SALFIT (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces delivered stop-work orders and demolition orders to Palestinian owners of three homes in the town of Burqin west of Salfit in the central occupied West Bank on Sunday, under the pretext that the structures did not have Israeli-issued building permits.Local sources told Ma’an that the homes were located in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank under full Israeli control -- along an Israeli bypass road connecting illegal Israelis settlements located just west of Burqin: Peduel, Ale Zahav, and Leshem, which was recently recognized by the Israeli government as a settlement unto itself after first being established as a "neighborhood" of the Ariel settlement block.
In a response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for implementing Israeli policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, said via email on Monday that "Last week, demolition orders were issued against illegal structures in the area of Salfit. These structures were build without the required permits and outside of the outline program of the village in the area."
Nearly all Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C are denied by the Israeli authorities, forcing communities to build illegally, and placing them under the constant risk of demolitions at the hands of Israeli forces.
Meanwhile. the estimated 550,000 Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem are more easily given building permits and allowed to expand their homes and properties.
Demolitions in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem saw an unprecedented surge in 2016, as Israeli authorities had demolished 1,081 Palestinian structures as of Dec. 26 according to UN documentation, more than doubling the number of demolitions since 2015, when 531 Palestinian structures were demolished.
Last month, the extreme right-wing Regavim movement reportedly filed a petition to the Israel’s Supreme Court against the Israeli Defense Ministry and the Civil Administration for “neglecting for a decade to demolish an illegal Arab building which is on state land within the administrative borders of the town of Leshem.”
In May 2016, after repeated instances of settlers leveling Palestinian lands in the area to prepare for infrastructure to build hundreds of settlement units in Leshem, a COGAT spokesperson told Ma'an the leveling activities were part of "a master plan in effect on state lands and the work there is legal."
At the time, Maali told Ma’an that such leveling works were being carried on a near-daily basis in order to expand 24 settlements in the area.
A recent report by Israeli rights group B’Tselem argued that under the guise of a "temporary military occupation," Israel has been "using the land as its own: robbing land, exploiting the area’s natural resources for its own benefit and establishing permanent settlements," estimating that Israel had dispossessed Palestinians from some 200,000 hectares (494,211 acres) of lands in the occupied Palestinian territory over the years.
B’Tselem highlighted the “key role” of Israeli settlers in further isolating Palestinians from their lands, either through the establishment of outposts officially unrecognized by the Israeli government, or through the regular use of violence or threats of violence against Palestinians.
The movement of Israeli settlers taking over Palestinian land, and further displacing the local Palestinian population has been a "stable" Israeli policy since the takeover of the West Bank and Jerusalem in 1967, B'Tselem said, underscoring that all "Israeli legislative, legal, planning, funding, and defense bodies" have played an active role in the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands, despite the international community pinpointing settlements as one of the major obstacles to peace.