Israel destroys 11 homes in West Bank village amid spiralling violence

Israeli soldiers have destroyed 11 homes and other structures in an isolated community in the occupied West Bank, leaving 50 people homeless, amid a reported uptick in house demolitions and spiralling violence in the Palestinian territory.

Contractors with bulldozers accompanied by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops arrived in Umm al-Kheir, a village mostly home to shepherds, on Wednesday morning and demolished six houses, tent residences, an electricity generator, solar cells and water tanks, according to residents and Israeli activists who documented the proceedings. Agricultural land and fences were also damaged and trees uprooted.

The demolition has destroyed about a third of the village’s infrastructure.

Soldiers stand guard while a bulldozer pulls down a structure at Umm al-Kheir. Photograph: B’Tselem

“We have fought in the Israeli courts for years against this as most of the village is under threat of demolition and they have done this before,” said Eid Suleiman, a resident. “But they came this time without telling our lawyer. We didn’t have time to collect our belongings.

“We have put up some tents to keep the children cool in the heat. But we are afraid the soldiers will come back and take those too because they say we are building illegally.”

Masafer Yatta, a collection of shepherding hamlets including Umm al-Kheir, is located in area C, the sparsely populated 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli control. Palestinian infrastructure in the area is frequently demolished on the grounds that the residents do not have building permits, which are nearly impossible to obtain, while surrounding illegal Israeli settlements flourish. UN experts have said such demolitions can be considered war crimes.

Since 7 October, the situation has worsened. Settlers have stepped up beatings, attacks and vandalism, forcing isolated villagers to flee to nearby towns, and there has been an increase in army home demolitions. The IDF is engaged in fighting with Palestinian militant groups in several areas of the West Bank, including Jenin and Tulkarem.

People walk among building debris at Umm al-Kheir. Photograph: B’Tselem

Israel’s far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, recently described in explicit terms his active efforts to annex the West Bank. The Guardian reported last week on how the pro-settlement politician and his allies had quietly transferred significant legal powers from the military to pro-settler civil servants reporting to Smotrich, a move that international humanitarian law experts say amounts to de facto annexation.

On Wednesday, when Umm al-Kheir was targeted, a total of 17 Palestinian houses were destroyed on the same day, according to rights groups: another four homes were demolished in the Jericho area, one near Ramallah, and one in East Jerusalem.

“Those demolitions do not serve any Israeli interest but rather the settlers’ interests only. They are part of Israel’s ongoing campaign to displace Palestinians from area C,” said Hagit Ofran, a co-director of the settlements watch unit at the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now.

“As Smotrich recently stated in a recorded conversation we uncovered, in the West Bank demolitions are not about upholding the rule of law or ensuring equality; rather, they serve ‘geopolitical, strategic purposes.’”

The IDF did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday’s demolitions.

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, after the war of 1967. Rightwing elements have long sought to find ways to permanently seize or annex swathes of the West Bank, and Israeli settlement building there has significantly accelerated in recent years.

The Guardian