In response to legal action taken by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Israeli authorities clarified on 1 October that they are freezing home demolitions across the country – as was the case during the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis, today said an Adalah press release.
On 17 August, Adalah Attorney Suhad Bishara sent a letter to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and other state officials demanding they bring an immediate halt to Israel’s accelerated policy of home demolitions in Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem.
Israel had amped up its demolitions of Palestinian homes in the city after COVID-19 morbidity rates dropped during the summer months.
According to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel demolished 31 buildings in East Jerusalem in July and August, leaving about 96 people homeless.
As of August, and since the beginning of 2020, Israel has demolished 112 Palestinian buildings and 261 people were left homeless as a result, including countless children. An additional 467 Palestinian residents were harmed as a result of partial demolitions of structures by Israeli authorities.
In addition, Israeli authorities issued extensive warnings of threatened home demolitions to Bedouin residents of the Naqab region during the summer and initiated legal proceedings seeking demolitions of Bedouin-built structures.
The Israeli Justice Ministry responded on 1 October 2020:
“After re-examining things – and given the restrictions recently imposed by the government following the further spread of COVID-19 –it has been decided at this stage, to adjust the enforcement policy of planning and construction offenses to align with the state of emergency, similar to the policy decided upon in March 2020.”
The AG’s office further added that the new policy would be examined later, in accordance with the government’s evolving COVID-19 emergency policies.
Israeli authorities’ released details regarding the new policy include:
1. The issuance of administrative demolition orders will be reduced and orders will be issued only in relation to new “illegal construction”, particularly that which has taken advantage of the state of emergency;
2. As a general rule, in an emergency, demolition orders for residential buildings will not be enforced;
3. Warning notices regarding demolition orders will also be kept to a minimum.
Israeli authorities also noted that “due to the state of emergency, the National Unit for the Enforcement of Planning and Construction Law will reduce its friction with the population” but they also made clear that enforcement in relation to new construction-related offenses would continue.
Attorney Suhad Bishara, director of Adalah’s Land and Planning Rights Unit, responded:
“Although Israel’s halt of its demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem is an immediate necessary step, it should not be conditional on restrictions imposed by the government in response to COVID-19. As long as we are facing this emergency, the freeze on home demolitions must remain in force. Within the wider context, Israel must end its restrictive measures imposed to prevent the development of Palestinian residential areas in illegally-annexed East Jerusalem and refrain from criminalizing and penalizing those forced to build or expand their homes without permits.”