The United Nations has slammed Israel’s destruction of Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as illegal and unfair, after a series of demolitions this week left dozens of Palestinians—mostly children—homeless.
"In the past three days, 77 Palestinians, over half of them children, have been made homeless," the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement issued late Friday. "Some of the demolished structures were provided by the international community to support vulnerable families."
"Demolitions that result in forced evictions and displacement run counter to Israel's obligations under international law and create unnecessary suffering and tension. They must stop immediately," said OCHA.
The demolitions occurred in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron, as well as East Jerusalem.
Last year, Israel carried out a record number of home demolitions in parts of the West Bank designated as Area C, which are under full Israeli military control, according to OCHA. Other parts of the West Bank, Areas A and B, are occupied by Israel but under the civil administration of the Palestinian Authority.
"In 2014 ... Israeli authorities destroyed 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people — the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008," the U.N. office said.
Israel did not respond to a request for comment by Al Jazeera at the time of publication. However, sources told Palestinian news site Ma’an that the demolitions were for "security purposes" and because the homes were constructed without permission.
Israel has justified past demolitions by stating that the targeted homes were built without the required permits — which only Israeli authorities can issue. But Palestinians and rights groups allege that Israel routinely denies Palestinians permits so as to force them to leave desirable areas, including East Jerusalem. These Palestinians say they are essentially forced to build homes without authorization.
“The occupation simply does not want us here. We are not welcome in our own city, Jerusalem,” Rebhi Dari, one of the recently displaced homeowners, told The Jerusalem Post.
“They are fighting our steadfastness – that is why they ask for large amounts of cash for some paper work,” he added. “Approving an application for a construction permit takes years and ends up being denied.”
In its statement on Friday, OCHA echoed Dari’s concerns about housing discrimination in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"The planning policies applied by Israel in Area C and East Jerusalem discriminate against Palestinians, making it extremely difficult for them to obtain building permits," the statement said. "As a result, many Palestinians build without permits to meet their housing needs and risk having their structures demolished. Palestinians must have the opportunity to participate in a fair and equitable planning system that ensures their needs are met."
In contrast to Israel's restrictive housing policy for Palestinians in Area C, Israeli settlers "enjoy expansive allocations of land, detailed planning, hookup to advanced infrastructure and a blind eye regarding illegal construction," Israeli rights group B’tselem has said.
"From 2002 through 2010, only 176 construction permits were issued to Palestinians [in Area C], at least 15,000 residential units were built in settlements during that same period, with or without permits," said a statement on B'tselem’s website.
All Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and other territories occupied since the Six Day War in 1967 are illegal under international law. Their continued development has been a longstanding obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
Today, there are more than 100 Israeli-government-sanctioned settlements and 100 unsanctioned settlement outposts in the West Bank, housing an estimated 515,000 Israelis, according to B’tselem.
With wire services