The Electronic Intifada / September 23, 2020
Israel has made hundreds more Palestinians homeless during the pandemic.
Since March, when the first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces have demolished or confiscated almost 400 Palestinian structures.
That’s almost 65 per month – the highest average in four years.
So far this year, Israel has forcibly displaced about 700 Palestinians – most of them during the pandemic and half of them children.
In August alone, Israel forced more than 200 Palestinians into homelessness.
That’s “more than in any other single month since January 2017,” according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA.
Those figures do not include the hundreds more whose livelihoods and ability to access services were also hampered by Israel’s demolition campaign.
Palestinians often demolish their own homes to avoid being landed with the bill if Israel carries out the demolition.
Demolitions were not restricted to Palestinian homes.
Israeli occupation forces also destroyed or confiscated water, hygiene and agriculture structures – a further attack on Palestinians’ ability to respond to the pandemic.
Israel’s intensifying demolition campaign mostly targets Palestinians in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that remains under full Israeli military control and includes Israel’s largest settlements.
The rest are taking place in occupied East Jerusalem, barring a small number in Areas A and B – which are nominally under Palestinian Authority control.
Palestinians in Area C have been left to fend for themselves during the pandemic while Israel continues to colonize their land.
Israel’s pretext for most demolitions is that Palestinians build without permits from the occupation authorities despite owning the land.
Israel refuses to permit virtually any Palestinian construction in Area C or in occupied East Jerusalem, forcing Palestinians to build without permits and live in constant fear of demolitions.
This is part of Israel’s relentless effort to change the demographics in the area to ensure a Jewish majority. It is, in other words, ethnic cleansing.
For some Israeli lawmakers, occupation forces are not doing enough to force Palestinians off their land.
Ayelet Shaked, a former minister who has promoted calls for genocide against Palestinians, proposed appointing a government official “whose entire objective would be to prevent the takeover of Area C.”
This Orwellian language reverses Shaked’s true intention: She wants to ensure the takeover of Area C by Israeli settlers from its indigenous Palestinian population.
Smotrich has suggested that Israeli settlements – whose construction is a war crime – be authorized to demolish Palestinian structures they deem “unlicensed,” according to Tel Aviv daily Haaretz.
Other Israeli ministers have likened Palestinian construction in Area C to “an exponential virus,” a “territorial terror” and “a cancer.”
Such language demonizing a people living on its own land as a disease is reminiscent of the incitement that has in numerous times and places preceded ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Destroying EU aid
In August alone, Israel demolished or seized almost $11,000 worth of donor-funded structures, and more than $90,000 worth during the pandemic.
The majority of donor-funded structures demolished or seized this year were funded by the European Union.
In 2019, Israel destroyed or seized half a million dollars worth of EU-funded projects – a 90 percent increase from 2018.
Between 2001 and 2016, Israel caused an estimated $74 million in destruction to EU-funded projects. That included $26 million worth during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza.
Occasionally, the EU mission in the occupied West Bank issues statements of “concern.”
Meanwhile, the EU maintains its high levels of financial, technological and political support for Israel, while sending public signals that further incentivize its behaviour.
Last month, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell met Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
Ashkenazi was army chief during Israel’s 2008-2009 attack on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead, a three-week massacre that killed some 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 300 children.
Borrell congratulated Ashkenazi on Israel’s “normalization of relations with the UAE,” and reaffirmed that “the EU and Israel are ready to continue to work together.”
After a follow-up call with Ashkenazi this month, Borrell affirmed the EU’s interest in “intensifying bilateral cooperation.”
While Ashkenazi is all smiles when his European hosts welcome him, his mood is less friendly behind closed doors.
In a Knesset meeting in July, Ashkenazi said he considered any European-funded project in Area C that “doesn’t honor Israeli construction-permit procedures” as a “European intervention in an attempt to define a border.”
In other words, the EU must let Israel alone dictate where its borders are and must fully cooperate with its ethnic cleansing campaign.
Ashkenazi reportedly threatened that any European-funded structures built in Area C without Israeli permission would face “consequences.” He added that Israel would reject any European “demand for payment of compensation for the demolishing or confiscation of the equipment.”
According to the numbers, Israel’s bullying of the EU works. EU-funded projects have sharply decreased over the years, from 75 in 2015 to just 12 last year.
Chelsea owner funds settlements
Meanwhile, Israel’s settlements in Area C and occupied East Jerusalem continue to flourish.
An Israeli court in Jerusalem gave the green light earlier this month to expel dozens of Palestinians from their homes and hand them to settler groups.
The latter argued that the homes belonged to Jews before the Nakba – the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Israel’s 1950 Absentee Property Law allows Israel to seize land and property owned by Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during and after the Nakba.
Under a 1970 amendment to its law, Israel allowed Jews to reclaim Jerusalem properties they left in 1948, but did not allow the same right to Palestinians – a blatantly racist measure.
The home in the Batan al-Hawa area of Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem belongs to the al-Fatah Rajbi family, 26 of whom will be made homeless, Haaretz reported.
Now, the court is forcing the Palestinian family to hand over their home of 54 years to Ateret Cohanim, a settler organization that helps implement the Israeli government’s colonization of Palestinian properties in Jerusalem.
The land was allegedly registered to a trust in the name of a rabbi under Ottoman rule. In 2001, Israel’s high court transferred the land to Ateret Cohanim.
Since then, the settler group has sued 700 Palestinians living on land allegedly belonging to the trust in a bid to forcibly expel them.
Israeli settler groups have no shortage of help.
Newly exposed documents reveal that Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea Football Club, has contributed more than $100 million to Elad, another Israeli settler group that takes over Palestinian land and homes in occupied East Jerusalem.
Abramovich is a Russian who took Israeli citizenship in 2018.
Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada