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Israeli forces demolishes Palestinian structures across West Bank, assault locals

Aug. 9, 2016 2:23 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 9, 2016 9:34 P.M.)
Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.
NABLUS (Ma’an) -- Israeli authorities carried out multiple demolitions across the occupied West Bank on Tuesday morning, including residential structures funded by the European Union, in the midst of an unprecedented campaign targeting Palestinian homes, business, and agricultural structures under the pretext of lacking building permits which are nearly impossible to obtain.

The demolitions -- which included two business in Sabastiya, five homes in Umm al-Kheir, and three homes in the Jericho villages of al-Jiftlik and Fasayil -- were immediately denounced by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in a statement released on Tuesday.

“Israel is relentlessly destroying Palestinians’ homes and livelihoods in order to make way for more illegal settlements,” Hamdallah said. “Once again, I call on the international community to step in and stop Israel’s ongoing violations of international law.”

EU-funded Palestinian homes demolished in Umm al-Kheir, Israeli forces assault locals

In the village of Umm al-Kheir in the southern occupied West Bank district of Hebron, Israeli bulldozers under military escort demolished five residential structures belonging to the al-Hathalin family, three of which were funded by the European Union.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the five buildings were home to 27 Palestinians, 16 of them minors, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Ratib al-Jubour, a spokesperson for a local popular committee in Umm al-Kheir, said Israeli forces assaulted Palestinians who tried to prevent the demolitions.

In a response for a request for comment, a spokesperson for Israel's Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is responsible for implementing the Israeli government's policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, told Ma'an: "enforcements were carried out against four illegal buildings that were built without the required permits in Umm Kheir. All of the appropriate orders were carried out before taking such enforcements."

"It should be noted that regarding these illegal structures, these measures were previously enforced, yet the buildings were rebuilt against the law," the spokesperson added.

The head of the Mount Hebron Regional Council, which manages illegal settlements in the area, said on Tuesday: "I hope this is the beginning of a new trend, as up until now the authorities have been sending a message of 'looking the other way,' which has led to increased illegal construction by Arabs," Haaretz quoted him as saying.

It was the ninth time the village was targeted by Israeli-enforced demolitions.

Most recently in April, 35 village residents were left homeless in a single day when Israel destroyed their homes without giving prior notice.

Umm al-Kheir resident Suleiman al-Hathalin at the time referred to the demolitions as “ethnic cleansing.”

“Thirty-five people have become homeless, while settlers of the illegal Karmel settlement are living a luxurious life only a few steps away from my home,” he told Ma’an in April, adding that Israeli forces had demolished his home in effort to displace him.

The Umm al-Kheir community has faced ongoing threats of displacement since the Karmel settlement was illegally established in 1981, and has since expanded onto villagers’ lands.

Israel has also come under international condemnation over repeated demolitions of EU-funded structures, with some accusing the Israeli government of demolishing Palestinian structures in retaliation for the EU’s decision in November to enforce labeling laws that would indicate if a product was produced in one of Israel’s 196 illegal settlements.

According to Hamdallah, three of the structures demolished in the village Tuesday morning were tin sheds funded by the EU.

“With every demolition, the (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu government shows its true intent, that it is not interested in peace. At the same time, the morbid silence of the international community emboldens Israeli authorities to keep committing these acts of injustice," said Jamal Dajani, director of strategic communications and media at the Palestinian Prime Minister’s office.

Article continues below

Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.

Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.

Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.

Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.

Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.

Demolitions in Umm al-Kheir on Aug. 8, 2016.

Israeli forces also demolished three homes in the two villages of Fasayil and al-Jiftlik in Jericho on Tuesday morning, claiming they were built without a permit, according to reports from Israeli media.

Businesses demolished in Sabastiya, curfew imposed

Meanwhile, in the northern West Bank town of Sabastiya in the district of Nablus, Israeli bulldozers demolished a restaurant and an adjacent antiquity booth which had both been in business for years.

The al-Qalaa restaurant was owned by Nael Rizq Aqil, and was built on an area of more than one and half dunams (0.37 acres), while the antique shop was owned by Tayser Aqil.

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settlement activity in the northern West Bank, told Ma’an that Israeli bulldozers raided the western district of Sabastiya escorted by military vehicles and imposed a curfew on the town.

“Israeli forces demolished the two structures claiming they were built without permits, even though they have been open for business for years,” Daghlas told Ma’an.

A COGAT spokesperson did not comment on the demolitions in Sabastiya after being contacted by Ma'an.

On Monday, a Palestinian man in Sabastiya was forced to demolish a barn on his farm, after Israeli forces threatened the night before to demolish it with military bulldozers and charge a fee if he failed to do so himself. A spokesperson for COGAT told Ma'an that "compulsory warrants" were issued against the barn due to it being "built without the appropriate permits required near an archaeological site."

The village of Sabastiya, located some 12 kilometers outside the city of Nablus, is the site of ancient ruins dating back 3,000 years, and was listed in the Oslo Accords among the archaeological sites of importance to Israel and designated a “national park.”

Thus, the park and much of the village’s land -- nearly 42 percent -- were designated as Area C, where Israel retains full control over security and civil administration, while the rest was designated as Area B, where the Palestinian Authority (PA) officially has control over civil matters, but Israeli forces continues to have overriding responsibility for security

Mass escalation of demolitions in Area C

Meanwhile, other Palestinian villages, in particular the southern Hebron Hills villages of Susiya and Dkaika, are under imminent threat of demolition and expulsion by Israel, the Palestinian prime minister’s statement highlighted.

Some 40 percent of Susiya is under threat of imminent demolition, as the Israeli Supreme Court awaits a decision from ultra-right Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to determine the fate of the village, expected to be made sometime next week.

In Area C, Palestinian building and land management are prohibited unless through a permit given by the Israeli Civil Administration, which is under the purview of the defense ministry.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel only granted 33 building permits out of 2,020 applications submitted by Palestinians between 2010 and 2014.

The refusal to grant permits by Israeli authorities has forced many Palestinians to build without permission, at the risk of seeing their homes or structures demolished.

Israeli authorities have demolished more Palestinian homes in the West Bank in the first six months of 2016 as they did in all of 2015, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem revealed in a report released recently, in a worrying confirmation of Israel’s ongoing crackdown on Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank.

A total of 168 homes were destroyed during the first half of 2016 for lacking hard to obtain Israeli-issued building permits, leaving 740 Palestinians homeless, compared to all of 2015, when 125 homes were demolished, leaving 496 Palestinians without a home.

Beyond homes, B’Tselem highlighted the fact that Israeli authorities also demolished structures Palestinians depended on for their livelihoods, such as livestock pens, sheds, and bathroom facilities, and confiscated solar panels, and water tanks. On Monday, large portions of a water pipeline under construction in the northern occupied West Bank district of Tubas were also demolished.

“In doing so, the Civil Administration not only leaves these residents homeless but also severely lacking basic services and the ability to earn a living,” the report read.

Dov Khenin, a member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, denounced the demolitions as a deliberate move by the Israeli government to annex parts of Area C, which represents more than 60 percent of the West Bank.

“Demolishing houses, water tanks, and solar panels does not happen by coincidence or by mistake,” he said during a Knesset conference at the end of July. “It is an organized policy that aims to change the current political condition, force Palestinians to leave the area and annex parts of Area C to prevent the two-state solution. Therefore, it is no longer a human rights case but a first-degree political case.”
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