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17 November 2016

Palestinians’ houses demolished, settlers’ legalised

By: Daoud Kuttab
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A totally different fate awaits two separate sets of homes built without licence in occupied Palestinian territories.
 
Palestinians, especially in East Jerusalem where a city planning zone has not been approved in 49 years, face demolitions every time they dare build a dwelling for their families without obtaining the nearly impossible Israeli housing permit.
 
So far this year 112 Palestinian houses were destroyed, a sharp increase over the 74 houses that were demolished in 2015.
 
Israelis give homeowners a choice. Either they demolish their own house or pay a hefty bill for the government destroying it.
 
Houses and other structures are demolished in other parts of the occupied territories as well, especially in the Jordan Valley and in the Hebron area. A number of structures built with money from the European Union and others have been destroyed by the Israeli army.
 
At the same time, the government that orders the destruction of Palestinian houses is moving to legalise settlement outposts that were built without government approval.
 
A committee in the Knesset approved a controversial bill that will retroactively legalise these settlements.
 
International law considers all settlements illegal, forbidding an occupying power to move to the occupied areas. The demolition of houses of the people under occupation is also forbidden and is considered collective punishment.
 
Israeli settlers, often supported by the army and its arm, the civil administration, as well as other government politicians and administrators, plan and execute land grabs and settlement enterprises on their own.
 
Various Israeli and Palestinian organisations, and media outlets published extensive investigative reports and studies about the extent of government-settler cooperation aimed at taking Palestinian lands in order to make them available exclusively to Jewish settlers and settlements.
 
Jewish settlers, protected by the Israeli army, move to create these settlements on land they do not own. Sometimes the land is confiscated from Palestinians, theoretically for public purpose; at other times, it is land Israel claims to be its own even though it is an occupying power that is clearly forbidden by international law to change the legal status of areas it occupies.
 
Israeli settlements are sometimes built on private Palestinian land. One such case is now pending in the Israeli supreme court.
 
The settlement of Amona is built on land belonging to the Palestinian Hamad family of Silwad (near Ramallah). This is one of the few cases in which the courts have ruled in favour of the Palestinian landowners and has refused Israeli government and settler efforts to overlook the simple fact that the land belongs to a Palestinian family.
 
The attempt to regularise some of the existing settlements is being pushed in the Knesset and government in order to overcome both internal legal hurdles and international opposition.
 
The Obama administration, which approved a huge $38 billion 10-year grant, publicly protested the Israeli settlement enterprise and specifically warned against attempts to retroactively approve and legalise the outposts that Israel itself considers illegal.
 
The contrast between how Israel reacts to Palestinians who build dwellings on their own land and in Palestinian areas and to Jewish settlers building settlements that are in violation of international humanitarian law and Israeli law speaks volumes about the apartheid nature of the occupation.
 
An occupying power that turns a blind eye to Jewish settlements and provides them with security protection, water and electricity, and covers up for their illegal action acts in a totally different manner towards Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
 
All Israeli attempts to paint its military rule over Palestinians as a “benevolent occupation” are daily exposed as false.
 
There is no symmetry between a Palestinian forced to build a house on his own land without a licence by an occupying power bent on denying Palestinians their basic rights and an armed settlement enterprise with the full power and money of the army, government and settler support groups.
 
Military occupation is an aberration, not a normal state of affairs.
 
No solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be reached without a commitment to end this aberration.
 
Occupation should not be allowed to continue regardless of how many years have passed and how clever the occupiers’ PR campaign may be.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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