There is no humanitarian value in Israel temporarily halting Palestinian home demolitions

Locals inspect a two-storey building belonging to Palestinians after it was demolished by Israeli forces in Al-Khalil-Hebron (Mamoun Wazwaz - Anadolu Agency)

Ramona Wadi

Middle East Monitor  /  April 9, 2020

As the international community steps up its humanitarian rhetoric with regard to Palestinians during the coronavirus pandemic, Israel is also aiming to get on board the trend. The Civil Administration announced it will suspend home demolitions in Area C – not out of any concern for Palestinian rights, but in the context of the virus spread.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Secretary General, Saeb Erekat, announced last week that UN officials had informed him about the decision taken by Israel to “stop demolitions of Palestinian homes.” The language used by Erekat was misleading. A temporary halt is not a cessation and the PLO is under no obligation to frame the decision as benevolent, or humanitarian, or in any other framework that shifts attention away from the Zionist colonial process that is forcibly displacing Palestinians to steal what remains of their land.

In its latest published statistics, B’Tselem notes that 1,548 Palestinian residential dwellings were destroyed by Israel from 2006 until March 2020. Additionally, 1,609 non-residential structures were demolished by Israel between January 2012 and March 2016. The Jerusalem Post has quoted B’Tselem referencing Israel’s responsibility as the occupying power in such circumstances: “A pause in demolitions of residential structures does not come near meeting these obligations, and the continued destruction of humanitarian infrastructure during a humanitarian crisis is despicable.”

Israel has left a loophole in its decision to halt demolitions – once again the security narrative takes precedence over the purported humanitarian decision. The Times of Israel reported that “exceptions would be made for structures that are slated for razing due to security or public safety reasons.”

To safeguard its colonial practices, Israel has availed itself of the “exception” discourse. This has allowed it to redefine power and violence, constantly manipulating and stretching the boundaries of human rights violations until the international community adopted Israel’s security narrative as a priority over human rights. In the midst of the pandemic, Israel is utilising exceptions to ensure there will be no opposition to any decision to demolish structures deemed to be an alleged “security concern”.

Palestinians have been routinely deprived of shelter, water and access to basic services – all of which can contribute to an escalation of the coronavirus spread. It is important to note how weak Israel’s decision is when compared to decades of policies which violate Palestinians’ rights and which the UN has glossed over repeatedly, apart from the statistics, of course, which remain the only competence of an international community that has intentionally failed to even call for the decolonisation of Palestine.

The least that can be done is to refrain from validating Israel any further and call out the decision as self-serving. There is no concern for Palestinian civilians – only a concern that the virus will not spread to Israel’s detriment. Now that Israel has clarified that its suspension of demolitions is subject to conditions which are determined and interpreted solely through the colonial framework, perhaps Erekat can take a principled approach as opposed to promoting an agreement validated by UN officials.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America