The Israeli government’s demolition of Palestinian homes in the illegally-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem has dramatically increased during the coronavirus pandemic despite public health risks, the United Nations said on Friday.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that “Israeli authorities demolished, forced people to demolish, or seized 13 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C [of the West Bank] and East Jerusalem, displacing 44 and affecting the livelihoods or access to services of 12 others” between August 29 and September 8.
OCHA said that since the start of the pandemic, 393 structures have been demolished. “This represents a 60% increase compared with the monthly average between 2017 and 2019,” according to the agency. “The structures demolished or seized over the past six months include 46 inhabited homes that were in place prior to the start of the crisis, leading to the displacement of 299 Palestinians.”
Israeli authorities cite Palestinians’ lack of required building permits—which are nearly impossible to obtain—as the reason for the demolitions.
There are three categories of Israeli home demolitions: punitive demolitions which follow Palestinian violence against Israelis, administrative demolitions carried out under pretext of code enforcement, and military “clearing operations.”
Punitive demolitions have been condemned by both Israeli and international human rights advocates as a form of illegal collective punishment. Home demolitions and removal of Palestinians—often to make living space for Jewish-only settler colonies—have often been called a form of ethnic cleansing, and the settlements have been condemned as a form of apartheid that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called “worse than South Africa.”
“The destruction of property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law, unless absolutely necessary for military operations,” Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, said Thursday in response to the most recent Israeli demolitions.
“The global pandemic has increased the needs and vulnerabilities of Palestinians who are already trapped in the abnormality of prolonged military occupation,” McGoldrick added. “Unlawful demolitions exacerbate these vulnerabilities and must stop immediately.”
According to OCHA, the number of Covid-19 cases in Palestine rose by a third to 11,077 during the most recent reporting period (August 29 to September 8), with six more deaths, bringing the territory’s total toll to 215 since the pandemic began.
In addition to home demolitions, OCHA also identifies “settler violence,” including “physical attacks on Palestinian farmers and vandalism against Palestinian vehicles and olive trees,” as a “continuing concern.”