The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is deeply concerned over the demolitions in the American School neighborhood in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip that violates each person’s right to adequate housing. PCHR is concerned that the demolitions will target 250 other houses in the same area. PCHR calls upon the Land Authority to protect civilians from forced evictions from houses and to end the demolitions that might increase the residents’ suffering to the residents. PCHR also calls upon the police officers in Gaza to abide by the code of conduct for law enforcement officials and not to use excessive force, which resulted in several injuries among the neighborhood residents.
According to PCHR’s follow-up, on Tuesday, 04 April 2017, the Land Authority and police officers in the Gaza Strip demolished a house, 2 bird and livestock farms and 2 poultry farms in the American School neighborhood, west of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, in preparation to remove the neighborhood established on government-owned lands. After protests by the neighborhood residents broke out, so the police called for backups and clashes then erupted. During the clashes, the police officers raided houses, used live ammunition and batons to control the protestors. As a result, a civilian was hit with a bullet while others were beaten up with batons. Moreover, the police officers arrested about 50 persons from the neighborhood and later released them, but kept 13 of whom under arrest.
At approximately 10:00 on Tuesday, 04 April 2017, members of the Land Authority staff in Gaza accompanied with a bulldozer and dozens of Palestinian police officers arrived at the American School neighborhood, west of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip. The bulldozer then demolished a house belonging to Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim Redwan (82), south of the neighborhood. Part of the house was built of concrete while the other part was built of asbestos on an area of 150 square meters. The house used to shelter 10 persons, including 4 women and 3 children, as the family had lived in the house for 45 years. Moreover, the bulldozer demolished two bird and livestock farms belonging to the abovementioned civilian in addition to the eastern fence of a house and birds and poultry farms belonging to ‘Ammar Jaber Ibrahim Abu Khater (28). The demolition came after the Land Authority in Gaza handed a notice for the residents to evacuate their houses immediately as a prelude to demolish them. After that, altercations erupted between the residents and police for half an hour during which the policemen fired live bullets, and the residents threw stones at them. As a result, a number of civilians were wounded due to being beaten up with batons by the policemen.
At approximately 12:00 on the same day, a large force of police officers, including policewomen, arrived at the neighborhood as a number of young men set fire to tires in protest against the demolitions. When the police officers started raiding the houses, clashes broke out between them and the residents. The police officers then opened fire while the residents threw stones at them. As a result, ‘Ahed Bassam Shehdah al-‘Abadi (25) sustained a live bullet wound to the left leg, causing laceration in it and cutting the veins and arteries. ‘Ahed was taken to the Indonesian Hospital in Jabalia and then transferred to al-Shifa’ Hospital in Gaza due to his serious medical condition. Furthermore, dozens sustained bruises due to being beaten up with batons by the police officers after the latter raided dozens of houses and attacked the residents. The police operation continued until 15:00 on the same day, as they arrested about 50 civilians and later withdrew from the neighborhood. Most of the arrested civilians were released, while 13 civilians are so far under arrest.
‘Awad Abed al-Rahman Abu Khousa, Head of the neighborhood’s committee, said that around 350 families live in 250 houses, sheltering 1500 persons, in the neighborhood. Most of the neighborhood’s residents had lived there since 1948 as this neighborhood include all utilities, such as electricity, water and landline, and a school. The neighborhood residents live under harsh conditions as dozens are unemployed and live below the poverty line. On 01 November 2016, the Land Authority in the Gaza Strip notified the residents of the neighborhood, embedding that “Demolish your house and move away to find another one”. Abu Khousa added that he along with the neighborhood residents went to Members of the Change and Reform bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), who promised to solve the problem. Abu Khousa also said that the PLC Members visited the area and saw the suffering of civilians. After that, they contacted the Land Authority, which informed them that the residents will not be attacked and they will find a solution to their problem. Abu Khousa added that on 15 December 2016, the residents were surprised with a final notice issued by the Land Authority, providing that “Self- demolish your house and If you do not, we will send bulldozers to demolish it and you will pay the demolition costs”. Members from the Land Auhtority handed the final notice to the residents and informed them to head to its office on 18 December 2016. The Head of the neighborhood’s committee met with Mr. Hasan Abu Riyalah, Vice President of the Palestinian Land Authority, who offered them, without any question, to accept handing 150-square-meter to each family, northwest of Umm al-Nasser village in the northern Gaza Strip, in order to be paid by installments. In addition, the residents, who had a house built of concrete, will be compensated with $ 5,000, while who had a house built with tin plates, will be compensated with $ 3000. However, the Head of the neighborhood’s committee and the neighborhood residents refused the abovementioned offer. Abu Khousa also said that they offered the Vice President of the Land Authority to stay in their houses and pay the land’s installments, but the latter refused so. After that, they knew that the lands will be handed over to Gaza public servants instead of their financial dues.
PCHR reiterates upholding the rule of law, including all legal procedures leading to the respect for the rule of law, including the continuous efforts to remove encroachments on the government-owned lands. PCHR expresses its deep concern over the consequences of evacuating the Palestinian residents from their houses under the pretext of being established on government-owned lands, especially in light of the serious crisis of the housing sector in the Gaza Strip. The serious crisis includes large-scale demolitions and the severe restrictions imposed on the entry of construction materials needed for the reconstruction of thousands of houses in the Gaza Strip. PCHR believes that all legal measures should take into account the balance between the need to apply the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. This needs to examine separately each case of those houses and identifies the circumstances. PCHR calls upon the government in Gaza to:
- Temporarily freeze all demolition decisions regarding the houses established on government-owned lands and rescue their owners from forced evictions.
- Reach an appropriate and consensual agreement with the owners of the houses built on those lands, such as signing contracts to prove the government’s ownership of those lands or to deal with them as residents living in slum areas.
- Investigate the use of live ammunition by police officers, seriously wounding a civilian, assaults on houses and beating up civilians.