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(photo credit: AP)
The Civil Administration in the West Bank is using a deliberately restrictive planning policy to strangle Palestinian development in Area C and preserve as much land as possible for settlements, the human rights organization Bimkom charged in a new report due to be released this morning.
The report, entitled "The Forbidden Zone," accuses the military authorities in the West Bank of severely violating Palestinian human rights.
"Israel's planning policy in the West Bank is used to secure Israeli control of land, so that extensive land reserves are left for Israel's interests," charged Bimkom architect Alon Cohen-Lipshitz. "Only a substantial change in the planning policy in Area C will reduce the scope of [housing] demolitions and the friction between the civilian Palestinian population and the Israeli planning authorities."
According to the report, Israel generously granted building permits to Palestinians until the end of the 1970s, when it launched its large-scale settlement program. In 1972, for example, more than 2,100 permits for Palestinian residential construction in the West Bank were issued. Ninety-seven percent of all applications were approved. Between 2000-2007, the Civil Administration approved 5.6% of all Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C and granted a total of 91 building permits.
There are 150,000 Palestinians living in 149 villages and towns in Area C, which is under complete Israeli military and civilian control. This area constitutes 60% of the entire territory of the West Bank.
There are two types of land planning schemes that apply to Area C. The first are outline plans from the British Mandate which apply to 141 of the villages. Almost all the others are governed by "special" outline plans prepared by the Civil Administration.
According to Bimkom, the Civil Administration interprets the mandatory plans in a deliberately harsh and restrictive manner. Most of the land in these plans was designated at the time as agricultural land, although they were lenient about allowing landowners to build homes on agricultural land.
The mandatory plans also called for construction of only one house on a plot of land, no matter how big the plot. Nonetheless, it allowed for subdividing large plot into units of 1,000 square meters and building a house on each plot. The Civil Administration refuses to apply the "relaxations" provided by the plans. It also enforces its policy strictly and issues hundreds of demolition orders each year, the group said.
According to Bimkom, the outline plans for the other 16-18 villages are draconian. Each plan applies to only a small part of the village and does not include any state-owned land within its boundaries. As a result, all new construction must be carried out within the restricted area. Housing built outside the boundaries of the so-called "special plans" is illegal and liable to demolition.
In response, the Civil Administration charged that "from a preliminary study of the report, it appears that like reports from other groups supporting an agenda that has been published in the past, Bimkom makes use of objective statistics in order to make a false presentation of the planning and law enforcement situation and does so for reasons that are not objective. The fact is that there are almost 90 villages or parts of villages with approved outline schemes in Area C. In these villages, it is possible to obtain a building permit without any particular problem.
"At this time, the Civil Administration is preparing additional outline schemes in Area C for the Palestinian population along with industrial areas, garbage disposal sites and sewage purification facilities."
The spokesman added that had Palestinian residents applied for permission to build homes within the boundaries of these outline schemes, they would have received "thousands of permits, as many as the number of houses that were built [illegally] during this period."
Instead, the spokesman charged, many applications were submitted only after the houses were built and the owners had been notified that the structure was illegal.
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