User:PalestineRemembered/House Demolition in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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This article is House Demolition in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Please see House demolition for a wider discussion of its for combating insurgency and other controversial uses.
A Palestinian home after demolition by Israeli security forces

House demolition is a tactic which has been used in many conflicts for various purposes. This article concerns its use in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Five distinct uses[edit]

  1. Destruction of houses as an incidental effect of military necessity.
  2. Wanton destruction of houses during a military advance, scorched earth.
  3. Deliberate targeting of houses during a military occupation as an aid to pacification.
  4. Demolition as collective punishment.
  5. Demolition as ethnic cleansing.

All five uses are alleged in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Military necessity[edit]

Civilian homes have often been used for shelter by one side or another and become military targets. Some property damage is inevitable as forces seek to gain firing positions or expel others from such positions.

Scorched earth[edit]

This tactic has been a favourite of armies at least since Biblical times eg god speaks to Saul in 1 Samuels 15.03: go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

There was widespread house demolition during the Second World War in Germany and Japan by indiscriminate aerial bombardment, see dehousing. The Allies had initially tried to avoid this effect, but later adopted it wholeheartedly. The Nuremberg Tribunals of 1945 did not address the issue, perhaps because both sides had attacked the populations of cities. (The tribunal failed to prosecute attacks on neutral shipping for the same reason). However, the revulsion against area bombing helped lead to the Fourth Geneva Convention "relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War", and this was adopted in 1949.


Small scale examples of this common in many theatres with insurgents. However, it's use is more controversial. Even if there is an ongoing insurgency in progress, depending on the circumstances, such acts may not comply with International Law.

Collective punishment[edit]

Governments facing insurgencies have often used house demolition as a means of eroding popular support for guerrillas and denying insurgents the use of villages as "safe havens". This may amount to collective punishment as defined by the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Ethnic cleansing[edit]

House demolitions may have demographic effects - and can amount to ethnic cleansing or genocide.

Legal status[edit]

The legality of house demolition under International law is disputed. Only "military necessity" is generally considered justification - even then, precautions must be taken to reduce injury to and suffering by civilians.

The Fourth Geneva Convention protects non-combatants in occupied territories. Article 53 says: "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons…is prohibited."[1]

Israel is a party to the Fourth Geneva Convention but asserts that the terms of the Convention are not applicable to the Palestinian territories because it does not exercise sovereignty in the territories and is thus under no obligation to apply the treaty in those areas.[2]

The Legal Issues are discussed in more detail in the main Wikipedia article here.

Historical extent of House Demolitions in this conflict[edit]

Since 2000 and the al-Aqsa Intafada[edit]

House demolition have been widely used by the Israeli government in this period, with approximately 4,100 homes destroyed between 2000 and 2004.[3] 638 of these demolitions were carried out by the IDF as military operations.

1967 to 2007[edit]

Between 11,000 and 12,000 Palestinian houses have been demolished since 1967.[4]

1949 to 1967[edit]

Israel partially demolished at least two villages in friendly neighbouring Jordan. In each case the world community condemned the actions, and gave little credence to the claim that the villagers had been attacking Israel.

1948 and 1949[edit]

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, there were a number of major incidents of the deliberate destruction of Arab villages by Israeli forces. The Israeli historian Benny Morris writes that in the later stages of the 1948 war, "[Israeli] commanders were clearly bent on driving out the population in the area they were conquering".[5] The result, according to Ilan Pappe, was that "In a matter of seven months, five hundred and thirty one villages were destroyed".[6]

Earlier estimates quoted the number of villages as somewhat less, somewhere between 400 and 500 eg 418 - "fully 85% of the villages existing before 1948"[7]


House demolitions were used in the region under the British Mandate. In 1945 the authorities passed the Defence (Emergency) Regulations[8] and Regulation 119 makes this practise available to the local Military Commander without limit or appeal.

In a 1987 letter, the British said this regulation had been repealed in 1948.[9] However, the repeal was not published in the Palestine Gazette, as required in law at that time, and Israel still operates the contentious policy of punitive military house demolition under the 1945 British DER 119.

Notable examples of House Demolition in this conflict[edit]

2007 Twail Abu-Jarwal[edit]

The residents of this village in the Northern Negev bought plots of land from the Israeli government in the town of Laqia in 1978[10] They have never recieved any option from the Israeli government to build legally, and on 9th January 2007, Israeli forces used two bulldozers to demolish the entire village, 21 homes: shacks, brick rooms, and tents. This is the 5th time these people have suffered in this way, half the village was destroyed on 6th Dec 2006. In December 2006, Israel's minister of interior, Roni Bar-On announced he would destroy every last one of the 42,000 illegal structures in the Israeli Negev.

2003 Rafah[edit]

In 2003, Israel demolished a wide swathe of homes in Rafah, to the south of the Gaza strip, as they feared arms smuggling through tunnels. This is where and when Rachel Corrie, a young American activist was killed.

2002 Suicide bombers[edit]

In some cases, the family homes of bomb-makers have been targeted, notably in the cases of Saleh Abdel Rahim al-Souwi (perpetrator of the Tel Aviv bus 5 massacre) and Yahya Ayyash[11] (Hamas's chief bombmaker, known as "the engineer") In other cases, the family homes of the suicide bombers themselves were demolished, eg Jerusalem bus 18 massacres and the Ashqelon bus station bombing.

1966 Samu[edit]

Samu was a small village (population 4,000) in Jordan (now the West Bank) which was attacked by 4,000 Israeli soldiers in jeeps, personnel carriers and five Patton tanks. During the operation, 46 houses and a mosque were demolished. The demolitions were in retaliation for the alleged placement of a mine, which killed 3 Israeli soldiers.[12] The Israelis waited for Jordanian troops to arrive and killed 16, including the pilot of an elderly jet. Three civilians were killed and 96 wounded. The Israeli battalion commander was killed, and ten Israeli soldiers wounded. Special Assistant Komer wrote to President Johnson after this incident that he had told (Israeli) Ambassador Harman "fully understood Israel's problems, but that use of force was dubious at best and use of such disproportionate force--against Jordan to boot--was folly indeed. It undermined the whole US effort to maintain Jordanian stability, which was so much in Israel's own interest that Israel's action was almost incomprehensible."[13]

For the 40th anniversary of the Six Days War, a UN observer came forward to describe what he'd experienced. Dutchman Colonel (ret.) Jan Mühren told the Dutch current affairs program Nova that Israel provoked most border incidents as part of a strategy to annex more land.[14] He tells how Samu (indeed, the entire West Bank) had nothing to do with attacks on Israel "only western officers operated here and we did patrols". Moshe Dayan confirmed that Israel had provoked 80% of incidents preceding the 1967 Israeli attack, and the Dutch television program includes a clip of Israeli journalist Rami Tal describing the interview (the contents of which were not made public until after Dayan's death).

1956 Qibya[edit]

Qibya was a village in Jordan (now the West Bank). Arial Sharon, then commander of Unit 101, equipped his men with 600kgs of explosives and they blew up 45 houses with the death of 69 civilians, mostly women and children crushed in the rubble[15] This incident was in retaliation for the killing of 3 Israelis within Israel, but no evidence the intruders had used the village was ever presented.


House demolition is typically justified on grounds of:

  • Deterrence, achieved by harming the relatives of those who carry out, or are suspected of involvement in carrying out, attacks.
  • Counter-terrorism, by destroying militant facilities such as bombs labs, headquarters and offices.
  • Flushing out an armed or explosive-rigged individual in safety.
  • Self-defence, by destroying possible hideouts, or clearing a path for tanks and heavy APCs.
  • Military necessity of other kinds.


Prominent US lawyer, Alan Dershowitz proposed this be an accepted tactic in 2002.[16]


Sometimes homes double as bomb-factories or militant facilities.


In a siege situation, houses may be demolished.


In the Battle of Jenin a large area of the camp was flattened with bulldozers after some Israeli soldiers were killed advancing into it.

Military Necessity[edit]

Arms were smuggled into the Gaza strip through tunnels from Egypt. Israel demolished many Rafah homes to make this more difficult.

Criticism and responses[edit]

The effectiveness of house demolitions as a deterrence has been questioned. In 2005 an Israeli Army commission to study house demolitions found no proof of effective deterrence and concluded that the damage caused by the demolitions overrides its effectiveness. As a result, the IDF approved the commission's recommendations to end punitive demolitions of Palestinian houses.[17]

House demolitions on the grounds of "illegal structures" is currently around 300 homes per year.[18]

Israeli historian Yaacov Lozowick writes: "Demolishing the homes of civilians merely because a family member has committed a crime is immoral. If, however,... potential suicide murderers... will refrain from killing out of fear that their mothers will become homeless, it would be immoral to leave the Palestinian mothers untouched in their homes while Israeli children die on their school buses."[19]

A number of Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, oppose the practice. They argue that the practice violates international laws against collective punishment, the destruction of private property, and the use of force against civilians.[20]

Amnesty International has criticised the lack of due process in the use of house demolitions by Israel. Many demolitions are military operations of some form and are carried out with no warning or opportunity for the householder to appeal. In other cases, people live for years under the threat of losing their homes - Amnesty[21] in Oct 1999, during the "Peace Process", said: "well over one third of the Palestinian population of East Jerusalem live under threat of having their house demolished. ........ Threatened houses exist in almost every street and it is probable that the great majority of Palestinians live in or next to a house due for demolition."

In 2002, some Palestinians managed to prevent demolitions by appealing to the Israeli Supreme court[2] who ruled that there must a right to appeal unless doing so would "endanger the lives of Israelis or if there are combat activities in the vicinity." In a later ruling the Supreme Court decided that demolitions can be carried out if advance notice would hinder demolition. Amnesty describes this as "a virtual green light" to demolition with no warning and this is now what happens in most cases.


Caterpillar D9N armored bulldozer in service with the Israeli Defence Forces

House Demolition in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now normally carried out using Armored bulldozers. Armoured tractors have been available to Israel since the 1960s, but planting explosives was the prefered method in earlier periods. Shelling or bombing with aircraft has sometimes been used in Gaza.

House demolitions are often done without prior warning or legal process. Although the house has sometimes been under threat of demolition for many years, the inhabitants are often given little time to evacuate - usually between a few minutes to half an hour. The following example, Palestinians given 15 minutes to leave, come from the post-Oslo Peace Process period of 1999.[22]


  1. ^ Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions - Frequently asked questions. Accessed 29th June 2007.
  2. ^ a b Israel and the Occupied Territories Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property. Amnesty International. Accessed 29th June 2007.
  3. ^ Through No Fault of Their Own: Israel's Punitive House Demolitions in the al-Aqsa Intifada - B'Tselem. Accessed 23rd June 2007.
  4. ^ Resisting Occupation, Constructing Peace: People rebuilding Palestinian Homes. Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Accessed 15th June 2007.
  5. ^ Morris, Benny (2003). The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-00967-7
  6. ^ Calling a Spade a Spade: The 1948 Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine Ilan Pappe (Spring 2006). . Accessed on 3rd May 2007
  7. ^ Zionism As A Racist Ideology - By Kathleen And Bill Christison - 20 November. Accessed 23rd June 2007.
  8. ^ Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research The Legality of House Demolitions under International Humanitarian Law. Accessed 30th June 2007.
  9. ^ Ibid, p.5 In a 1987 letter, the British Foreign Ministry indicated that "in view of the Palestine (Revocations) Order in Council 1948 (S.I. 1948/1004, at 1350-51), the Palestine (Defense) Order in Council 1937 and the Defense Regulations 1945 made under it are, as a matter of English law, no longer in force." See Emma Playfair, "Demolition and Sealing of Houses as a Punitive Measure in the Israeli-Occupied West Bank," Al Haq, 33, April 1987.
  10. ^ Israel erases entire Bedouin village in the Negev - January 10, 2007. Accessed 23rd June 2007.
  11. ^ Palestine Facts. Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. Accessed 29th June 2007.
  12. ^ Incident at Samu Time Magazine, 25th Nov 1966. Accessed 23rd June 2007
  13. ^ Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel - November 13, 1966 "USG deplores Israeli attack on Jordan this morning". Accessed 29th June 2007
  14. ^ Six-Day War deliberately provoked by Israel: former Dutch UN observer - text and video link to Dutch current affairs program Nova on 4th June 1967. Accessed 20 Jun 2007
  15. ^ From butcher to 'Lion' to Prime Minister of Israel. Accessed 22nd June 2007
  16. ^ Alan M. Dershowitz, "Responding to Palestinian Terrorism," originally published in The Jerusalem Post March 11, 2002; rpt. in The Record (Harvard Law School) March 21, 2002, accessed January 25, 2007 (incl. headnote by Dershowitz); also rpt. in Alan M. Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge (New Haven: Yale UP, 2003).
  17. ^ Is the House Demolition Policy Legal under International Humanitarian Law? Accessed 29th June 2007.
  18. ^ Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions USA - aims to rebuild every one of the 300 homes demolished by Israel every year. Accessed 29th June 2007.
  19. ^ Yaacov Lozowick (2004): "Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars" ISBN 1400032431. p.260
  20. ^ IDF House Demolition Injures Refugees Human Rights News - October 24, 2002. Accessed 23rd June 2007.
  21. ^ House Demolitions as Punishment B'tselem. Accessed 23rd June 2007.
  22. ^ Israel: House demolitions - Palestinians given 15 minutes to leave. Amnesty International. 8th December 1999. Accessed 29th June 2007.

External links[edit]

[[Category:Israeli-Palestinian conflict]] [[Category:Counter-insurgency]] [[Category:Human rights abuses]]