Palestinian boys walks past the remains of their family's dwelling, that was funded by the EU's humanitarian arm, after it was demolished by Israeli forces, near the West Bank village of Al-Eizariya, near Jerusalem January 21, 2016.
(photo credit: ABDELRAHMAN YOUNIS/REUTERS)
The Civil Administration and High Court of Justice could be liable for war crimes for their policies that led to the dispossession of Palestinians from their properties in Area C of the West Bank, the left-wing group B’Tselem charged in a report issued on Wednesday.
The court’s support of Israeli planning policy is tantamount to support for “forcible transfer,” a war crime under international law, the report stated.
“Therefore, the justices of the Supreme Court – along with the prime minister, senior ministers, the chief of staff and other senior military officers – bear personal liability for the commission of such crimes,” B’Tselem said.
The report comes at a time when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure to raze the illegal West Bank Bedouin encampment of Khan al-Ahmar.
Netanyahu has pledged to take down the encampment, but has taken no steps to do so since receiving a warning from the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court that such a step could be considered a war crime.
The B’Tselem report looked at a series of steps Israel has taken on both the planning and the judicial levels with regard to Palestinian property rights – steps that allegedly were designed to expropriate Palestinian property. This included reclassifying territory in the West Bank as state land. B’Tselem said this was done in many cases without due process and without allowing the Palestinians involved to file legal objections.
Some 35% of the territory in Area C is state land, of which 0.24% is for Palestinian use and 16% is for Israeli settlements, the report stated. Another 30% of Area C is closed to Palestinians because the IDF has declared those areas to be military firing zones, the report added.
“Declaring state land was carried out in contravention of the basic tenets of due process,” the report said. “In many cases, Palestinian residents were not even informed that their land had been registered as state property. By the time they found out, it was too late to appeal, the final due date for filing having passed.”
The High Court of Justice has upheld these declarations, according to the report. In addition, it said, the Civil Administration has made it impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in Area C.
From January 2000 through mid-2016, only 226 building permits were granted, a number that made up 4% of the 5,475 Palestinian applications for such permits.
The court has not prevented the IDF from razing structures built illegally as a result of an inability to legally obtain permits, B’Tselem said.
Palestinians have filed hundreds of petitions to the High Court of Justice seeking to block demolition orders against unauthorized Palestinian structures, B’Tselem said.
“The justices have rejected every single argument of principle they heard regarding Israel’s planning policy. To the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, there has not been a single case in which the justices granted a petition Palestinians filed against the demolition of their home,” the report stated.
“According to Civil Administration figures, 16,796 demolition orders were issued from 1988 to 2017; 3,483 (about 20%) were carried out; and 3,081 (about 18%) are under legal proceedings.”
The report noted that the number of demolition orders had increased dramatically in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords.
“Up to 1995, the Civil Administration issued fewer than 100 demolition orders a year. However, since 1995 – the year the Interim Agreement was signed – the numbers have risen steadily. From 2009 to 2016, the Civil Administration annually issued an average of 1,000 demolition orders,” B’Tselem said, adding that about 20% of those orders were implemented.
In real numbers, it added, Israel razed at least 1,401 residential units from 2006 through 2018, causing at least 6,207 people to lose their homes.
The report did not distinguish between modular and permanent structures.
Right-wing politicians and activists have argued precisely the opposite, saying the Palestinian Authority, with the help of the European Union is executing a deliberate policy of taking over land in Area C of the West Bank by way of making it impossible for Israel to include that territory in its final borders.
In a report issued in the fall of 2018, the right-wing organization Regavim said the EU has built more than 2,000 modular structures in Area C for the Palestinians “without requesting or receiving construction permits or coordinating these projects with the relevant Israeli authorities.”
Regavim said one of the main organizations carrying out the plan was the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), which has over 100 employee and relies heavily on EU funding. Since 2014, the UAWC has carried out this work through its “Roots Project,” which has laid claim to thousands of demands on agricultural land in Area C. By working those lands without permits, the Palestinians hope to make use of a clause in the Ottoman law that allows for an ownership claim for those who have worked the land, Regavim said.