Q&A: Property Destruction and Land Confiscation in Palestine
Q. How many Palestinian homes have been destroyed by the Israeli government?
A. Since 1967, over 7,000 home demolitions have occurred across the occupied territories, leaving some 50,000 Palestinians homeless. According to United Nations Relief and Works Agency, since the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, the Israeli Defence Force has demolished 655 houses in the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, in which 5,124 people lived.
Q. What does the demolition of Palestinian property have to do with the Jewish settlers in the occupied territories?
A. Many Palestinian homes have been destroyed to make way for Jewish settlements. Then, more homes are destroyed to allow expansion and security buffers for Jewish settlements and to build bypass roads for use by Jews only. The settlements are strategically located to disrupt territorial contiguity between Palestinian population centers, to control access to water aquifers, and to create enormous obstacles to the creation of a viable Palestinian state. During the first six months of 1999 alone, Israel confiscated 2,500 acres of land for the purpose of settlements and their infrastructure, and a total of 3,500 acres were leveled to facilitate the further expansion of settlements and bypass-road construction.
Q. Aren’t the homes destroyed by the Israeli government built illegally by Palestinians?
A. Since 1967, thousands of Palestinian homes have been demolished on the basis that they were not supported by the required construction permits. But the Israeli government virtually never grants building permits to Palestinians. International law views occupation as a temporary status during which the occupier is obligated first to end the occupation as quickly as possible and second to safeguard the rights of the occupied population during the temporary period in which the occupation is maintained. It is the right of the Palestinians to build homes on their own land – a right violated by nearly four decades of occupation.
Q. Don’t some of the destroyed homes belong to terrorists?
A. In the first four years of the 1988-93 intifada, Israel destroyed 786 homes as reprisal against those who took part in the uprising. The Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip has been targeted for home demolitions repeatedly, including June 23 and July 10, 2001 and January 15, 2002. The January raid resulted in the demolition of over 60 refugee homes in retaliation for a fatal attack on Israeli soldiers the previous day by two gunmen who lived in Rafah camp. This strategy of collective punishment is in direct violation of international law: the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly forbids collective punishment, stating that no resident of an occupied territory “may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed.”
Q. But why shouldn’t the Israeli government destroy houses for security reasons?
A. The policy of demolishing houses and destroying the agricultural land is part of Israel’s defense strategy in the occupied territories, specifically the creation of “security strips” intended to prevent attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces. But the presence of illegal Jewish settlements on confiscated Palestinian land is an outrage to the Palestinians, creating understandable anger, bitterness and hatred. Destroying Palestinian homes cannot bring security; the evacuation of the settlers and the IDF troops that protect them would do much to alleviate Israel’s “security problem.”
Q. What is the situation in East Jerusalem?
A. Over 60,000 Palestinians have lost their residency rights in East Jerusalem since 1967. As of January 2002, 7,300 Palestinian-built homes in East Jerusalem are defined as illegal and are in danger of demolition. Since the 1967 Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, 70,000 government- sponsored housing units have been built for Jewish Israelis on land which is illegally occupied under international law . In 2001 alone, 70 Palestinian homes were demolished in East Jerusalem.
Q. How much agricultural land has been destroyed in Palestine?
A. Between September 29, 2000, and the end of February 2002, Israel bulldozed more than 8,000 acres of Palestinian land, uprooted nearly half a million trees, and demolished more than 200 homes of Palestinian farmers. In both Gaza and the West Bank, thousands of acres of agricultural land have been razed by the Israeli army following allegations that olive groves provided shelter to Palestinian gunmen. An olive tree takes between 5 to 7 years to mature and start bearing fruit, and some of the uprooted trees were more than a hundred years old.
Q. But who owns the land on which these homes and farms lie?
A. Since 1967, Israel has confiscated almost 750,000 acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Israeli government has confiscated large areas of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem and designated them areas for exclusive Jewish use. The settlements of Neve Ya’cub, Pisgat Zeiv, Ma’ale Adumim, Gilo, the French Hill, Giva’at Shabira and Har Homa are all built on confiscated Palestinian land. The Geneva Conventions are very clear: any move by the occupier to infringe of the rights of the occupied or change the status of the occupied land through, for example, annexation, confiscation of resources, population transfer, or destruction of civilian property is illegal and may constitute a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
Q. What are the consequences of the land confiscation, closure, and property destruction for Palestinians?
A. The destruction of Palestinian land has left many farmers in destitute economic condition. The clearing of land for settlements is destroying crops on which Palestinian families depend; this Israeli policy has led to a significant loss of income, impoverishing already deprived Palestinian agrarian communities. Data on the extent and value of Palestinian losses can be found at the website of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.