Last year saw a 45-percent increase in demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian homes in the West Bank compared to 2018, according to figures released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
A total of 393 Palestinian structures were destroyed or confiscated in Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and military control, compared to 271 structures in 2018. Of these structures, 116 were contributed by international agencies. The number of people removed from their homes also spiked in 2019 to 507, compared to 218 the previous year.
Of the structures demolished or confiscated, 128 were agricultural, 99 were inhabited and 53 were water pipes, wells or toilets.
Structures demolished or confiscated included tents, prefabricated housing and solar panels, which were removed from the sites by Israel’s Civil Administration.
The Civil Administration said that they have yet to finish reviewing the statistics from 2019, and can not yet say if there has been an increase in demolitions. However, the administration added that their enforcement process become more efficient, including oversight of illegal construction on or near archaeological sites such as the Hasmonean palaces near Jericho.
According to attorney Qamar Mishriqi-As'ad of the human rights group Haqel, the main problem is that people are not allowed to build legally.
The attorney said confiscations and demolitions have increased due to broad applications of an order that allows Civil Administration officials to remove people from new structures within 96 hours of serving the first notice in cases of structures built without a permit, as long as no more than 30 days have passed since people moved into the structure, or, if the building is not residential, six months since construction was completed.
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Before the new order was put into action, demolition orders often led to drawn-out legal proceedings that could effectively delay the demolition.
The new order essentially removes the possibility of appealing the demolition orders.
The right-wing group Regavim, founded by Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, has been leading a fight against Palestinian construction without permits in Area C for years. A few months ago Regavim published figures it had collected on Palestinian structures without permits in Area C, which it called “the takeover plan.”
The increase in demolitions can also be attributed to a change in approach at the political level. "Our research has been used in many Knesset debates in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, led by MK Moti Yogev and were attached to petitions that we presented to the High Court," said Yishai Hamo, director of operations at Regavim.
"These statistics have trickled into the defense establishment in a significant way. At the end of the day they looked into the matter and understood the big picture of the takeover of Area C and its strategic importance to the State of Israel," said Hamo.
Gideon Sa'ar is among the politicians who stressed the importance of ramping up demolition of illegal structures in Area C. Shortly after he announced that he would contend for the leadership of Likud, he participated in a tour organized by Regavim in the area surrounding Khan al-Ahmar.
According to a recent report in the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has devised a plan to completely stop Palestinian construction in Area C within two years. The plan is still unclear at this point, but the report says it includes changes in the Civil Administration’s enforcement priorities.
Jaber Dababseh, a resident of the village of Khalet al-Daba in the southern Hebron Hills, said that over the past year his water infrastructure has been confiscated and his house demolished.
Afterward, the tent he was given for shelter by the International Red Cross was also confiscated. The village is in an area that has been declared an Israeli army firing zone.
“Last September they came and gave me a demolition order for my house, Less than two months later, the very same day I submitted papers to a lawyer to try to legalize the house, they came and demolished it,” Dababseh said.
He added that he has tried a few times to obtain a construction permit but has been turned down. The house that was demolished was seven years old, but shortly before it was demolished he built a small addition onto it.
According to Dababseh, two days ago Civil Administration officials came and photographed all the structures at the site, but he wasn’t told why. “We want to legalize our homes. We are a peaceful and law-abiding community. But it looks like they simply don’t want us to stay here and we won’t have the most basic things, even water,” he said.