Demolitions and demography

What are the motivations therefore of home demolitions? We can only make convincing educated guesses. There is certainly a state apparatus in place that facilitates demotions of Palestinian homes in the West bank. Those administering them will often be responsible for the very conditions of the accused ‘illegality’: an ability to obtain planning permits, particularly with the overlapping jurisdictions in East Jerusalem and its bureaucracy, makes it incredibly difficult to build legally and thus makes Palestinian homes susceptible to administrative demolition orders. As recently as July 2011, the Israeli Authorities have only allocated 1% of Area C of the West bank (Area C is the 60% of the West bank under full Israeli control) for Palestinian development. This renders application for permits impossible, whilst Israeli settlements receive preferential treatment in allocation for resources and approval of development plants.[18] The courts are equally as pernicious, meandering through the stops and checks of International Humanitarian Law to justify home demotions under the draconian Defence (Emergency) Regulations.  The case of Alzak v. Military Commander of the West bank[19] even cited that the occupants did not need foreknowledge of their homes being destroyed.

There is a clear nexus between demographic considerations and home demolitions. Zionist thought has always professed toward numerical supremacy in Palestine,[20] and a vindictive and aggressive policy toward this demographic majority has been a mainstay of Israeli politics. Yisrael Koenig’s highly influential Memorandum of 1976 began to centralize demography in the public sphere. The document outlined the anxieties of Israel’s existential crisis and the Arab’s demographic momentum in Palestine. Both before the memorandum and, particularly, after, laws and policies have been introduced to stifle this momentum. These include the notorious Law of Return, annexation through the ‘separation wall’ deemed illegal by the ICJ’s opinion,[21] and proposals for ideological oaths and population transfers. Home demolitions form part of a meta-policy to create a favorably Jewish demographic countenance. They create the hostile conditions in which Palestinian livelihood become unbearable.

The sacrosanct thing to do in contemporary politics is to ‘look at both sides of the argument’. Applying the same standards to non-Arabs would provide some more weight to the argument that it is merely administrative inconvenience at play here. In 2005,[22] a substantially lower number of requests for permits were requested by Arab East Jerusalem than Israeli West Jerusalem and 53% and 76% were granted, respectively; Amnesty International suggesting that the low number is due to what little land Palestinians have available to them. By allocating little land for planning permission to Palestinians, such positions collapse quickly.

Military demolitions can appear robust under the guise of a national security discourse, but it still ignores the flagrant abuses of International Humanitarian Law; and with the Israeli military command calling the shots and a lack of enforcement, such framing under International Law is difficult to be taken seriously. Finally, as a deterrent, we have heard straight from the horse’s mouth that such a strategy is dysfunctional and intuitively disproportionate.  It becomes a difficult endeavor to frame such actions with a moral compass. There is, however, another explanation.

These strategies cannot be disconnected from the privilege of ideology in Israel. The immortality of the state as being Jewish naturally demands demographic supremacy, more so in a state which is quasi-democratic with universal suffrage. This position, as the overarching preemptory norm, explains the behavior of the executive and judicial bodies. Home demolitions, whatever their guise, are a composite of this narrative and this appears to be the real compulsion.

As there is little sign to show that home demolitions are dissipating, there is considerable cause for concern. Palestinians reside in a state that is unable to universally and adequately address its grievances. Demolitions under these pretences are entirely disingenuous. Indeed, in some cases, some homes were destroyed despite the alleged offender having passed on.[23] Often demolitions will frequently take place during the night; the notorious Nohal Sir Lachatz strategy during the second intifada would demand militants to surrender and, after a certain time had expired, regardless of whether they had vacated their homes, demolition would begin. The resultant homeless would then join that exclusive but ever increasing club of those displaced in their own country. The final ‘salt in the wound’ is perhaps the Planning and Construction Law (Proposed Amendment—Financing Demolition of Illegal Construction at the Expense of the Builder) which seeks to allay the costs for administrative demolitions to the builder of the structure. It is almost laughable. Almost.

In the 1948 war, there were many documented incidents of Israeli forces destroying Arab villages.[24]  This was in effect an ethnic cleansing analogous to the brutal Al-Anfal Campaign in Kurdish Northern Iraq. Today, we have an ethnic cleansing of a much more subtle and nuanced kind. The weapons are not guns or hand grenades, but rather the apparatus of the state: the Knesset, the Courts, and the Government. Certainly less blood is shed, but the wounds are still as painful.


[1] Amnesty International, Israel: House demolitions — Palestinians given “15 minutes to leave… (, Amnesty International 1999)

[2] ACRI “Summary of the Knesset Session- Summer 2011” ACRI (, 2011)

[3] Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, Statistics on House Demolitions (1967-2010) (ICAHD 2010)

[4] For a comprehensive analysis of the legal arguments, see also The Legality of house demolitions under International Humanitarian Law (

[5] Adalah, The Israeli Army’s Exploitation of the “Absolute Military Necessity” Exception to Justify its Policy of Home Demolitions in the 1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories(Adalah, 2005) 3

[6] No Legal Frontiers, The Defence (Emergency) Regulations, 1945 (

[7] Acri (n2)

[8] Stanford (n4) 5

[9] Ibid.

[10]Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, East Jerusalem Demolitions ( 2008)

[11] Ir Amin, A Layman’s Guide to Home Demolitions in East Jerusalem (Ir Amin, 2009) 3

[12] Advocats Sans Frontiers, Enforcing Housing Rights: the case of Sheikh Jarrah”: a report of the fact-finding mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory  (Advocats Sans Frontiers 2011)  7

[13] Ir Amin (n10) 5-6

[14] 42 (3) P.D. 641 (1994)

[15] Ingela Karlsson, House Demolitions ( 2011)

[16] Ronen Shnayderman, Through No Fault of their Own: Punitive House Demolitions during the al-Aqsa Intifada, (B’Tselem, 2004)  8

[17] Chris Gunness , Sharp Increase in Demolitions Threatens to Destroy West Bank Communities: UNRWA Calls for accountability and an End to Discriminatory Practices (UNISPAL, 2011)

[18] Ibid

[19] 1987 (1) Takdin-Elyon

[20] Asher Susser, Partition and the Arab Palestinian Minority in Israel (Israel Studies, Volume 14, Number 2, 2009) 106

[21] ICJ, Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (ICJ,, 2004)

[22] Eric Rozenman, Washington Post Defends ‘Arab Jerusalem‘ ( CAMERA,  ( 2007)

[23] Brian Farrell, Israeli Demolition of Palestinian Houses as a Punitive Measure: Application of International Law to Regulation, ( 28 Brooklyn Journal of International Law, 2003) 871

[24] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge,  Cambridge University Press 2003)