The number of Palestinian residences demolished by Israel's Civil Administration in the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control tripled last year compared to 2009, data complied by B'Tselem shows.
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Attorney Shlomo Lecker, who has represented the Jahalin Bedouin tribe in the West Bank for years, attributed the increase in Area C demolitions directly to the increased pressure applied over the last two years by both settlers and a new organization, Regavim.
The latter, which sees its aim as preserving state lands in the West Bank, has waged both legal and media battles against what it claims is a policy of ignoring illegal Palestinian construction.
In 2010, the Civil Administration destroyed 86 residences in Area C, including tents and shacks, B'Tselem said. That compares to only 28 in 2009. As a result, 472 Palestinians, including 223 minors, lost their homes last year, up from 217 (including 60 minors ) in 2009.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there was also a rise in demolitions of income-producing structures in Area C, especially cisterns, which are vital for sheepherding and agriculture.
Destroyed cisterns affected 14,136 Palestinians last year, up from 764 in 2009, OCHA said. This increases poverty and dependence on external aid, and in the long run is thus even more harmful than the destruction of residences, the organization added.
As an example of the increased pressure by settlers and Regavim, Lecker cited the demolition orders that the Civil Administration issued against an entire Bedouin village near Khan al-Ahmar, northeast of Jerusalem, in November 2010.
The village's approximately 100 residents say they have been living there for decades, but had never received a single demolition order before.
Lecker believes the orders stemmed directly from a petition to the High Court of Justice filed in September by Regavim and three nearby settlements, Kfar Adumim, Alon and Nofei Prat. That petition asked the court to order the demolition of a school made of old tires and to issue demolition orders to 258 Jahalin Bedouin structures in the area.
Even though it was rejected by the court, he said, the petition prompted the Civil Administration to launch a major campaign to get the Jahalin out of the area.
Lecker claimed that the Civil Administration's inspection unit is staffed mainly by settlers or people with sympathetic views. As a result, he wrote in a High Court petition that he filed two weeks ago in an effort to get the demolition orders canceled, it is influenced by "political motives" and effectively serves "as the operational arm of the Yesha Council of settlements with regard to forbidding Palestinian construction in Area C."
The petition also noted that while master plans enabling construction exist for many of the settlements, no such plans exist for Palestinians in Area C.
On January 12, the Civil Administration destroyed 17 structures in the Bedouin village of Dakeika, south of the Hebron Hills. This happened even though the residents, at the High Court's suggestion, were in the process of preparing a master plan for the village, and the court had promised to reconsider their petition against the demolition orders once the master plan was completed.
"The reporter' claims regarding an enforcement policy derived from direct pressure by the Regavim organization and the city of Maaleh Adumim, or from any other external consideration is completely unfounded," the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories said in a statement.
The statement also said that the Civil Administration was supporting the project of transferring West Bank Bedouins to permanent settlements. The spokesman did not reply to Haaretz queries regarding the demolition orders handed out to the tribe at Khan al-Ahmar.