Israel on Tuesday demolished 76 homes in the occupied West Bank, the single largest demolition of a Palestinian community in over a decade, leaving dozens, mostly minors homeless, according to United Nations data.
Israeli demolition crew backed up by soldiers destroyed homes in the Humsa al Bqai’a Bedouin community in the north Jordan Valley, displacing at least 73 people, 41 of them children.
Lack of building permits was the reason given by authorities, despite indications from the Israeli authorities that such orders would be frozen given the health implications hindering social distancing measures and lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Often such demolitions are deemed illegal under international law.
According to data compiled by OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian office, Tuesday’s clearing was the single largest demolition since July 19, 2010, in terms of numbers of structures affected.
It was also the largest demolition in four years in terms of the number of people made homeless.
Footage taken at the scene and shared with The Independent showed Israel’s civil administration arriving accompanied by soldiers and several bulldozers. The forces demolished at least 18 tents and sheds that were the home of 11 families, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
In addition, 29 tents and sheds that were used as pens for sheep, three sheds used for storage, nine tents used as kitchens, 10 mobile toilets and 23 water tanks were reportedly razed.
More than 30 tonnes of food and water for the animals were also destroyed.
On Wednesday, the families were seen trying to salvage their belongings from the wreckage in the freezing rain. They were reportedly given tents by the Red Cross and helped by activists but their future remains uncertain.
“Their vulnerability is further compounded by the onset of winter and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said OCHA’s humanitarian coordinator Yvonne Helle who strongly urged Israel to halt unlawful demolitions.
“Some of the demolished structures had been donated as humanitarian assistance.”
The incident comes as rights groups announced that the number of Palestinians made homeless by Israeli house demolitions has already reached a four-year high, with now 869 Palestinians displaced between January and November in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
This is the highest number since 2016 when, according to B’Tselem, nearly 1,500 Palestinians were left with nowhere to live.
OCHA sounded the alarm last month warning that between March and August, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories, they recorded the highest destruction rate in the West Bank in four years.
The government typically cites the lack of Israeli-issued building permits when they demolish or force Palestinians to destroy homes and sources of livelihood.
However, the UN and rights groups say these are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain because of the restrictive and discriminatory planning regime which leaves them no venues for legal construction. (Source: Independent UK)