The number of houses in the West Bank demolished by the state rose sharply after the start of the second intifada’s at the end of 2000. The number of houses demolished in the Gaza Strip, especially in Rafiah, is unprecedented; the figures amount to 2,897 houses. The matter is documented in a most skillful and profound manner by UNRWA (UN Refugee Welfare Agency).
Data concerning house demolitions in the West Bank is more problematic because there are no international agencies working systematically in the field, because accessibility for Israeli organizations has become more difficult, and the data published by the IDF lacks credibility. A credible and fairly accurate picture can be constructed by combining evidence from a number of sources.
In the West Bank house demolitions fall under three categories: punitive demolitions of houses belonging to families of people involved in suicide attacks; operational demolitions carried out during military operations, and administrative demolitions of houses constructed without a permit.
The issue of punitive demolitions has been researched in depth by B’tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human rights in the Occupied Territories; it found that since the second intifada some 675 houses have been demolished. The order for this type of demolition was cancelled in February 2005 following the recommendations of a professional committee that was established by the Chief of Staff. The committee found that not only do these demolitions fail to deter potential suicide bombers, they serve to emphasize hate and vengeance. Concerning the operational demolitions, the available data is limited. The largest wave of house demolitions during a military operation was in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. According to Palestinian sources 530 structures were demolished; Aaccording to Israeli sources there were 420 demolitions. Besides that data, PHRC (Palestinian Human Rights Committee) recorded another 15 structures demolished during the same period in the regions of Kalakilya, Nablus, Salfit, Al-Bira and Bittuniyeh. It also recorded 357 structures that were damaged to various degrees, some to the point they threaten their dwellers.
Over the past year operational demolitions have all but disappeared as well.
However, the phenomenon of administrative demolitions has continued relentlessly, even increasing. According to formal data published by the Civil Administration, the number of house demolitions in the West Bank between September of 2000 and the end of 2004 comes to about 1,000 houses. The division is as follows:
As of September 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
21 186 276 306 211
An in-depth examination reveals that the number of houses demolished in reality is much higher, and that the true figure is concealed by means of manipulative accountancy. An in-depth examination of the report concerning the demolition of illegal houses for the year 2004 submitted to MK Zehava Galon (Yahad) by the Military Government’s Civil Administration in the territories uncovers a Machiavellian trick of accountancy. The Civil Administration calculates the number of files that were implemented regarding illegal structures and ignores the fact that one file often includes more than a single structure. The practice of including more than one structure per demolition file in the West Bank is of questionable legitimacy, especially since this practice does not exist in Israel. Thus the demolition of a block that is comprised of several edifices appears as though it was a single demolition in the Administration’s concluding report. For example, a demolition in the village of Samoa on January 28 2004, file number 118/97, was listed as a single demolition despite its composition of “three inhabited shanties measuring some 20 square meters each, and including a pen and building foundations”. A demolition carried out in the village of Azoun on April 22 2004 was listed as being a single demolition despite the fact that it was “an encampment including 7 tents”. This is the case in many instances. A demolition from November 4 2004 near Ramallah, file number 143/95, was listed as a single demolition despite the fact there were “four residential shanties of about 25 square meters each”. Thus the number of structures actually demolished is greater than the figures in the official report.
An investigation of that same report finds that in sum some 357 structures were demolished in the West Bank according to the following:
Residences and populated structures Goat and sheep pens, chicken coops, agricultural structures Water wells Shanties, shacks, tents, containers Commercial structures, industrial, garage services, offices Foundations, fences Caves
88 65 11 112 28 51 2
There are instances in which the report does not specify the number of structures demolished during the same operation and merely uses the inclusive term ‘structure’ or ‘store’. Regarding a demolition in Barta’a on July 20 2004, the term ‘stores’ appeared in the report without specifying the total number of structures, or used the term ‘structures used as stores’ without further explanations. The conclusion is that the number of structures demolished is actually 70% higher than the official figures.
If the discoveries from the 2004 report are applied to reports from earlier years on a similar scale, the number of demolished structures reaches 1,700.
There are also reports of demolitions that are not mentioned in the aforementioned report, nor do they appear in any other report. These demolitions are probably the outcome of local power struggles or various types of riots. For example, a resident of Wallaga reported that Border Patrol forces demolished a structure he owned, which functioned as a storehouse for grain and farming equipment. They claimed that the structure “overlooked their checkpoint and put the soldiers there at risk”. Another instance is the home of the Shrabati family in Hebron, demolished by settlers from Kiryat Arba in the presence of soldiers. The soldiers did not intervene as “it was children”. There are instances in which houses have sustained comprehensive damages during a punitive demolition and were not included in the statistics – neither as a punitive demolition nor as an administrative demolition. For example, a building belonging to the Suleiman-Kwassma family in Hebron, comprised of 14 apartments, was badly damaged on May 26 2003 during a ‘controlled detonation’ of the house of a suicide bomber. As a result, the surrounding houses were damaged to the extent the building was deemed hazardous. Apartments such as these are not recorded and not included in the number of neither punitive nor administrative demolitions.
The number of houses demolished, inadvertently or directly initiated by the Civil Administration or local persons, exceeds the official figure presented by the state, exceeding even the informal figure calculated based on the in-depth analysis of the report from 2004.
To conclude, the number of structures demolished in the west Bank since September 2000 for punitive, operational and administrative purposes varies between 2,110 according to Israeli sources, and 2,920 according to our estimates.