselem characterizes as an illegal land grab. The path of the Wall snakes deep into the West Bank, serving as a barrier that encircles and “protects” these illegal settlements. At the same time, Israeli government policy is to refuse to give building permits to Palestinians who want to build on their own land if it sits in the designated path of settlements or the Wall. Israel then issues demolition orders for the houses that Palestinians, desperate for a place to live and angry about policies that deny them the right to build on their own land, build anyway. So while the Israeli government demolishes homes built “illegally” for lack of a permit that they refuse to grant, they build huge settlement blocs and the Wall in contravention of international law as well as historical and common understanding of the rights of an occupying nation.
Q: Why do some people refer to "apartheid" when they are talking about Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories?
A. Apartheid is the forced separation of populations in which one people establishes a regime of permanent and structured domination over another. Apartheid was first used to refer to the legal, social, and cultural practices of white South Africans (or Afrikaaners) who institutionalized racial, economic, and legal discrimination against native South Africans and other non-European groups.
Israel is building huge settlement blocs in the West Bank, housing literally hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers on Palestinian soil. The Wall (or “Separation Barrier”), a 26 foot high concrete wall in some places, an electrified fence in others, follows the outer edge of these settlements, essentially annexing huge areas of the West Bank into Israel. If you look at a map showing the footprint of the Israeli settlements, you see that they essentially break the West Bank into four small islands surrounded and essentially controlled by Israel.
Former President Jimmy Carter, a “hero” to Israelis for his brokering of the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, is one of those suggesting that the term “apartheid” is appropriate to describe what is happening to Palestinians. It is not difficult to see the similarities with what were once black African “homelands” within South Africa – areas with extremely limited self-governing authority because they were politically and economically dependent on South Africa. South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu concurs, “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.”
Indeed, Israel itself calls its policy hafrada, which means separation, the exact meaning of the word apartheid. We do not believe that the safety and security of one people, be they American or Jewish, can ever be obtained by the systemic and oppressive treatment of another. In fact we claim it is in Israel’s best interests when people name what the government is doing, since it is these horrific actions of the Israeli government that threaten the future of Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians alike. This is why people use the word apartheid when referring to Israel/Palestine.
Do Israel’s practices in occupied Palestinian territory, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, amount to the crimes of colonialism and apartheid under international law? This booklet provides a summary of a legal study by Human Sciences Research Center of South Africa that looked at the discriminatory nature of the modern Israeli state.
- Nowhere Left to Go: Arab al-Jahalin Bedouin Ethnic Displacement (pdf, 2.82 MB)
- The Judaization of Palestine: 2011 Displacement Trends (pdf, 4.49 MB)
- Demolishing Homes, Demolishing Peace
- Jordan Valley Matrix of Control
- No Place Like Home (pdf, 1.96 MB)
- +972 Magazine
- Al Haq
- The Applied Research Center-Jerusalem
- Code Pink
- Electronic Intifada
- Institute for Middle East Understanding
- It Is Apartheid
- Jewish Voices for Peace
- Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
- Rabbis for Human Rights
- Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice
- Stop Caterpillar CampaignUS Boat to Gaza
- US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
- Who Profits?
- Yesh Din