'Demolition policy violates international law'

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The Independent Online

An edited extract from Amnesty's report:

An edited extract from Amnesty's report:

More than 3,000 homes, vast areas of agricultural land and hundreds of other properties have been destroyed by Israeli security forces in Israel and the Occupied Territories in the past three-and-a-half years. Tens of thousands have been made homeless or have lost their livelihood. Thousands of other houses have been damaged, and tens of thousands are under threat of demolition, their occupants living in fear of homelessness.

House demolitions are usually carried out without warning, often at night; the occupants are evicted with no time to salvage their belongings. Often the only warning is the rumbling of the Israeli army's US-made Caterpillar bulldozers beginning to tear down the walls of the homes. The victims are often among the poorest and most disadvantaged.

In most cases the justification given by the Israeli authorities for the destruction is "military/security needs", while in other cases it is the lack of building permits. The result is the same: families are left homeless and destitute, forced to rely on relatives, friends and humanitarian organisations for shelter and subsistence.

House demolition has been a long-standing policy in the Occupied Territories and in the Arab sector in Israel. However, in the past three-and-a-half years the scale has reached an unprecedented level. The destruction of Palestinian homes, agricultural land and other property in the Occupied Territories is inextricably linked to Israel's long-standing policy of appropriating as much as possible of the land it occupies, notably by establishing Israeli settlements in violation of international law.

In Israel, it is essentially the homes of Palestinian citizens of Israel which are targeted for demolition. The phenomenon is linked to the state's policy of large-scale confiscation of land, restrictive planning regulations and discriminatory policies in the allocation of state land which makes it difficult or impossible for Israeli Arabs to obtain building permits.

The destruction falls into two categories: houses built without a permit and houses, land and other properties which the Israeli authorities contend are destroyed for "military/security needs":

1. Unlicensed houses: In the Arab sector in Israel demolition of houses for lack of building permits is a recurrent phenomenon, whereas house demolition in the Jewish sector is virtually unheard of.

2. "Military/security needs": Most of the destruction in the Occupied Territories falls under this category. The scale of the destruction is massive, including more than 3,000 homes, large areas of cultivated land, hundreds of shops, workshops, factories and public buildings.

Punitive demolitions of houses belonging to families of Palestinians known or suspected of involvement in suicide bombings and other attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers have become routine.

The full report is available at www.amnesty.org

THE FOURTH GENEVA CONVENTION

Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as reproduced on page one, bans 'any destruction' of property by an occupying power, except when absolutely necessary for military reasons. Article 147 states 'extensive destruction and appropriation of property unjustified by military necessity' (defined as 'measures essential to attain the goals of war ... in accordance with the laws and customs of war') is a grave breach, and hence a war crime.

Article 33 of the Convention stipulates: 'No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed.' The Red Cross says acts such as the destruction of the house belonging to the family of an alleged offender are prohibited, without exception.

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