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Easy Guide to International Humanitarian Law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory Space
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Photo: Demolished house of Mussa Makhamre's family, Yatta, Hebron. Photo: Kate O'Rourke, July 2005.
Is the House Demolition Policy Legal under International Humanitarian Law?  

The Israeli army (IDF) has implemented a continuous illegal policy of demolishing homes of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) since 1967 until today.

The House Demolition Policy

Since property belonging to protected persons – public buildings or private houses – is protected under international humanitarian law (IHL), the demolition must be within the boundaries of IHL. Israel refers to three reasons for demolishing Palestinian houses:

  • Demolitions due to administrative reasons.
  • Demolitions during military operations.
  • Punitive demolitions.

Read more about the house demolition policy

Facts and figures

According to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), as of June 2007 more than 14 000 Palestinian houses have been demolished in the occupied territory including East Jerusalem since 1967.
To the website of ICAHD

The decision to reinstate the policy of house demolitions was taken after the 2002 bombing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on 31 July 2002.  With specific regard to punitive house demolitions, B’Tselem notes that the Israeli army has demolished adjacent houses to those labelled for destruction as a punishment. In only three percent of the total cases of houses destroyed for punitive reasons was there any prior warning.
To B'Tselem's website and the report on punitive house demolitions (879 kB)

Current Policy

On 17 February 2005, Shaul Mofaz, the former Israeli Minister of Defence, approved the recommendation of a military committee to end punitive demolitions of Palestinian houses. Moshe Yaalon, former IDF Chief of Staff, asked the committee to examine whether the practice accomplished its stated goal of deterring Palestinian involvement in attacks on Israelis.

The committee found no proof of effective deterrence and concluded that the damage caused by the demolitions overrides its effectiveness.

The conclusion was based on the understanding that the demolitions generate resistance within the Palestinian society towards Israel.

Since the reasoning given by the Ministry for stopping the policy did not rely on IHL grounds, it opened the door for its reintroduction, as warned by the Ministry, in the event of an extreme change in circumstances.

IHL analysis of the punitive house demolitions policy

  • Collective punishment
  • Illegal destruction of private property
  • The right to fair trial and due process
  • Inhumane treatment
  • Respect of the honor and family Rights
  • The prohibition against discrimination
  • Suspending local laws

 Read more about IHL analysis


Destruction in Khan Younis refugee camp, the Gaza Strip, July 2005.
Photo: Matilda Svensson




Revised: 21/06/2007 Ingela Karlsson