Bilal Hammadin looks beyond the tin shacks in the occupied West Bank village of Abu Nuwwar, home to approximately 600 Palestinians, to the red-roofed homes in Maaleh Adumim, an Israeli settlement where nearly 40,000 people live.
“As I was growing up, I could see the settlement getting bigger. I guess you can say that we grew up together,” he says, laughing at the irony.
Hammadin knows all too well that the expansion of the settlement – built in violation of international law, which forbids an occupying power like Israel from transferring its population into the territory it occupies – has meant the steady de-development of his community.
In February, the Israeli army demolished two trailers which were to serve as a new school for first- and second-graders. The cabins, donated by a French nongovernmental organization and funded by the European Union, bore visible EU logos.
150 donor-funded structures demolished
This month France condemned Israel’s demolition of buildings in Nabi Samuel village funded by French humanitarian aid. Israel has destroyed or confiscated French-funded structures, including a school, three times in the village so far this year.
In the past, these large stickers bearing the EU logo offered a modicum of protection from demolitions. But this year, at least 150 European-funded structures in the West Bank were demolished by Israeli bulldozers in the first three months of 2016.
Some observers – including a far-right Israeli politician who has advocated for the demolitions – suggest the spike in destruction of EU-funded structures is retaliation for the EU’s new regulations requiring labelling of Israeli settlement goods issued late last year.
Israeli demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank on the whole increased threefold during the first quarter of 2016 over the previous rate of 50 demolitions per month between 2012 and 2015.
Most of those demolitions took place in Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank under total Israeli control per the terms of the 1993 Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Israel issues demolition orders on the pretext that structures were built without a permit. But between 2010 and 2014, Israeli authorities approved only 1.5 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C.
Protest but no accountability
In a letter to the Israeli military, eight ambassadors to Israel protested the “dismantling and confiscation” of European-funded shelters in May and June this year.
On Friday, the EU’s external affairs spokesperson condemned the upsurge in demolitions, including of EU-funded structures.
Israel “must halt demolitions of Palestinian houses and property, in accordance with its obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law,” the spokesperson added, and “cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of designating land for exclusive Israeli use and of denying Palestinian development.”
But so far there has been no move by the EU – which lavishes funding on Israel, including for research projects on occupied land – towards accountability for the demolitions. And so Palestinian communities brace for more destruction.
Silvia Boarini is a photojournalist based in Jerusalem. She is the co-director of the documentary Empty Desert.