With demolitions, Israel tightens squeeze on W Bank Palestinians

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Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 6:35 PM

Figures collated by the U. N.'south office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA), which operates in Gaza, the W Bank and E Jerusalem, indicate that from an average of fifty demolitions a mo in 2012-2015, the average has risen to one hundred sixty-five a mo since January, with two hundred thirty-five demolitions in Feb alone.

In the past three months, the Israeli military has more than tripled its demolitions of Palestinian structures in the occupied W Bank, United Nations' figures show, raising alarm among diplomats and human rights groups over what they regard as a sustained violation of international law.

Figures collated by the U. N.'south office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs (OCHA), which operates in Gaza, the W Bank and E Jerusalem, indicate that from an average of fifty demolitions a mo in 2012-2015, the average has risen to one hundred sixty-five a mo since January, with two hundred thirty-five demolitions in February alone.

The Israeli military, which has occupied the W Bank since the one thousand nine hundred sixty-seven Center E war, says it carries out the demolitions because the structures are illegal: they were either built without a permit, in a closed military area or firing zone, or breach other planning and zoning restrictions.

The U. N. and rights groups point out that permits are nearly impossible for Palestinians to acquire, that firing zones are frequently declared but rarely used, and that many planning restrictions date from the British Mandate in the 1930s.

"It's a very marked and worrying increase," said Catherine Cook, an OCHA official based in Jerusalem who closely monitors the demolitions, describing the situation as the worst since the U. N. body started collecting figures in 2009.

"The hardest hit are Bedouin and Palestinian farming communities who are at risk of forcible transfer, which is a clear violation of international law."

The structures comprise houses, Bedouin tents, livestock pens, outhouses and schools. In an increasing no of cases, they also comprise humanitarian structures erected by the European Union to assistance those affected by earlier demolitions.

Appearing before a sub-committee in the Israeli parliament on Wednesday, Major Common Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of the Israeli government'south activities in the W Bank, defended the policy and told right-wing lawmakers he was doing all he could to carry out 11.000 outstanding demolition orders.

The lawmakers summoned Mordechai to the hearing because of their concerns he's not doing sufficient to dismantle Palestinian structures and focusing instead on removing unauthorized Israeli construction in the W Bank.

"I wish to state unequivocally that enforcement is more severe towards the Palestinians," Mordechai told them, comments that'd show up to substantiate the concerns raised by diplomats, aid workers and human rights groups.

"Moreover, much of the enforcement with regard to the Palestinians takes space on private Palestinian land."

From the point of view of B'Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, that admission would show up to confirm that Israel'south policy discriminates against Palestinians. Mordechai said Israelis and Palestinians were treated the same.

"There is undoubtedly a wave of demolitions and displacements that's severely threatening the skill of thousands of Palestinians to live in these areas," said Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for B'Tselem.

"To demolish the homes of Palestinians who are protected below the Geneva Conventions and to construct (Israeli) settlements is a clear violation of international humanitarian law."

WHAT AIM?

While it's clear have picked up sharply, it's less clear why the policy is being pursued more vigorously presently or where it leads.

One factor that appears to have increased the pressure on the government is the work of Regavim, a right-wing Israeli NGO that describes its goal as the "responsible, legal, accountable and environmentally friendly utilize of Israel'south national lands".

To Regavim, "national lands" includes the W Bank, which the grouping refers to as Judea and Samaria - the Biblical areas many religious Jews look as their ancient heritage. The Palestinians wish the W Bank, E Jerusalem and the Gaza strip for their own independent state.

Using drones, Regavim overflies the W Bank to capture footage of where illegal construction may be going on. Its lawyers and field workers then compile detailed files of alleged violations and present them to the government and courts.

The group, co-founded by Betzalel Smotrich, an ultra-nationalist W Bank settler who's presently a member of parliament, makes frequent submissions to the sub-committee on Judea and Samaria, the same forum that questioned Mordechai.

While Smotrich is number longer involved with Regavim, his party, coalition partner Jewish Home, supports more settlement building and the annexation of "Area C" of the W Bank, where most Palestinian structures are being demolished.

Area C, which makes up sixty % of the W Bank, has been below complete Israeli military control since the mid-1990s.

Ari Briggs, an Australian-Israeli who runs Regavim, says the group'south aim isn't to target Palestinians but to apply the law - generally Israeli military law - rigorously and equally.

"What'south happening on the ground is massive illegal construction in the Arab sector," he wrote in the Jerusalem Post in January. "Illegal construction is only a symptom of a much wider problem: The failure of the state of Israel to impose the law equally, on all its citizens, throughout the land."

Diplomats look a wider trend. When Palestinians' homes are destroyed in Area C, they're forced to move far from the sector, which is where most Jewish settlements are based. Settlements - known as outposts - built without Israeli government permission are sprouting up across Area Celsius and presently no around one hundred. Some are even based in 'firing zones' where Palestinian homes have been destroyed.

"They're exerting ever greater control over strategic areas of the West Bank," said a diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "(Israeli) settlements are the vehicle for taking control of the land."

(Writing by Luke Baker; editing by Giles Elgood)

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