Violating International Law: Israeli Demolitions in ‘Area C’

Violating International Law: Israeli Demolitions in ‘Area C’
The demolition of Palestinian homes and other related structures in the West Bank has been a consistent policy of the Israeli occupation. Estimates suggest that since 1967 over 24,000 Palestinian houses have been destroyed as part of a policy of collective punishment, ‘security’ measures, a lack of building permits and strategic objectives to expand Israel. Displacement of the Palestinian population and the seizure of land are directly related to house demolitions. House demolitions are justified by Israel in accordance with security and military objectives. Estimates by the Palestinian Central bureau of statistics show that 14,500 people have been displaced as a result of constructing the Israeli Segregation wall.
As part of the Oslo Accords the West Bank was divided into areas A, B and C, with Israel exercising full military and civilian control in Area C. Most house demolitions since the Oslo Accords have occurred in Area C and the most often cited reason is due to lack of a building permit. In 1999-2009 over 2,000 houses alone were destroyed for this reason alone. However, Israel has made the process of obtaining a building permit virtually impossible and over 94% of applications for building permits by Palestinians in Area C were rejected between 2000-2007 (UN). This is part of a discriminatory Israeli policy that denies Palestinians the right to build homes whilst actively encouraging the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements.
The demolition of houses is therefore not simply part of following ‘legal’ procedure concerning a lack of building permits but is directly related to the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. This is reflected by the fact that the majority of demolitions and settlements occur in the Israeli controlled Area C. Indeed, whilst Palestinian development has been completely restricted in Area C, Israeli settlements have flourished, and this is related to the appropriation of land via house demolitions. The UN has also noted how house demolitions create buffer zones between settlements ensuring that their infrastructure, expansion and access to Israel are guaranteed.
The demolition of houses is however completely illegal under international law. Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva convention allows destruction of property only when necessary for a military operation which is defined by the ICRC as “the movement, maneuvers, and actions of any sort, carried out by the armed forces with a view to combat”. This definition does not apply however to the majority of house demolitions. Military authorities only have the right to intervene in building where military matters are involved, as planning and building are largely civilian matters. Increasing the grip of an illegal occupation via settlements and house demolitions therefore do not fall under this definition.
Furthermore, the process of issuing and denying building permits and the undertaking of demolitions as part of Section 119 of the Emergency Defense Regulations of 1945 are illegal. The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an occupying power from extending its law and administration into an occupied territory, meaning the very process of granting or denying permits to Palestinians is illegal under international humanitarian law. In addition, despite the powers granted by domestic law, the actions of an occupying state are limited by international, and not domestic, laws. According to article 43 of The Hague Regulations an occupying power must adhere to all areas of law enacted prior to occupation. Instead Israel has applied military orders and Israeli domestic laws to the West Bank and settlements and ignored international law despite its internationally recognized status as occupier.
When issues of building are turned to the Israeli Supreme Court it is more than sympathetic to the military’s arguments for security necessities. The Israeli High Court of Justice has rejected Palestinian petitions against house demolitions in Al-Hadidiyya in the Jordan valley as the buildings were situated on land deemed only for ‘agricultural’ use in plans from British Mandatory rule. Palestinian houses were also deemed a security threat to the nearby settlement of Ro’I. The fact that a settlement exists on land which was deemed unsuitable for Palestinian homes illustrates the discriminatory and flawed legal basis for house demolitions. It also illustrates the intimate connection between settlements and house demolitions, as land denied to Palestinians or seized by Israel is then used for settlements. This in turn is in further contradiction to the international law which Israel must follow as an Occupier, which states that under article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention an Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
The system of control over Palestinian land is justified legally on military orders enacted by the Israeli army to demolish and seize land for ‘security’ reasons. However, ‘security’ reasons better translate as strategic, political and economic reasons, and the ongoing development of settlements is testament to this idea. Israeli actions do not comply with international law as based on the Geneva conventions which sets out clear instructions for the behavior of an occupying force concerning an occupied population.   Israel therefore continues to violate international law.

[1] Statistics on house demolitions, ICAHD July 2009,
[2] Occupied Palestinian Territories: West Bank Wall main cause of new displacement amid  worsening humanitarian situation, 2006,
[3] “Lack of Permit” Demolitions and Resultant Displacement in Area C, May 2008,
[4] Punitive house demolitions from the perspective of international law ,
Categories: Demolition