Palestine: Property destruction and occupation19 June 2019
Over the past five decades of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territory, a main feature of the policies implemented is the widespread appropriation and destruction of property, including land and natural resources. In recent years, the rate of demolitions, seizures, and confiscations of property by the Government of Israel (GoI) across the West Bank in particular, has been increasing. In April 2019 alone, as a consequence of Israeli orders, 63 homes and structures were demolished, the highest number ever recorded in one month by the United Nation Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). In addition to the rising number of demolitions, the GoI has instituted several new military orders and passed laws that will likely have the effect of accelerating the pace of demolitions, confiscations, and seizures under new or existing demolition orders.
These actions either directly or indirectly cause displacement and the destruction of Palestinian livelihoods, particularly in occupied East Jerusalem and “Area C” of the West Bank. Indeed, donor-funded projects aimed at addressing the humanitarian concerns of these populations are frequently targeted by Israeli authorities. Additionally, Bedouin communities in “Area C,” such as the community in Khan Al-Ahmar, are particularly and increasingly vulnerable to displacement and its consequences as the GoI continues its attempts to consolidate large settlement blocs and prevent further development. This displacement and discrimination puts at risk access to water, livelihoods, education, and, among other things, basic shelter. These policies of destruction and appropriation have the clear aim of solidifying Israel’s grip on Palestinian territory and resources, adding to a growing body of violations of international law.
In the oPt, Israel has obligations both under international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL). This brief will focus primarily on the framework of IHL to evaluate current Israeli policies, practices, and actions in the West Bank with respect to the destruction of private property. It will demonstrate that the actions of the GoI, specifically with respect to the demolition of private property, constitute violations of IHL, some of which amount to grave breaches and war crimes for which there is individual criminal responsibility. It will also highlight how these violations contribute to general violations of international law, including the prohibition on the acquisition of territory by force and the denial of Palestinians’ right to self-determination.