Israeli authorities have demolished at least 140 Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem this year, an Israeli rights group has said, the highest annual number since it began keeping records in 2004.
B’Tselem said on Thursday that 238 Palestinians have lost their homes to demolitions this year, including 127 minors. The second-highest number of demolitions on record was in 2016, when 92 homes were demolished, according to the group.
The B’Tselem figures refer to homes demolished because they were built without proper government permits. But critics have charged that discriminatory permitting by the Israeli government has forced a vast number of Palestinians to build illegally.
Shortly after capturing East Jerusalem during the six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Israel expanded the municipal boundaries of the city to take in large areas of land on which it later constructed Jewish settlements.
At the same time, it sharply limited the expansion of Palestinian neighbourhoods, forcing many in the increasingly crowded areas to build illegally.
Israel has occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza since the war.
Palestinians want the territories to comprise their future state, with East Jerusalem as its future capital, while Israel considers the entire city of Jerusalem to be its capital.
Evidence of systemic discrimination
Last month, another Israeli rights group, Peace Now, obtained official figures on building permits in East Jerusalem going back to 1991 that provided strong evidence of systematic discrimination against Palestinian residents, who make up more than 60 percent of the population of East Jerusalem, but have received just 30 percent of permits to build homes.
Peace Now estimates that, as a result, half of the 40,000 housing units built in Palestinian neighbourhoods since 1967 lack permits, placing them at constant risk of demolition.
Owners sometimes choose to demolish their own homes to avoid the high fees charged by Israeli authorities. Of the 140 units demolished this year, 31 were dismantled by their owners, B’Tselem said.
The group said commercial structures are also being demolished at the highest rate on record, with 76 dismantled so far this year, compared with 70 in all of 2018.
The B’Tselem demolition figures only include homes demolished because they were built illegally. They do not include those destroyed as part of an Israeli practice of demolishing the family homes of alleged perpetrators following attacks in which Israelis are injured or killed.
Israel has said the act deters violence, while Palestinians see it as a form of collective punishment.
On Thursday, the Israeli military said that it demolished a partially-built structure in a refugee camp in the West Bank city of Ramallah overnight, saying the structure was being built on the site of the family home of a Palestinian who had killed an Israeli officer during an operation in May 2018.
The original residence had been demolished in December of that year, but troops returned after they noticed that new construction was under way.
The military said dozens of Palestinians hurled rocks and firebombs at the Israeli troops during the demolition and that soldiers responded with “riot dispersal means”.
It reported no injuries among the soldiers.