Israel and the Occupied Territories – Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property


Tens of thousands of men, women and children have been made homeless or have lost their source of livelihood. Thousands of other houses have been damaged, many beyond repair, and tens of thousands are under threat of demolition.

Forced evictions and house demolitions are usually carried out without warning, often at night. Families are given little or no time to leave their homes, too little to salvage their belongings. Often the only warning is the rumbling of the Israeli army’s bulldozers and the inhabitants barely have time to flee as the bulldozers begin to tear down their homes. In most cases the Israeli authorities contend that houses, agricultural land and other properties were destroyed for “military/security needs”, while in other cases the justification is the lack of building permits. The result is the same: families are left homeless and destitute and are forced to rely on the charity of relatives, friends and humanitarian organizations for shelter and subsistence.

The destruction of homes, land and other properties have resulted in widespread violations of the right to adequate housing and a decent standard of living for tens of thousands of people and violate fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law.

In Israel house demolition targets essentially the homes of Palestinian citizens of Israel (Israeli Arabs) and is linked to the state’s policy of large-scale confiscation of land, restrictive planning regulations in the Arab sector, and discriminatory policies in the allocation of state land. These combined factors have made it difficult and often impossible for Israeli Arabs to obtain permits to build homes to accommodate their growing housing needs. Even though violations of planning and building regulations are also widespread in the Jewish sector, it is in the Arab sector that homes are frequently demolished.

The destruction of Palestinian homes and land in the Occupied Territories is linked to Israel’s policy of appropriating as much as possible of the land it occupies, notably by establishing Israeli settlements in violation of international law. Israel has the right to take reasonable, necessary and proportionate measures to protect the security of its citizens from suicide bombings and other attacks by Palestinians. However, under international law, Israel, as the Occupying Power, is forbidden from destroying Palestinian property unless absolutely necessary for a legitimate military purpose – not for the expansion of illegal settlements or settlement infrastructure, or in retaliation for Palestinian attacks. Affected
Palestinians must have a meaningful right to legally challenge any seizure or destruction order. Even in cases where destruction may be justified on grounds of absolute necessity for military operations, Israel should consider less drastic alternatives. Demolitions should never be anything but a last resort. In the past three and a half years the Israeli army has
carried out extensive destruction of homes and properties throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip which is not justified by military necessity. Some of these acts of destruction amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes.

Amnesty International has documented in numerous reports the deterioration of the human rights situation in Israel and the Occupied Territories. In the past three and a half years some 2,500 Palestinians, most of them unarmed, have been killed by the Israeli army, including some 450 children. Palestinian armed groups have killed more than 900 Israelis, most of them civilians and including more than 100 children. Tens of thousands of people
have been injured, many maimed for life. Unprecedented restrictions imposed by Israel on the movement of 3,500,000 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have caused untold suffering, impeding access for Palestinians to their workplace, to education and health facilities and to other essential services. Unemployment has soared to over 40%, two thirds of the population is living below the poverty line, and malnutrition and other
health problems are spreading.

This report analyses the main patterns and trends of forced eviction, house demolition and destruction of property by the Israeli army and security forces in Israel and the Occupied Territories in the light of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Among its recommendations, Amnesty International urges the Israeli authorities to cancel all demolition orders of unlicensed houses and to place a moratorium on forced evictions and house demolitions; ensure that laws and policies governing the zoning and allocation of land are amended and implemented in a non-discriminatory manner; grant legal recognition to the unrecognized villages and security of tenure to their residents; put an end to punitive house demolitions and to the destruction of houses, land, and other property without absolute military necessity; halt the creation and expansion of Israeli settlements and related infrastructure in the Occupied Territories and take measures to evacuate Israeli civilians living in these settlements; stop construction of the wall/fence within the Occupied Territories and remove the sections already built there; investigate all cases of destruction and confiscation of property carried out in the past three and a half years and provide reparation to those whose properties have been unlawfully destroyed; invite the international community to deploy observers to monitor the conduct of the Israeli army,
Palestinian armed groups and Palestinian security forces. Amnesty International urges the Palestinian Authority to take all possible measures to prevent attacks by Palestinian armed groups and individuals against Israeli civilians and to ensure that Palestinian armed groups and individuals do not initiate armed confrontations from residential civilian areas. The organization reiterates its call on all Palestinian armed groups to put an immediate end to attacks against Israeli civilians.

This report summarizes a 65-page document (30,410 words): Israel and the Occupied Territories, Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property (AI Index: MDE 15/033/2004) issued by Amnesty International in May 2004. Anyone wishing further details or to take action on this issue should consult the full document. An extensive range of our materials on this and other subjects is available at and Amnesty International news releases can be received by email: