Bedouin homes demolished in West Bank, Negev

The UN Palestine refugee agency on Dec. 26 condemned Israel's latest demolitions of Bedouin homes in the West Bank. The new demolitions, "the most recent of which occurred on Christmas Eve," have "severely threatened" the livelihoods of the families that lost their homes, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunnes said in a statement. According to UNRWA, the demolitions at Ein Ayoub near Ramallah and Fasayil al-Wusta near Jericho displaced 68 in total, most of whom were refugees, and 32 of whom were children, "including a five year old girl who is paralyzed from the waist down." Added UNRWA: "Tents have been distributed by the Palestinian Red Crescent in coordination with the ICRC but this is hardly adequate considering night-time temperatures plunge to around zero. In addition, some 750 head of sheep and goats are without shelter at this crucial lambing season." 

Gunnes said the home demolitions violated international law, and that they have forced communities that have historically been self sufficient to rely on international aid and "endure the pitiless seasonal weather in inadequate housing."

In 2013, at least 1,103 Palestinians have been displaced throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to UNRWA figures. The Israeli Civil Administration has demolished "663 structures, including 259 residential units" in the West Bank this year, UNRWA reports. 

"These demolitions are a common trigger of forced displacement and may amount to a forcible transfer and forced eviction under international humanitarian law and human rights law," Gunnes said. "We call on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law, most particularly to ensure the humane treatment and protection of the civilian Palestinian population at all times, including through an immediate halt to administrative demolitions."

Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories—the unit within Israel's Ministry of Defense that heads up home demolitions — confirmed the recent demolitions. "The structures at hand were illegal," a COGAT spokesman told Ma'an News Agency. "They had been built without a building permit." Israel's High Court of Justice denied all petitions to keep the homes standing, the spokesman added. He also said the demolitions that UNRWA reported took place in Ein Ayoub had actually taken place in Deir Ammar.

Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It has demolished at least 27,000 Palestinian homes and structures since occupying the West Bank in 1967, according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. It is illegal under international law to demolish property in occupied territory. (Maan News Agency, UN News Centre, Dec. 26)

Also Dec. 26, Israeli forces for the 63rd time demolished the Bedouin village of al-Araqib in the Negev. Bulldozers escorted by 25 police patrols raided the village at 9 AM and demolished all its houses. One local resident told Ma'an: "This is a barbarian assault as they left residents homeless during wintry weather." Israel considers al-Araqib and all Bedouin villages in the Negev illegal, while Bedouins say it is their ancestral land. 

There are about 260,000 Bedouin in Israel, mostly living in and around the Negev in the arid south. More than half live in unrecognized villages without utilities and many also live in extreme poverty. (Maan News Agency, Dec. 26)

Ironically, the Negev demolition came days after the Knesset shelved the controversial Prawer Plan, which called for the demolition of 35 Bedouin villages in the Negev, with compsenation to the some 40,000 residents to be relocated into new towns built for them. Supporters noted that the bill also called for legal titling of many more Bedouin villages in the Negev. But the plan was the target of an international protest campaign. Former minister Benny Begin, who worked on the bill with Ehud Prawer, head of policy planning in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, told reporters at a press conference that "the prime minister accepted my advice to delay bringing the Bill on the Arrangement of Bedouin Settlement in the Negev to a Knesset vote." (Times of Israel, Dec. 12)