Under the Fourth Geneva Convention occupying powers are prohibited from destroying property or employing collective punishment. Article 53 reads: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons […] is prohibited." Furthermore, planning and building is a purely civilian matter. Military authorities have the right to intervene in planning and building only where military matters are involved.
Palestinians, who are living in Area C of the occupied Palestinian territories, need to apply for building permits at the Israeli Civil Administration to build on their land. Area C covers more than 60 percent of the Westbank and is fully controlled by Israel.
Israel uses planning schemes which are dating back more than 50 years as basis for issuing permits. These schemes appoint the majority of the land for agriculture use – new planning and land registration has been frozen. So either the landowners can’t prove that the land is legally under their ownership because they can’t register it, or they are not allowed to build, because their land lies in agriculture area where building is prohibited. But the Palestinian society is growing and people need to provide adequate shelter for their families.
At the same time, at least 155 Israeli settlements, containing more than 170,000 Israeli citizens, have been established. For all the settlements exist comprehensive planning schemes. Furthermore, thousands of houses in the settlements were built without permits. But instead of issuing demolition orders like for Palestinian house owners, Israel issued retroactive building permits for thousand of houses.
As it is almost impossible to get a building permit, most of the houses are built without permissions. The majority of house demolitions are therefore conducted for ‘administrative’ reasons, mostly because the houses were built without a permit. The Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD) estimates that some 24,813 Palestinian structures have been demolished in the Occupied Territories since 1967 (figures from June 2010). Currently OCHA counts some 200 demolitions a year in West Bank, with another 3,000 pending demolition orders.