Amnesty International condemns Israel for ‘illegal conduct’ in Palestinian housing demolitions

Published January 15th, 2017 - 06:00 GMT
A Palestinian family whose house was demolished by Israeli bulldozers walk past a tent on April 21, 2015, in the southern West Bank village of Ad-Deirat Rifaiyya. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
A Palestinian family whose house was demolished by Israeli bulldozers walk past a tent on April 21, 2015, in the southern West Bank village of Ad-Deirat Rifaiyya. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

In the wake of a demolition campaign carried out by Israeli forces on Palestinian citizens of Israel earlier in the week in the Israeli city of Qalansawe, Amnesty International on Thursday released a statement condemning possible human rights violations that occurred during the demolitions and accused Israeli forces of acting on “political motives.”

On Tuesday, Israeli forces, including hundreds of Israeli police and more than 20 bulldozers, demolished 11 homes belonging to Palestinian citizens of Israel in the city of Qalansawe in central Israel, sparking clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, locals said at the time.

Some of the Palestinian families whose homes were demolished were left homeless after the campaign, according to rights groups. 

Mayor of Qalansawe, Abd al-Basit Mansour, immediately resigned from his post in reaction to the demolition campaign, underscoring that the city had been fruitlessly waiting for the approval of a master plan for the area for 20 years.

Due to the planning failures in the region, which necessitates that any building plans be approved on the regional rather than local level, Palestinians in Qalansawe, including other areas dominated by Palestinian citizens, have been forced to build without proper permission from Israeli authorities in order to accommodate an increasing population.

Amnesty International said in their statement that at the time of the demolitions Israeli police blocked journalists and human rights workers from entering the area to access the site.

According to the group, Israeli officials working with Amnesty International who were able to access the demolition site said they saw that most of the Israeli police officers were masked and not wearing identification tags, which is required by Israeli law.

The group said Israel’s actions “increased their concerns” over possible human rights violations that have occurred during the demolitions, and an attempt by Israeli forces to “conceal illegal activities.”

The group called the incident “politically unacceptable,” and noted that the Israeli planning authorities in the region have been dysfunctional for decades. However, the mass demolition campaign on Tuesday was “almost unprecedented.”

Despite receiving the demolition orders only a day before the demolitions were carried out, the demolition notices were dated on Dec. 20, a move which the group said was designed to prevent the residents of Qalansawe from appealing the demolition orders. 

Residents, however, quickly responded to the demolition notices the day before and began legal proceedings against them. But Israeli forces demolished the homes anyway, despite the right of residents to appeal such decisions. 

The actions of Israeli authorities seem to show that the community would be demolished “no matter what,” the group stated. 

Amnesty International added that the actions by Israeli authorities raised “alarming questions” regarding Israel’s policies against Palestinian citizens of Israel, saying that “for many years these situations were handled administratively.” Residents paid fines and dealt with the issues of unapproved building in other ways than targeted mass demolitions, the group said. 

The decision to conduct the [demolition] operation, despite the failures of planning authorities to approve building plans for the city, raised “concern over the illegal conduct” of Israeli authorities and the “political motives” that appear to be behind the demolitions, the group concluded.

The day following the demolitions, Palestinian citizens declared a general strike across Israel, which included protests in dozens of Palestinian-majority towns and at least half a million Palestinians participating in the strike.

On Friday, a reported 20,000 Palestinian citizens and supporters took to the streets in Israel to protest against the demolitions, which they claimed was a systematic policy by Israeli authorities to tear apart Palestinian communities in Israel in order to pressure them to leave the region, according to Middle East Eye (MEE).

MEE also quoted an activist and resident of Qalansawe, Mahasen Rabus, as saying that “the demolition of houses is an Israeli political strategy against Palestinians since 1948, and it is part of a policy to desist on Palestinians living in Israel.”

"Israeli authorities did not allow us to build or expand, and the issuance of building permits has become an almost impossible task. In addition, they refused to extend the borders of Arab cities, so really we had no other option but to build,” adding that the communities would continue demonstrating so long as such policies continue.

Last month, Netanyahu reportedly held meetings, attended by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, in which the prime minister instructed officials to “work to issue demolition orders for the illegal structures, located in Arab towns in northern and southern Israel, as well as in eastern Jerusalem,” alluding to a Supreme Court ruling to demolish the illegal Israeli Amona outpost constructed in the occupied West Bank in violation of both Israeli and international law.
“There will be no double standards regarding construction,” Israeli media quoted Netanyahu as saying. “There will be equal enforcement of the law in Israel for both Jews and Arabs.”
Earlier in December, Netanyahu commented on the Supreme Court-ordered demolition of Amona by assuring the soon-to-be displaced settlers that he would commit to “enforcing laws” on “illegal construction” in Israel, referring primarily to Palestinian communities that are forced to build without Israeli-issued building permits.
The Jerusalem municipality also vowed to demolish scores of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem as a result of the ruling to dismantle Amona. The so-called "Legalization bill," which would legalize dozens of unauthorized Israeli settler outposts -- considered illegal by the Israeli government -- in the occupied West Bank was also submitted to Israel's parliament in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling to demolish Amona.
Bedouin communities in the southern Israeli Negev region said a wave of home demolitions there last month came as a direct retaliation from the impending evacuation of Amona.
According to Palestinian NGO Adalah, only 4.6 percent of the housing tenders published by the Israel Land Authority (ILA) in 2015 were dedicated to Palestinian communities in Israel, although the population comprises 20 percent of the population.
The Palestinian population in Israel requires 13,000 new housing units per year, yet in practice only 7,000 housing units are built, mostly by means of private, self-construction, according to the group.
“As a result of the government's widespread failure to authorize a sufficient number of building permits in Arab communities, the phenomenon of ‘illegal’ home construction is widespread as residents seek to house expanding populations,” Adalah has said.
The housing shortage in Arab communities in Israel is not the result of specific failures or unintentional neglect on the part of state authorities. It is instead the product of a systematic and deliberate policy since 1948 that has viewed Palestinian citizens as enemies and aliens.”

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