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'Ethnic Cleansing With Impunity': Israel Denounced for Demolishing Dozens of Palestinian Homes in Violation of International Law

"Such actions amount to war crimes," declared Amnesty International

Israeli forces demolish a building with bulldozers

Israeli forces demolish a building with bulldozers in Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of Sur Baher region of East Jerusalem on July 22, 2019. (Photo: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Global outcry erupted on Monday—with one critic condemning the move as "ethnic cleansing with impunity"—after Israeli forces demolished dozens of homes in Sur Baher, a Palestinian village that straddles East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

"These demolitions are a flagrant violation of international law and part of a systematic pattern by the Israeli authorities to forcibly displace Palestinians in the occupied territories; such actions amount to war crimes."
—Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International

"These demolitions are a flagrant violation of international law and part of a systematic pattern by the Israeli authorities to forcibly displace Palestinians in the occupied territories; such actions amount to war crimes," Saleh Higazi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Amnesty International, said in a statement Monday.

"Israel must immediately end its cruel and discriminatory policy of home demolitions and forced displacement," added Higazi. "Instead of destroying families' homes Israel must dismantle parts of the fence/wall built inside the occupied Palestinian territories, including in parts of Sur Baher, in violation of international law."

Reuters explained in a report Monday that "parts of Sur Baher lie inside the municipal boundary of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and parts outside the barrier, in the West Bank. But some lie in between: just outside the Jerusalem line but still on the Israeli side of the barrier." An area known as Wadi al-Hummus falls on the Israeli side of what critics call the apartheid wall, but it is ostensibly under control of the Palestinian Authority.

Before dawn on Monday, bulldozers accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers descended on Wadi al-Hummus. The demolition, which The Associated Press called "one of the largest operations of its kind in years," came after Israel's High Court of Justice ended a seven-year legal battle last month by dismissing Palestinians' challenge to an Israeli military order barring construction in the area.

Although residents secured permits from the Palestinian Authority to construct homes in the area, Israeli officials claim that the structures pose a security risk because of their proximity to the barrier. The Israeli court ruling applies to 10 structures already built or under construction, including about 70 apartments, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The demolition displaces 17 people and affects 350 more who owned homes in the buildings.

Israel's Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, in a statement Monday, said the country's top court "ruled that the illegal construction constitutes a severe security threat" and that "those who built houses in the area of the security fence knew that building in that area was prohibited, and took the law into their own hands."

Amnesty's Higazi, however, charged that Israel's security claim "does not stand up to scrutiny."

"The truth is that for decades Israel's authorities have taken arbitrary and disproportionate measures in the name of security to expand their control over Palestinian land and push Palestinians out of areas they consider strategic, forcibly displacing entire communities and unlawfully destroying tens of thousands of homes," said Higazi.

Other critics took to Twitter Monday to speak out against Israel's ongoing displacement of Palestinians:

Three key OCHA officials, in a joint statement Monday, expressed "sadness" over the "trauma" that Palestinian residents and homeowners endured in the area Monday, and reiterated that "Israel's policy of destroying Palestinian property is not compatible with its obligations under international humanitarian law."

The European Union also issued a statement opposing the operation, which said in part: "Israel's settlement policy, including actions taken in that context, such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions, and confiscations of homes, is illegal under international law. In line with the E.U.'s long-standing position, we expect the Israeli authorities to immediately halt the ongoing demolitions."

Denouncing the demolition as "grave aggression," Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh promised to complain to the International Criminal Court. As he put it, "This is a continuation of the forced displacement of the people of Jerusalem from their homes and lands—a war crime and a crime against humanity."

Al Jazeera noted Monday that "Palestinians say the demolitions set a precedent for other towns along the route of the barrier, which runs for hundreds of kilometers around and through the occupied West Bank."

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