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UN: Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes reach record high in 2016

Dec. 29, 2016 3:08 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 30, 2016 1:54 P.M.)
Demolitions in Khirbet Tana April 7, 2016 (UNOCHA)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israel demolished more Palestinian homes in the occupied territory in 2016 than in any year since the United Nations began documenting demolitions in 2009, while Israel also increased restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the occupied territory in 2016.

The unprecedented demolition campaign left some 1,593 Palestinians homeless and affected the livelihoods of another 7,101, according to preliminary analysis of data collected by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The UN agency’s documentation encompassed the occupied West Bank as well as East Jerusalem, where Israeli authorities demolished or seized 1,089 Palestinian-owned structures since the beginning of 2016 until Dec. 28.

The “vast majority” of the Palestinian structures were destroyed or seized for lacking Israeli-issued building permits, according to the report.

Israel rarely grants Palestinians permits to build in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, forcing most Palestinians to build illegally. However the 550,000 Jewish settlers residing in illegal Israeli settlements scattered across Palestinian territory are more easily given building permits and allowed to expand their homes and properties.

OCHA's newly released records of home demolitions came as Israel has come under increasing international pressure to cease building illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the occupied territory, with the UN Security Council passing a resolution condemning the Israeli policy earlier this week.

Crackdown on Palestinian movement

OCHA’s report also documented an increase on restrictions to movement and access of people in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

The UN agency documented a 5 percent increase in Israeli military obstacles across the occupied West Bank compared to 2015, though they recorded 15 fewer permanently staffed checkpoints that became partially staffed in 2016.

As of mid-December 2016, there were 472 movement obstacles in the West Bank, including 44 permanently staffed checkpoints -- 31 of them along Israel’s illegal separation wall, 52 partially staffed checkpoints, 180 earth mounds, 72 roadblocks, and 124 road gates -- half of which are normally closed.

The report noted that West Bank closure figures excluded eight checkpoints placed on the Green Line, as well as ad-hoc, so-called “'flying” checkpoints that lack permanent infrastructure, but nonetheless impede Palestinian freedom of movement on a daily basis.

According to OCHA, there were also 110 obstacles deployed within the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron city (H2) in the southern occupied West Bank by the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing in the besieged Gaza Strip -- the only land crossing between Gaza and Israel -- recorded a daily average of 531 exits of Palestinians during 2016, down from 602 daily exits in 2015.

By contrast, approximately 26,000 Palestinians exited the Gaza Strip through Erez daily before the Second Intifada started in September 2000.

The report highlighted that “Only certain categories of people, mainly medical and other humanitarian cases, merchants, and aid workers, are eligible for exit permits, (and are) subject to security checks.”

Between January and October 2016, 66 percent of the permit applications by Palestinian patients to travel via Erez for medical treatment outside the Gaza Strip were approved on time, down from 78 percent during the same period in 2015.

OCHA noted that as Egypt has meanwhile upheld the Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip for the majority of the past three years, since the ousting of former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of al-Sisi in Egypt.

The UN agency recorded a monthly average of 3,306 crossings in both directions at Egypt's Rafah crossing, down from a monthly average of 25,186 in 2013, before its closure, which was imposed in October 2014.

The report also highlighted that a staggering 51,000 Palestinians remain displaced after their homes were destroyed in Israel’s devastating 50-day offensive on the small Palestinian territory in 2014.

“Most displaced families are dependent on temporary shelter assistance provided by humanitarian organizations,” the report said.

Decline in casualties compared to 2015

OCHA documented a decline in deaths and injuries in the context of attacks and clashes in 2016 from the previous year.

As of 26 December, 109 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in actual attacks, attempted attacks, alleged attacks, or clashes in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel, compared to 169 Palestinian and 25 Israeli fatalities recorded during 2015.

Of the Palestinian fatalities this year, 80 were perpetrators or alleged perpetrators of attacks and attempted attacks against Israelis, according to OCHA.

Meanwhile, the UN agency recorded 3,427 Palestinian and 205 Israeli injuries during the year, as of 26 December, compared with 15,477 and 304 injuries respectively in 2015.

About 95 percent of the Palestinian injuries in 2016 were recorded in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem -- the vast majority during demonstrations and clashes.

Similar to 2015, about 58 percent of injuries resulted from severe tear gas inhalation requiring a medical intervention; 18 percent from rubber, rubber-coated or sponge bullets; 16 percent from live ammunition; and the rest from physical assault and other means.

The large number of injuries and fatalities last year came as a result of a wave of unrest that began in October 2015, marked by small-scale attacks and alleged attacks by Palestinians on mainly uniformed Israeli soldiers or police.

According to Ma’an documentation, the unrest left 34 Israelis dead, while 235 Palestinians were killed -- many of whom rights groups said were “extrajudicial executions” by Israeli forces and settlers.

While the ebb in the wave of violence accounted for an overall drop in Palestinian injuries in 2016, a report released by the NGO BADIL in August warned of an intensification of the “systematic targeting” of Palestinian youth with live ammunition by Israeli forces since the beginning of 2016 -- particularly in refugee camps.
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