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A Palestinian home after demolition by Israeli military forces.

House demolition is a controversial tactic used by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Israeli settlers in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip against Palestinians.

Official IDF explanations for house demolitions include use as a counter-insurgency security measure to impede or halt militant operations,[1] as a regulatory measure to enforce building codes and regulations,[2] and as a deterrent against terrorism in the occupied territories.[3]

Human rights organizations and the United Nations criticize the ongoing demolitions[4] of Palestinian homes as violating international law, and contend that Israeli governments actually use demolitions to collectively punish Palestinians[1] and to seize property for the expansion of Israeli settlements.[5][6]

House demolitions are also used to remove illegal (by Israeli law) Israeli settlements.[7]


IDF arguments

House demolition is typically justified by the IDF on the basis of:

Human rights organisations' criticism

The United Nations (UN) and human rights groups such as Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross who oppose the house demolitions reject the IDF's claims, and document numerous instances where they argue the IDF's claims do not apply.[1] They accuse the Israeli government and IDF of other motives:

According to the United Nations, about 1,500 homes were demolished by the IDF just in the Rafah area in the period 2000-2004.[11]

In 2004, Human Rights Watch published the report 'Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip'.[12][13] The report documented what it described as a "pattern of illegal demolitions" by the IDF in Rafah, a refugee camp and city at the southern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt where sixteen thousand people lost their homes after the Israeli government approved a plan to expand the de facto "buffer zone" in May 2004.[13][14] The IDF’s main stated rationales for the demolitions were; responding to and preventing attacks on its forces and the suppression of weapons smuggling through tunnels from Egypt[15]



IDF armored Caterpillar D9R bulldozer.

Demolitions are carried out by the Israeli Army Combat Engineering Corps using armored bulldozers, usually Caterpillar D9, but also with excavators (for high multi-story buildings) and wheel loaders (for small houses with low risk) modified by the IDF. The heavily armored IDF Caterpillar D9 is often used when there is a risk demolishing the building (such as armed insurgents barricading inside or the structure is rigged with explosive and booby traps). Multi-story building, flats, and explosive labs are demolished by explosive devices, set by IDF demolition experts of Yaalom's Sayeret Yael. Amnesty International has also described house demolitions that were carried out by the IDF using "powerful explosive charges".[1]

Legal status

The use of house demolition under international law is today governed by the Fourth Geneva Convention, enacted in 1949, which protects non-combatants in occupied territories. Article 53 provides that "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons ... is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."[16]

However, Israel, which is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, asserts that the terms of the Convention are not applicable to the Palestinian territories on the grounds that the territories do not constitute a state which is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention.[17][18][19] This position is rejected by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, which notes that "it is a basic principle of human rights law that international human rights treaties are applicable in all areas in which states parties exercise effective control, regardless of whether or not they exercise sovereignty in that area."[1]

As a punitive measure

Amnesty International has criticised the lack of due process in the use of house demolitions by Israel. Many demolitions are carried out with no warning or opportunity for the householder to appeal.

In 2002, a proposed demolition case was appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court who ruled that there must be a right to appeal unless doing so would "endanger the lives of Israelis or if there are combat activities in the vicinity." In a later ruling the Supreme Court decided that demolitions without advanced warning or due process can be carried out if advance notice would hinder demolition. Amnesty describes this as "a virtual green light" to demolition with no warning.[1]


House demolitions were used in the region under the British Mandate. In 1945 the authorities passed the Defence (Emergency) Regulations[20] and Regulation 119 made this practice available to the local Military Commander without limit or appeal.

In a 1987 letter, the British said this regulation had been repealed in 1948.[21] However, the repeal was not published in the Palestine Gazette, as required in law at that time, and Israel still operates the contentious policy of punitive military house demolition under the 1945 British DER 119.

House demolitions are usually done without prior warning and often during the night. The home's inhabitants are given little time to evacuate - usually between a few minutes to half an hour.[22]

In February 2005, the Ministry of Defense (Israel) ordered an end to the demolition of houses for the purpose of punishing the families of suicide bombers unless there is "an extreme change in circumstances".[23] However, house demolitions continue for other reasons. In 2010 (to 9 Nov) 315 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished in East Jerusalem and Area C (including 17 structures demolished by their owners following demolition orders). 402 people have been displaced and about 1,296 people have been otherwise affected. [4]

Criticism and responses

The effectiveness of house demolitions as a deterrence has been questioned. In 2005 an Israeli Army commission to study house demolitions found no proof of effective deterrence and concluded that the damage caused by the demolitions overrides its effectiveness. As a result, the IDF approved the commission's recommendations to end punitive demolitions of Palestinian houses.[24]

A number of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, oppose the practice. Human Rights Watch has argued that the practice violates international laws against collective punishment, the destruction of private property, and the use of force against civilians.[25]

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick, however, implied that there is a moral basis for demolishing the houses of families of suicide bombers, stating:

"Demolishing the homes of civilians merely because a family member has committed a crime is immoral. If, however,... potential suicide murderers... will refrain from killing out of fear that their mothers will become homeless, it would be immoral to leave the Palestinian mothers untouched in their homes while Israeli children die on their school buses."[26]

In May 2004, The Israeli Foreign Ministry publicly stated:

"...other means employed by Israel against terrorists is the demolition of homes of those who have carried out suicide attacks or other grave attacks, or those who are responsible for sending suicide bombers on their deadly missions. Israel has few available and effective means in its war against terrorism. This measure is employed to provide effective deterrence of the perpetrators and their dispatchers, not as a punitive measure. This practice has been reviewed and upheld by the High Court of Justice"[27]

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticised the Israeli government's plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem calling the action a violation of international obligations.[28]

Recent conflicts

House demolition has been used in an on-again-off-again fashion by the Israeli government during the Second Intifada. More than 3,000 homes have been destroyed in this way.[29] House demolition was used to destroy the family homes of Saleh Abdel Rahim al-Souwi,[30] perpetrator of the Tel Aviv bus 5 massacre, and Yahya Ayyash,[31] Hamas's chief bomb maker, known as "the engineer", as well as the perpetrators of the First and second Jerusalem bus 18 massacres, and the Ashqelon bus station bombing.[32]

According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem:

  • From October 2001 to December 2005, Israel has demolished 668 homes as punishment, leaving 4,182 people homeless.[33]
  • Israel has demolished 1,746 homes for alleged military purposes since B'Teselem started keeping statistics in this category in 2004.[34]
  • According to the United Nations, about 1,500 homes were demolished by the IDF in the Rafah area in the period 2000–2004.[11]

In November 2008 B'Tselem filmed an armed Israeli Policeman wearing a riot helmet headbutt a Palestinian women. The confrontation occurred during a protest, after the Jerusalem municipality destroyed two houses because it said they were built without permission.[35]

As a regulatory measure

Some house demolitions are allegedly performed because the houses may have been built without permits, or are in violation of various building codes, ordinances or regulations. Some International human rights groups and community figures claim that Israeli authorities are in fact systematically denying building permit requests in Arab areas as a means of appropriating land.[1] This is disputed by Israeli sources, who claim that both Arabs and Jews enjoy a similar rate of application approvals.[36]

According to Amnesty International, "The destruction of Palestinian homes, agricultural land and other property in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, is inextricably linked with Israel’s long-standing policy of appropriating as much as possible of the land it occupies, notably by establishing Israeli settlements."[1] In October 1999, during the "Peace Process" and before the start of the Al Aqsa Intefada, Amnesty International wrote that: "well over one third of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem live under threat of having their house demolished. ... Threatened houses exist in almost every street and it is probable that the great majority of Palestinians live in or next to a house due for demolition."[37]

"House demolitions ostensibly occur because the homes are built 'illegally' - i.e. without a permit. Officials and spokespersons of the Israeli government have consistently maintained that the demolition of Palestinian houses is based on planning considerations and is carried out according to the law. ... But the Israeli policy has been based on discrimination. Palestinians are targeted for no other reasons than that they are Palestinians. ... [Israel has] discriminated in the application of the law, strictly enforcing planning prohibitions where Palestinian houses are built and freely allowing amendments to the plans to promote development where Israelis are setting up settlements."[37]

Dr. Meir Margalit of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions writes:

"The thinking is that a national threat calls for a national response, invariably aggressive. Accordingly, a Jewish house without a permit is an urban problem; but a Palestinian home without a permit is a strategic threat. A Jew building without a permit is ‘cocking a snook at the law’; a Palestinian doing the same is defying Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem."[38]

Current Demolition Crises

The Palestinian village Aqabah, located in the northeastern West Bank, is currently being threatened by demolition orders issued by the Israeli Civil Administration against the entire village.[39] The Civil Administration had previously expropriated large areas of privately registered land in the village, and as of May 2008 it has threatened to demolish the following structures: the mosque, the British government-funded medical clinic, the internationally-funded kindergarten, the Rural Women's Association building, the roads, the water tank, and nearly all private homes. According to the Rebuilding Alliance, a California-based organization that opposes house demolitions, Haj Sami Sadek, the mayor of the village, has circulated an open letter asking for assistance.[40][41] Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc, and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions are said to be supporting the campaign.

In May 2008, a UN agency said that thousands of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank risk being displaced as the Israeli authorities threaten to tear down their homes and in some cases entire communities. "To date, more than 3,000 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank have pending demolition orders, which can be immediately executed without prior warning," the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report.[42]

Statistics for Jerusalem


Statistics have been compiled by ICAHD recording the number of demolitions of existing houses in the two parts of Jerusalem. According to ICAHD, there are many more building violations in the western (Jewish) parts of Jerusalem, but the great majority of actual demolitions are carried out in the eastern (Palestinian) parts. ICAHD statistics on house demolitions in Jerusalem were cited in the "2005 County Reports on Human Rights Practices" by the United States Department of State.[43] For 2004 and 2005 ICAHD's figures are as follows:

2004 2005
West Jerusalem East Jerusalem West Jerusalem East Jerusalem
Infractions 5583 1386 5653 1272
Charges filed 980 (18%) 780 (56%) 1529 (27%) 857 (67%)
Administrative demolishing orders 50 216 approximately 40 approximately 80
Demolitions 13 (0.2%) 114 (8.2%) 26 (0.45%) 76 (5.97%)

ICAHD's report[38] further claims that building inspectors record only a small proportion of the infractions in West Jerusalem (usually illegal extensions or porches), and say that no entire residential building in the Western section has ever received demolition orders or been demolished. ICAHD claims that: "The Jerusalem Municipality expropriates land, prevents preparation of a town planning scheme for Palestinian neighborhoods, and refuses to grant building permits, causing a severe housing shortage, forcing residents to build without a permit, after which the Ministry of Interior and the Municipality demolish the houses, so the residents move into homes outside the city, and then the Ministry of Interior revokes their residency and banishes them from the city forever".[44]

ICAHD's conclusions have been disputed by the Israeli Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who argue on their website that the larger number of Palestinian demolitions is simply because many more Palestinian homes have been built illegally. They claim to have "document[ed] a pattern of politically-motivated behavior and criminal profiteering that characterizes much of the construction in the Arab sector of the Holy City.".[36]


According to statistics quoted by CAMERA[45] and FMEP,[46] the number of permits requested and granted in the western (Jewish) parts of Jerusalem is far larger than the number granted in the eastern (Palestinian) parts, but the percentages granted have been roughly similar:

2001[46] 2003[45] 2004[45] 2005[45]
West Jerusalem East Jerusalem West Jerusalem East Jerusalem West Jerusalem East Jerusalem West Jerusalem East Jerusalem
Permits requested 1519 219 1719 138 2079 224 2256 265
Permits approved 1087 191 1425 118 1579 116 1717 135
Ratio 72% 87% 83% 85% 76% 52% 76% 53%

Though the statistics do not show the nationality of the permit requestee nor the nationality of the land owner, CAMERA argues that these figures show that the denial of permits to Arabs and Jews is not based on the ethnicity of the applicant, but instead is generally meant to uphold Israeli master plans and building codes.[45]

In contrast, Amnesty International highlight in these figures the small number of Palestinian permit requests (only about 10 percent of the Israeli requests), and argue that this is indicative of the tiny (and ever-shrinking) percentage of land that the Palestinians have available for their use because of the theft of their land.[37] In 2008 Nicoletta Dimova wrote in the Palestine-Israel Journal that "today, the city's Palestinians are only allowed to build on about 9% of the 17,600 acres of land comprising East Jerusalem",[47] the remainder having been expropriated by Israeli authorities for use by Israeli settlers or as land where Israel currently permits no construction.

After territorial withdrawals

File:Amona rubble.jpg

A Jewish home in Amona destroyed by Israeli forces.

In recent years, the Israeli government has demolished thousands of houses or other residences, and other property belonging to Israeli settlers, when conceding some land and territory to the Palestinian Authority.[48] The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that this is due to a request from the Palestinian authorities to replace single-family dwellings with apartment buildings, better suited to the needs of the local population.[49] Houses have also been demolished in Jewish outpost such as Amona.[50] In May 2010, it was reported that Hamas had demolished as many as 40 homes in the southern Gaza Strip.[51] Then later planning to demolish a further 180 to erect a religious center [52]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Israel and the Occupied Territories Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property by Amnesty International, 18 May 2004.
  2. Israel/Occupied Territories: House Demolition
  3. 3.0 3.1 House demolitions as punishment B'Tselem - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
  4. Israel levels Palestinian homes
  5. Mass Demolition: Security Rationales, Demographic Subtexts
  6. "EU criticizes Israeli demolition of Arab homes in East Jerusalem Read more: EU criticizes Israeli demolition of Arab homes in East Jerusalem - Monsters and Critics -". Middle East News. 2008-11-10. Archived from the original on 2013-01-03. Retrieved 2009-04-14.
  7. Barak asks court to delay outpost home demolition
  8. Israel's top court approves razing Palestinian homes, Znet
  9. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, International Committee of the Red Cross
  10. Update to Amnesty International’s briefing to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Amnesty International, 1 February 2007
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Israeli troops raze Rafah houses". BBC News. 2004-08-12. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  12. "Razing Rafah - ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS". Human Rights Watch. 2004-10-17. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  13. 13.0 13.1 "Razing Rafah - I. SUMMARY". Human Rights Watch. 2004-10-17. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  14. "Razing Rafah". Human Rights Watch. 2004-10-17. Retrieved 2009-09-29.
  15. "Razing Rafah - IV. THE SECURITY SITUATION IN RAFAH". Human Rights Watch. 2004-10-17. Retrieved 2009-09-28.
  16. Fourth Geneva Convention, International Committee of the Red Cross
  17. Alan Dowty, The Jewish State: A Century Later, University of California Press, 2001, ISBN 0520229118, p. 217.
  18. Gerson, Allan. Israel, the West Bank, and International law, Routledge, 28 September 1978, ISBN 0-7146-3091-8, p. 82.
  19. Roberts, Adam, "Decline of Illusions: The Status of the Israeli-Occupied Territories over 21 Years" in International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 64, No. 3. (Summer, 1988), pp. 345-359., p. 350
  20. Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research The Legality of House Demolitions under International Humanitarian Law. Retrieved 30 June 2007.
  21. In a 1987 letter, the British Foreign Ministry indicated that "in view of the Palestine (Revocations) Order in Council 1948 (S.I. 1948/1004, at 1350-51), the Palestine (Defense) Order in Council 1937 and the Defense Regulations 1945 made under it are, as a matter of English law, no longer in force." See Emma Playfair, "Demolition and Sealing of Houses as a Punitive Measure in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank," Al Haq, 33, April 1987.
  22. Israel: House demolitions -- Palestinians given "15 minutes to leave... Amnesty International. December 8, 1999
  23. BBC News, "Israel limits house demolitions", Thursday, 17 February 2005
  24. Is the House Demolition Policy Legal under International Humanitarian Law?
  25. Human Rights News: IDF House Demolition Injures Refugees
  26. Yaacov Lozowick (2004): "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars" ISBN 1400032431. p.260
  27. House Demolition, Legal Background
  28. Glenn, Kessler (2099-03-05). "Clinton Criticizes Israel's Eviction, Demolition Plans". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-04-15.
  29. Through No Fault of Their Own: Israel's Punitive House Demolitions in the al-Aqsa Intifada. B'Tselem
  30. Katz, 160
  31. Palestine Facts. Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
  32. Katz, 280-281
  33. B'Tselem, B'Tselem - House demolitions as punishment - Statistics:
  34. B'Tselem, B'Tselem - Demolition for Alleged Military Purposes - Statistics:
  35. Bowcott, Owen (2008-11-25). "Israeli policeman headbutts woman in Palestinian demolition clashes - Human rights group B'Tselem films violence at demonstrations as police move in to destroy 'illegal' homes". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-11-25.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Illegal Construction in Jerusalem Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "JCPA" defined multiple times with different content
  37. 37.0 37.1 37.2 Israel and the Occupied Territories: Demolition and dispossession: the destruction of Palestinian homes. Amnesty International
  38. 38.0 38.1 Dr. Meir Margalit, (2007): "No Place Like Home"
  39. [1][dead link]
  40. "Contact Us « Rebuilding Alliance". 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
  41. [2][dead link]
  42. Israeli demolition threatens 3,000 Palestinian homes: UN - Yahoo! Canada News
  43. 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Israel and the occupied territories, United States Department of State, 8 March 2006
  44. Chronology of Permit Applications, Demolitions & Rebuilding ICAHD, Oct. 2, 2003
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 Washington Post Watch CAMERA, February, 2007
  46. 46.0 46.1 Building Permits Issued in Jerusalem FMEP, 2001
  47. When Ideology Leads to Destruction: Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem Palestine-Israel Journal, 2008
  48. Greenhouse project endangered in Gaza
  49. The demolition of Gaza settlement homes - Background brief, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website . Retrieved 08-18-2007.
  50. [3] Arutz Sheva - Hundreds Injured in Brutal Demolition of Nine Jewish Homes
  51. Hamas wrecks 'illegal' Gaza homes
  52. Issacharoff, Avi (2010-05-18). "Hamas to raze 180 Gaza houses to erect Islamic religious center - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Retrieved 2010-10-03.

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