Palestinians left homeless as Israel demolishes West Bank houses

Israeli military bulldozers demolished three homes and water cisterns in ‘Aqaba village in the northern West Bank on Thursday morning, leaving 22 people, including 12 children, homeless.Since the beginning of the year, over 750 Palestinians in the West Bank have been displaced after their homes were demolished by the Israeli military, nearly five times more than in the same period last year, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.The bulldozers destroyed the homes of Khaled Sbeih, Basem Sbeih and Abdel Nasser Sbeih, leaving the three families with a few salvaged belongings on the street. “This happened without warning. We had received a letter informing us that we had no permit to build, but there was no date for a demolition or anything like that,” Khaled Sbeih told Amnesty International.“We woke up in the morning and the children went to school. When they came back we had no home. I don’t know how to explain it to them,” he said. Israeli army bulldozers also dug up more than two kilometres of main road in the area of the village.Their neighbours, whose houses are also threatened with demolition, have offered to help by donating tents and the villagers are now preparing to rebuild their homes before winter.“These repeated demolitions which forcibly evict Palestinians from land they have lived on for generations are outrageous and unnecessary,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.“The sharp increase in West Bank demolitions in 2011 shows that this is not some administrative mistake but a conscious Israeli government policy to remove Palestinians from the area,” he said.An Israeli military training ground lies in the immediate vicinity of ‘Aqaba, and the army has often conducted simulation raids in the village. Unexploded ordnance has been found in the surrounding hills claiming the lives of several Palestinian villagers and injuring dozens more, including children, in recent years.“The Israeli authorities seem intent on evicting these Palestinian villagers in order to expand their own military training ground. They must stop these cruel and unwarranted evictions immediately, and transfer all planning for construction in the West Bank over to the Palestinian communities,” said Philip Luther.Last week the Israeli army demolished three shelters in Umm al-Khair in the South Hebron hills in the West Bank, another area which has been at risk. The demolitions are implemented under the pretext that the homes are built without a permit from the Israeli military.However, such permits are virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain. An Israeli NGO, Bimkom, calculated in 2008 that only 13 building permits were issued to Palestinians in the West Bank per year.Communities at risk of demolition lie mostly in what is known as “Area C”, which makes up over 60 per cent of the West Bank. Israel maintains control for both security and civilian matters. Area C is also the location of Israeli settlements, which continue to expand at the expense of Palestinian lands. Under the Geneva Conventions, Israel has a duty to protect Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories, and an obligation to respect their right to a decent standard of living. Israel’s policy of settling its civilians in the occupied territories also violates the Geneva Conventions and is considered a war crime according to the statute of the International Criminal Court.