Ep02: Home Demolitions: Politics of Dispossession

Israel’s policy of land confiscation naturally followed the height of the Nakba, where over 750,000 were ethnically cleansed and made refugees from 1947-1949, using force, legislation, and retroactive “legalization” of colonial outposts in the West Bank. Using force has been critical to Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian land and resources. Once established as a state, Israel immediately expropriated an estimated 17,178 km2 of refugee land and an additional 700 km2 from internally displaced Palestinians (IDPs), who remained in what became the state of Israel.

Since its military occupation began in 1967, Israel has demolished an estimated 56,500 Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This policy is not only illegal under international law; it also infringes on Palestinians’ right to property and their ability to live with dignity. The wholesale destruction of homes and other property in cities and villages throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, severely damages the sociocultural, political, and economic fabric of Palestinian society and facilitates Zionist settler-colonialism. Israel’s planning regime has been described in the United Nations Secretary General’s report at the Human Rights Council as “restrictive, discriminatory and incompatible with requirements under international law.” 

There are three main categories of home demolitions: 1) administrative; 2) punitive; 3) military. The most common form of demolitions occur administratively, whereby Palestinians are punished for building and expanding their properties to accommodate family growth. However, due to Israel’s discriminatory planning scheme, it is virtually impossible to obtain the requisite construction permit. Therefore, Palestinians are forced to build without a permit, which, under Israeli laws and military orders, means that the structure is “illegal,” and thus subject to demolition. To add insult to injury, Israeli authorities present Palestinians with an ultimatum: either demolish your own home and avoid paying the exorbitant fees that come with Israel’s demolition operation, or have Israel do it and impose a fine on the owner. The psychological impact of this process is staggering; it leads to humiliating scenarios, such as a father of four hiring a bulldozer to tear down his own house in which he invested all his savings. 

Israel’s home demolition policy is purely political and not based on security or safety. In fact, in 99 percent of the cases, home demolitions have nothing to do with security offenses. It’s also important to note that demolition of homes belonging to families of those alleged to have committed security offenses constitutes collective punishment, which is itself a war crime. Israel’s draconian administrative and judicial processes are in place to create the impression that home demolitions are conducted in accordance with the rule of law; however, under international law, it is illegal for the Occupying Power to wantonly demolish property. 

Many of the people impacted by home demolitions already live in poverty. This causes long-term instability and limited access to basic necessities, such as food, water, sanitation, and healthcare, not to mention education. The damage is severe when it comes to children, who are the most vulnerable, and with the greatest need for these services. Most children (70%) reported feeling socially isolated and no connection with their communities and land after losing their home. A majority of children (60%) felt that their education had been jeopardized or interrupted following the demolition.

The COVID-19 pandemic did not change the ferocity of Israel’s policy. The rate of demolitions and displacement hit a four-year high in 2020, and in the first quarter of 2021, Israeli authorities demolished or seized 293 Palestinian-owned structures, more than double than the same period last year. Moving forward, the United Nations estimates that 28 to 46 percent of Palestinian homes could be at risk of demolitions. 

As a settler-colonial state, Israel’s Judaization project features prominently within its internationally recognized borders as well. A prime example is Al-Araqib, one of the 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Naqab. Israel demolished the village 112 times from 2010-2017. Since Israel’s inception to the present, it has systematically introduced and enforced laws that furthered its policy of land confiscation, affecting, among other things, Palestinian factories, farms, religious sites, and of course, homes. 

Ep02: Home Demolitions: Politics of Dispossession