ICAHD estimates that about 52,000 Palestinian homes were demolished in the Naqba (Source: Walid Khalidi, All that Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2006) and another 56,500 in the Occupied Territory since 1967, based on information gleaned from the Israeli Ministry of Interior, the Jerusalem Municipality, the Civil Administration, OCHA and other UN sources, Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ICAHD’s own field work and other sources (updated as of March, 2021.) Additional thousands of homes have been demolished inside Israel between the Naqba and today, although the figures we have are fragmentary.
It should be noted that neither Israel nor such monitoring agencies as the UN’s OCHA keep figures on home demolitions alone, but lump them into the demolition of “structures.” Thus structures needed for livelihood such as barns, sheep-pens, cisterns or fencing are included in our figures. On the other hand, an apartment block of 30 or more apartments is counted in the statistics as “one” demolition. The figures we have collected then balance (although no one knows to what degree) between “structures demolished” and actual housing units. The figures, then, provide a rough estimate of actual house demolitions, which may be somewhat more or less than the figures given.
Types of demolitions
- Punitive demolitions: Houses demolished as punishment for the actions of people associated with the houses. This policy was suspended by the Israeli army in February, 2005 after it reached the conclusion that rather than deterring attacks, punitive demolitions only enflame the people and lead to more attacks. The practice was resumed on 19 January 2009, and was reaffirmed as a policy by the Netanyahu government in November, 2014. Although this is thought of by most people as the main reason why houses are demolished, in fact punitive demolitions account for only 1% of all defined demolitions.
- Administrative demolitions: Houses demolished for lack of a building permit. This happens in Area C and in East Jerusalem, under exclusive Israeli authority, though prior to the existence of Areas A, B & C it occurred in other areas as well. It is important to point out that in almost all cases, Palestinians have no choice but to build “illegally” as permits will not be granted. It is also the case that in Area B, if a house is in close proximity to a military base or a road used by the military or settlers, it may also face administrative demolition. This type of demolition accounts for approximately 20% of defined demolitions.
- Judicial demolitions: These are demolition orders issued by Israeli courts against homes that are inhabited or buildings that are in use. They are use much less than administrative orders since they require more of a legal process.
- Land-clearing operations/Military demolitions: Houses demolished by the IDF in the course of military operations for the purposes of clearing off a piece of land (for whatever reason), achieve a military goal or to kill wanted persons as part of Israel’s policy of extrajudicial executions. Military demolitions characterized the massive destruction of Palestinian communities during the Naqba, and in the Occupied Territory they account for about 66% of defined demolitions carried out since 1967.
- Undefined demolitions: ICAHD is collecting information and investigating the status of many demolitions carried out between 1967-1982, when the Civil Administration begins its work. These include mainly demolitions resulting from land-clearing operations and removal of Palestinian populations.
Numbers of Demolitions
i Beginning already in 1947 and extending throughout the 1948 war and into the next decade, Israel systematically demolished some 52,000 Palestinian homes, 531 entire urban neighborhoods and rural towns and villages. This was done not in the heat of battle but after the fighting had ended (in many cases years later), as a deliberate policy of displacement, of preventing any return of refugees and of taking the land. Sources: Walid Khalidi (ed), All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied and Depopulated by Israel in 1948. Washington DC: Institute for Palestine Studies, 1992; Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: One World Publications, 2006.
ii The number of homes demolished in 1948 Israel until today, not connected to the Naqba – virtually all of them Palestine/Bedouin – is still unknown and needs research; it is said by Palestinians to number in the thousands overall. The few figures we can glean are presented here, but they are obviously fragmentary at best. The figure here is for demolitions in the Bedouin communities of the Negev. Orli Almi, The Ramifications of House Demolitions in Israel on the Mental Health of Children, 2005. Unrecognized Negev Villages Project.
ii Demolitions in the Bedouin communities of the Negev. The Negev Coexistence Forum, The House Demolition Policy in the Negev-Naqab, 2014. Retrieved at: <http://www.dukium.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/HDR_2014_Egnlish_web.pdf>.
iv The Israel League for Human and Civil Rights (1970), “The United Nations Commission on the Israeli Practices in the Occupied Territories,” Retrieved at: <http://domino.un.org>; United Nations General Assembly (1967) “Report of the Secretary-General Under General Assembly Resolution 2252 and Security Council Resolution 237 (1967),” Retrieved at: <http://www.domino.un.org>; Thomas Abowd (2000), “The Moroccan Quarter: A History of the Present,” Jerusalem: Jerusalem Quarterly, Retrieved at: <http://www.jerusalemquarterly.org>; Palestine Remembered (n.d.), “’Imwas,” “Bayt Nuba,” “Yalu,” Retrieved at: <http://www.palestineremembered.com>. The UN Report refers to 850 houses demolished in Qalqilya and 360 in Beit Awa. It also states that the Beit Mersim (Beit Marsam) was entirely demolished and had an original population of approximately 500. We averaged just over 8 people per house to arrive at the figure of 60 houses for this village. Also quoted in the report is the demolition of 18 houses in Surif. Abowd’s articles states that 135 houses were demolished in the Moroccan Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City but a UN Report from 1980 raises that number to 160. We have used the lower number. The villages of Imwas, Yalu and Beit Nuba were entirely demolished in 1967. The website “Palestine Remembered” cites the 1931 British census listing 224 houses in Imwas, 245 in Yalu and 226 in Beit Nuba. According to the 1961 Jordanian census, the populations of the towns increased by 91, 70 and 43%. An extremely conservative estimate would be a 10% increase in the amount of housing by the 1961 census, adding a total of 69 more houses for a three-village-total of 764. This total does not include the numbers from the Jordan Valley villages of Nuseirat, Jiftlik, and Arajish, all of which were leveled, as those numbers are currently unavailable.
vUnited Nations General Assembly (1984), “Report of the Secretary-General, Living Conditions of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” Retrieved at: <http://www.domino.un.org>. This is the source for all statistics on undefined demolitions between 1967 and 1982. In the actual report these are listed as punitive demolitions though a UN source states all demolitions were classified as “Collective Punishment.”
vi Human Rights Watch (2004), Razing Rafah. New York: Human Rights Watch, Retrieved at: <http://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/rafah1004/rafah1004images.pdf>; Jeff Halper (2005). Obstacles to Peace (2005) Jerusalem: PalMap. This number is from a mass demolition that took place in the Jabaliyya and al-Shati refugee camps of the Gaza Strip, in military operations led by Ariel Sharon.
vii UNISPAL (30 March 1979), Special Unit on Palestinian Rights, Bulletin no. 3. Retrieved at: <http://www.domino.un.org>. The 100 houses were from Beit Iksa, and were demolished for the Ramot settlement. The majority of the populace of Beit Iksa are refugees which helps to explain why there was a small distance between the village proper and the collection of houses now under Ramot. This is also mentioned in the 25 May 1984 document from the UN General Assembly, “Living Conditions of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Report of the Secretary-General.”
viii Talmor, Ronny (1989), Demolition and Sealing of Houses as a Punitive Measure in the West Bank and Gaza Strip During the Intifada. Jerusalem: B’Tselem. This report is the source for the data on punitive demolitions from 1983-86.
ix B’Tselem (2014), “Statistics on demolition of houses as punishment 1987-2005.” Retrieved at: <http://www.btselem.org/punitive_demolitions/statistics>. All the statistics on punitive house demolitions from 1987-2005 come from this.
x B’Tselem (2006) “Statistics on Demolition of Houses Built Without Permits.” Retrieved at: <http://www.btselem.org>. All the statistics on administrative demolitions between 1987-1993 come from this.
xi Meir Margalit (2006), Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City. Jerusalem: IPCC (Dr. Margalit is a field researcher for ICAHD).
xii Report of the Secretary-General on Recent Events in Jenin and Other Palestinian Cities. Retrieved at: <http://www.un.org/press/en/2002/SG2077.doc.htm>; Human Rights Watch (2004), Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip.; B’Tselem (2006), “Statistics on Houses Demolished for Alleged Military Purposes.” Retrieved at: <http://www.btselem.org/razing/statistics>; UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (2005-2008), Weekly Humanitarian Briefings, #s 86-240.
xiii Demolition witnessed by ICAHD staff on 19 January 2009.
xiv Figures for 2009-2014 compiled by AIDA, OCHA, ICAHD and other monitoring organizations.
xv Total for houses demolished in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, provided by UN OCHA. Retrieved at: <http://www.ochaopt.org/annual/c2/8.html>. OCHA adds that an additional 2870 homes were severely damaged. All demolitions occurring during Cast Lead are listed in 2009, despite several hundred occurring just before the new year.
xvi OCHA, The Monthly Humanitarian Report, October-November 2012. Retrieved at: <http://unispal.un.org/UNISPAL.NSF/0/6FFA3F199915CD2585257AD9006DD704>.
xvii Total for houses demolished in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, provided by UN OCHA. Retrieved at: <http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/humanitarian_Snapshot_31_august_2014_oPt_V4.pdf>. Before Operation Protective Edge, 71,000 housing units were needed in Gaza to bring housing to an adequate level (OCHA: <http://www.ochaopt.org/annual/c2/8.html>).
xviii OCHA, Protection of Civilians. Retrieved at: http://www.ochaopt.org/poc24november-30november-2015.aspx; Natasha Roth, ‘Nearly 1,000 Bedouin structures demolished in past year’, +972, 07.06.2016. See: https://972mag.com/nearly-one-thousand-bedouin-structures-demolished-in-past-year/119887/ [accessed 30.03.2017].
xix OCHA, Monthly Figures. Retrieved at: <http://www.ochaopt.org/content/monthly-figures>.
xx OCHA, Monthly Figures. Retrieved at: <http://www.ochaopt.org/content/monthly-figures> and <https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiOGFlMmRhYjgtYmMxMC00YTYyLTg3ZmEtZGY1ZDExODk5ZDU5IiwidCI6IjBmOWUzNWRiLTU0NGYtNGY2MC1iZGNjLTVlYTQxNmU2ZGM3MCIsImMiOjh9>.
xxi OCHA, Monthly Figures. https://www.ochaopt.org/data/demolition. Retrieved July 2019.
xxii Gaza, March 27, 2019. http://www.palestinechronicle.com/israeli-airstrikes-damage-500-palestinian-homes-in-gaza-video/?fbclid=IwAR3ax4MxJXt6RBtWt0bvE0rxTu9yWOU5o3sIeFbF8HtyBQlMdhk3OFs8edU
View ICAHD video illustrating demolitions in the Jerusalem area between 2004 and 2021.
See our monthly Demolition and Displacement Reports for details