Just who does Area C belong to?

As administrator of the West Bank Israel may use land and take action to meet its military needs. All other measures must advance the welfare of the local population, i.e. the Palestinians.

Beduins after eviction from shantytown near Ma’aleh 311  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Beduins after eviction from shantytown near Ma’aleh 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Even on a cold day the flies are everywhere.
The slightest gust of wind sends debris flying and plastic bags litter the desert hills for miles downwind.
The smell is unmistakable. Welcome to the Abu Dis garbage dump. Or, as it’s also known, the new home of the Ma’aleh Adumim Beduin.
Israel’s Civil Administration, responsible for running many aspects of the lives of West Bank Palestinians, has prepared a two-part plan for Palestinian communities in Area C. These are the areas of the West Bank which remained under complete Israeli control under the Oslo Accords. In the first stage of the plan, scheduled to begin in January 2012, some 20 communities living along the Jerusalem-Jericho road will be relocated to the Abu Dis site.
This will affect some 2,300 people.
The second stage is even more ambitious and will forcefully relocate some 25,000 people from the Jordan Valley and other parts of Area C. This is expected to take three to six years.
Eighty percent of the Palestinians living in the Ma’aleh Adumim area are refugees from the Negev. Two-thirds are children.
They are living now in temporary structures: tents and tin shacks. Their communities are not connected to the power grid and only half have running water. When they do build homes, schools or infrastructure, the Civil Administration, which controls planning and building in area C, often destroys them as they were built without permits – permits that it will not grant.
Now the Civil Administration has come up with a proposal to move all of these communities to a site where they will receive building permits and be able to receive basic infrastructure and services.
Yet the site is not fit for human habitation.
The US Environmental Protection Agency sets a minimum distance of 500 meters between housing and waste disposal sites. This site is only 150 meters from the dump. According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, this is the worst of Israel’s waste disposal sites: the site is in danger of collapse due to the steep slopes along which the refuse is buried. Uncontrolled gases – especially methane – are emitted that pollute the air and could cause fires and explosions. The Ministry determined that the dump will close in mid-2012 and that the site must be rehabilitated.
However, there is no approved plan or budget for this rehabilitation.
THE FACT that the plans are focused on moving Palestinians out of Area C begs the question: what is Area C? Who does it “belong” to? In terms of the exploitation of resources, there is no distinction between Area C and the other areas of the West Bank. As the occupying power, Israel is the administrator of this territory. It may use land and take other actions in the West Bank to meet its military needs.
However, all other measures in the West Bank must be intended to advance the welfare of the local population, i.e. the Palestinians.
It is hard to imagine that this plan could be justified as advancing the communities’ welfare. Certainly they were not consulted in preparing the plan, and they have voiced their objections to the proposed site.
In fact, it is quite clear that the plan is not motivated by concern for the welfare of the residents but by the intention to expand settlements. Half of the communities to be expelled are currently living in the area intended for the controversial E-1 plan.
E-1 is called an expansion of Ma’aleh Adumim, but in fact it is bigger than the existing settlement. Some 4,000 apartments are planned for E-1, though construction has been held up by the US administration over concerns that E-1 will be a mortal blow to any two-state solution of the conflict.
Meanwhile, Israel has already paved extensive roadways, installed the electricity and water networks and built the West Bank Police headquarters there. Ma’aleh Adumim mayor Benny Katzriel has declared his intention to also expand the settlement south, towards Kedar. In both places, Beduin communities stand in his way.
The long-term plans for expulsion of Beduin communities is only the latest indication that Israel treats Area C as a resource it can exploit for its own benefit.
The fact that the Beduin are the weakest sector of Palestinian society, the fact that there is no security justification for this plan, the fact that of all places the Civil Administration has selected a garbage dump to serve as their new home – all this only adds insult to injury. However you look at it, this is a forced displacement of entire communities. Anyone with an ounce of decency cannot help but be outraged by this plan.
The writer is executive director of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.