Israel demolishes Palestinian homes in Jerusalem area

Palestinians accuse Israel of using security as a pretext to force them out of the area as part of long-term efforts to expand settlements

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Israel on Monday demolished a cluster of Palestinian homes built near the Palestinian side of the separation barrier that straddles the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, a move that drew international criticism.

Around three in the morning, hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers moved in on the village of Wadi Hummus to demolish a number of homes. A total of 10 are under demolition order and it was unclear how many were razed on Monday. Despite immediate international objections, more demolitions loom ahead.

The villagers of Wadi Al Hummus, a part of the Jerusalem suburb of Sur Baher, lost their case last month before Israel’s Supreme Court in a final bid to stop the demolition of 10 buildings comprising around seventy apartments.

The majority of structures are located in Area A of the occupied West Bank, under control of the Palestinian Authority, the body led by President Mahmoud Abbas that operates limited self-rule in the territory under Israeli occupation. It had given residents permission to build the structures.

Israel, however, says that the houses lie too close to the separation barrier dividing Israel and the occupied West Bank, and therefore violate a construction ban and pose a security risk.

Palestinians say they worry that the Wadi Al Hummus case will set a new precedent for demolitions in Sur Baher and other Palestinian villages lying along the wall, which ranges from fence to concrete.

"What is happening today is a mass displacement of the people living in Wadi al-Hummus, despite the legal and diplomatic attempt to protect their property," Ali Al Obeidi, the chairman of the Wadi Al Hummus Committee, told local Palestinian news.

Residents say they have poured savings into the targeted buildings and now fear being homeless and in financial straits.

Early on Monday, as Israeli police and soldiers began their demolition preparations, the military declared the area a closed zone and prevented access for journalists.

Palestinian and international activists reported that soldiers violently removed them from homes, with some requiring hospitalization.

Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, land which Palestinians seek as the basis of any future sovereign state. The 1993 Oslo Peace Accords established the PA in control of Areas A and B of the West Bank and Israeli control in Area C, the largest. Israel frequently demolishes Palestinian structures it says are built illegally in East Jerusalem and Area C. Palestinians say they have no choice as Israeli authorities rarely provide them permits to build.

United Nations humanitarian coordinator Jamie McGoldrick said in a statement Monday that they were “following with sadness” the developments in Sur Baher. He pledged humanitarian support for those affected and condemned the “trauma” facing the community and the “violation of their rights”.

“But no amount of humanitarian assistance can replace a home or cover the massive financial losses sustained today by the owners,” he said in a statement, adding, “what happened today in Sur Bahir is of even greater significance, as many other homes and structures now risk the same fate.”

The European Union also quickly condemned the day’s events in a statement.

“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,” it read.

“In line with the EU’s long-standing position, we expect the Israeli authorities to immediately halt the ongoing demolitions,” the statement continued. “The continuation of this policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace and seriously jeopardises the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both States.”

Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan defended the demolitions, telling Israel's Army Radio that “there are hundreds of illegal structures… endangering the security forces that operate there [along the wall]” and which were built because “there is no sufficient governance there.”

Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee, said that Israel’s move serves “one purpose: the preservation and expansion of the Israeli colonial-settlement enterprise at the expense of Palestinian land and people.”

He continued, “The Palestinians have no recourse, as the Israeli judicial system has repeatedly shown its complicity in Israel’s illegal colonial-settlement enterprise,” he said. “It is, therefore, the responsibility of the international community to immediately intervene to halt the demolitions in Sur Baher and hold Israel to account for its repeated violations of international law.”

All the while, as condemnations are exchanged, Sur Baher’s residents are bracing for tomorrow.