Unlawful demolitions in the West Bank spike during COVID-19

Statement by Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick

The period from March to August 2020 saw the demolition or confiscation of 389 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, on average, 65 per month, the highest average destruction rate in four years.

Early during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Israeli authorities indicated that they would restrain their longstanding policy of demolishing inhabited Palestinian homes. Sadly, demolitions during the period March-August 2020 left 442 Palestinians homeless, further exposing many to risks associated with the pandemic. In August alone, 205 people were displaced, more than in any other single month since January 2017.

Beyond homes, the targeted properties included water, hygiene or sanitation assets, and structures used for agriculture, among others, undermining the access of many to livelihoods and services. Moreover, 50 of the structures had been given to Palestinians as humanitarian aid, and their destruction hit the most vulnerable of all, and undermined emergency operations.

Of specific concern is the Israeli authorities’ increased use of an expedited procedure (Order 1797) for the removal of structures as soon as 96 hours after delivering a notice, largely preventing owners from being heard before a judicial body.

When the Israeli authorities demolish, or force people to demolish, homes and sources of livelihood, they typically cite a lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain, due to the restrictive and discriminatory planning regime, and leaves them no venues for authorized construction. The destruction of property in an occupied territory is prohibited under international humanitarian law, unless absolutely necessary for military operations. Moreover, the demolition of essential structures during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly worrying as it further compounds the overall situation in the West Bank. 

The global pandemic has increased the needs and vulnerabilities of Palestinians, who are already trapped in the abnormality of prolonged military occupation. Unlawful demolitions exacerbate these vulnerabilities and must stop immediately.

The figures in this statement are generated from OCHA’s demolition database. The data is derived from visits that OCHA carries out to demolition sites as part of initial assessments of people’s humanitarian needs. Reports on all incidents are substantiated by personal testimonies and photographic evidence, and the validated data are made available on OCHA oPt’s website. The figures have been shared with the Israeli authorities prior to the release of this statement.