Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Israeli forces have continued to demolish Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank, while defying accusations of war crimes in the occupied territories, according to a report by an Israeli human rights center released earlier this week.
"During the past month, Israel escalated the pace of house demolitions in the West Bank," the Jerusalem-based B'Tselem nongovernmental organization (NGO) said in a Tuesday report. The NGO said 63 Palestinian homes were demolished across the West Bank, not including occupied east Jerusalem, since the beginning of the year, 33 of which were destroyed in June only. The report stated that a total of 151 Palestinians, including 84 minors, lost their homes and only in June, 100 Palestinians were displaced, 53 of whom were minors.
The NGO went on to warn against the high risk posed to displaced Palestinians amid the spread of the coronavirus. Regarding the occupied east Jerusalem, B'Tselem said it witnessed a rise in home demolitions in June with 13 homes razed, displacing 51 people, including 31 minors. "This number equals twice the rate of monthly demolition in the first five months of this year, which reached six homes per month," the NGO said.
The NGO noted that the Israeli pledge in April before the United Nations to refrain from demolishing homes during the pandemic was "only a promotional trick to avoid criticism."
Palestinians have long suffered from the ongoing risk of demolition by Israeli forces. In December 2019, Israel planned to demolish some 18,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem. Such actions have been called a "war crime" by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Destroying hope and means of education, as well as a future for Palestinian children and youth, Israeli military forces last year demolished a school in a Bedouin community in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Turning to the international community to halt Israeli demolition, Palestinians have argued that the Israeli government uses the issue of security as an excuse to force them further from the city and to expand settlement projects in the occupied territories. The Palestinian Authority described the demolitions as part of the "deal of the century," a U.S. backchannel plan for peace which Palestinians decry as an attempt to liquidate their cause. Palestinian resistance group Hamas, for its part, described the Israeli demolitions as a "crime of ethnic cleansing," in a statement released in July 2019.
The sharp rise in Israeli demolitions came amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's annexation plans for the occupied West Bank, which face intensifying international opposition.
Netanyahu's center-right coalition government had set July 1 as the date from which it could begin implementing U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East peace proposal, which was announced on Jan. 28. It refers to Jerusalem as "Israel's undivided capital" and recognizes Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank.
The demolitions capped a yearslong legal battle over the buildings, built along the invisible line straddling the city and the occupied West Bank. Israel says buildings were erected too close to its West Bank separation barrier. Residents say the buildings are on West Bank land, and the Palestinian Authority gave them construction permits.
The ongoing Israeli demolitions signal protracted wrangling over the future of Jerusalem, home to more than 500,000 Israelis and 300,000 Palestinians, and sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In 1980, the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring the "complete and united" city of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, including the eastern half that it captured in 1967. But the U.N. regards east Jerusalem as occupied, and the city's status remains disputed until it can be resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, who say that east Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.