UN human rights office urges Israel to halt mass demolition of Bedouin structures

24 September 2013 – The United Nations human rights office today urged Israeli authorities to halt the recent wave of demolitions of Bedouin structures, noting the destruction of this property violates international humanitarian law.

“These mass demolitions raise serious concerns about the prohibition on forced evictions under international human rights law, and Israel’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of Palestinians to adequate housing and freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

In July, OHCHR urged Israel to reconsider a proposed law that would result in the demolition of up to 35 Bedouin villages, displacing as many as 40,000 members of these communities from their ancestral homes.

However, demolitions began on 19 August and have been carried out by Israeli authorities in at least six different locations, including East Jerusalem. Subsequently, on 11 September all but two residential structures in the Bedouin community of Az Za’ayyem on the edge of Jerusalem were demolished.

The latest wave of demolitions occurred on 16 September, when 58 structures were knocked down, including all residential structures and livestock shelters in the herding community of Mak-hul in the northern Jordan Valley.

According to OHCHR, all 10 families inhabiting the structures were rendered homeless and no alternative housing options were offered.

“Israeli authorities denied the provision of emergency shelter assistance to the community by humanitarian organizations,” Mr. Colville said. “The community remains vulnerable to further demolitions and repeated displacement due to lack of legal security of tenure and the consequent inability to obtain building permits.”

Mr. Colville added that the obligations of Israel with respect to the right of adequate housing of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory include ensuring access to basic shelter and housing, and refraining from interfering with the enjoyment of these rights.

Text of briefing by Rupert Colville, Spokesman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
(Extracted from Regular Press Briefing by the UN Information Service in Geneva dated 24 Sept. 2013:
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Israel/Palestine

Mr. Colville informed that within the space of one month, the structures – both residential and those related to livelihood – in three Bedouin and herder communities had been entirely, or almost entirely, demolished by Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank.

Most recently, on 16 September, 58 structures had been demolished, including all residential structures and livestock shelters, in the herding community of Mak-hul in the northern Jordan Valley. All 10 families (48 people, including 16 children) had thus been rendered homeless. No alternative housing options were offered.

Israeli authorities had denied the provision of emergency shelter assistance to the community by humanitarian organisations. The absence of any form of shelter had obliged the women and children of the community to leave Mak-hul to seek temporary shelter in a neighbouring community, whilst the men had remained to tend to the livestock. The community remained vulnerable to further demolitions and repeated displacement due to lack of legal security of tenure and the consequent inability to obtain building permits.

Noting both the serious character of these recent events, and the sharp increase in the number of such demolitions this year, OHCHR was reiterating the concerns expressed on 27 August about the forced eviction and potential forcible transfer of the Bedouin community of Tel al Adassa following the demolition of all structures there on 19 August. Subsequently, on 11 September, Israeli authorities had demolished all but two residential structures in the Bedouin community of Az Za’ayyem on the edge of Jerusalem. The two surviving structures there remained at imminent risk of demolition.

Those mass demolitions raised serious concerns about the prohibition on forced eviction under international human rights law, and Israel’s obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of Palestinians to adequate housing and freedom from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home. The obligations of Israel with respect to the right to adequate housing of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory include ensuring access to basic shelter and housing, and refraining from interfering with the enjoyment of those rights. The permanent removal of families from those communities might amount to a violation of the prohibition of forcible transfer under article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. There were also serious concerns that the recent wave of demolitions violated the prohibition on destruction of property under international humanitarian law. OHCHR was urging the Israeli authorities to halt all such demolitions.