Area C illegalities

Netnayahu's hierarchy is holding to an unreasonable formula as regards Palestinian building. A more nuanced approach is overdue.

silwan house demolition 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
silwan house demolition 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The right-wing organization Regavim has launched a campaign to force the government to issue and implement demolition orders against illegal Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank, which is entirely under Israeli military and administrative control. The campaign comes in response to a strategy initiated by left-wing organizations such as Peace Now and Yesh Din several years ago. These organizations have filed innumerable petitions demanding that the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria implement demolition orders against illegal construction by the Jews who live in Area C. Its first foray into the world of High Court petitions was successful. Regavim petitioned against illegal construction in two Palestinian villages east of Ariel - As-Sauya and Yatma. In addition to three specific illegal buildings included in the petition, the court learned that since 1966, the civil administration has only demolished three of 50 buildings in As-Sauya against which it issued demolition orders and 10 out of 40 in Yatma. The court demanded that the state provide a demolition timetable for all the illegal housing in the two villages. Supreme Court Justice Hanan Meltzer wanted to know whether "the attitude towards illegal construction by Palestinians is the same as it is towards Jewish settlers." The answer to Meltzer is that it is not - though probably not in the way that Meltzer would have expected. In Area C, which covers some 60 percent of the West Bank and includes all the settlements, the government and the civil administration have made it virtually impossible for Palestinian villages to accommodate natural growth via legal building. In a study published in June 2008 by Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights, the authors wrote that from the beginning of 2000 until September 2007, the civil administration issued demolition orders for 4,820 buildings established by Palestinians in Area C. It demolished 1,626 of them. By contrast, aside from demolishing whimsical structures built by extremist settlers in the past few years, it has only once executed demolition orders against illegal Jewish housing, in the outpost of Amona. BEHIND THE large number of demolition orders issued against illegal Palestinian buildings lies a land policy followed by the Israeli government and implemented by the civil administration that dates back more than 30 years. While Labor had almost exclusively settled the Jordan Rift, the new Likud government of 1977 embarked on a wide scale settlement development policy, building Jewish communities adjacent to heavily populated Palestinian areas. The statistics demonstrate the corresponding restrictions on Palestinian construction: Whereas in 1972, the civil administration approved 2,123 out of 2,199 building requests (97 percent), in 1988, it approved 532 of 1,682 requests (32%). As the proportion of refusals mounted, Palestinians stopped asking for building permits. In 2005, Palestinians submitted 189 applications, of which 13 (6.9%) were approved. The civil administration has outlawed much Palestinian building in Area C by rigidly interpreting the relevant planning laws. The regional outline plans that apply to most of the 150 villages located entirely in Area C were drafted by the British Mandatory government during the 1940s. Despite Israel's international obligations to look after the welfare of the Palestinian population under its control, and despite profound changes in Palestinian demography, economy and social customs, those plans have not been modified. Virtually all of Area C (except for the settlements) is designated as an agricultural zone. Among other things, the Mandatory Plan does not allow for parcelling of large plots of land, stipulates that no more than one building of two stories can be built on each plot and that a plot must be at least one dunam in size. These restrictions, which may have been reasonable 60 years ago, cannot cope with the needs of the Palestinian population today. Thus, Regavim's claim that it is demanding equality for Jews vis-à-vis Palestinians in the development of land resources in Area C is misleading. By and large, the Israeli government is not offering a reasonable alternative to the Palestinians in Area C other than to build illegally at the risk of having their homes demolished. Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced the vision of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state living peacefully side by side. He has vowed to drive a hard bargain on the division of disputed territory, but his hierarchy is holding to an unreasonable formula as regards Palestinian building, even in areas where Israel does not envision maintaining control. A more nuanced approach is overdue.