As the we wait in vain for a “breakthrough” in the current incarnation of “peace process,” I’d like to recommend some essential reading: “Acting the Landlord: Israel’s policy in Area C, the West Bank” – a report released this month by B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. It will go a long way in explaining to you how Israel has effectively closed the door on a viable two-state solution.
As part of the 1993 Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided up into three administrative regions: Areas A, B and C. According to these interim accords, the Palestinian Authority was given full civil and security control over Area A, which today accounts for 18% of the West Bank. In Area B, which takes up 21% of the West Bank, the PA was given civil control while Israeli maintains security control.
Area C, which makes up 60% of the West Bank and contains all the major Jewish “settlement blocs,” is under full Israeli civil and security control. In the map on the right, Area C is marked in red, Area B in the lined sections, and Area A in white. You can clearly how Areas A and B are scattered like an archipelago in the ocean of Area C, cut off from each other and essentially under the ultimate control of the Israel Defense Forces.
Slowly but surely, Israel has been moving Palestinians into these disconnected islands while strengthening its settlement regime over Area C. It is also rapidly blurring the distinction between Area C and Israel proper. Israeli-only highways now lead from Israel into the heart of the West Bank, connecting the Jewish settlements to each other while bypassing Palestinian communities. Jewish communities are also connected through their common use of electrical and water resources that are denied non-Jewish communities. Israel is literally investing billions of shekels in Area C while deliberately preventing the development of Palestinian infrastructure there. The new B’tselem report now offers a detailed and devastating picture of the sophisticated bureaucratic process by which Israel has been able to create these facts on the ground.
From the report summary:
Israel prohibits Palestinian construction and development on some 70 percent of Area C territory by designated certain areas as “state lands” or “firing zones.” Meanwhile, Israel refuses to recognize most of the villages in the area or draw up plans for them, prevents the expansion and development of Palestinian communities, demolishes homes and does not allow the communities to hook up to infrastructure. Thousands of inhabitants live under the constant threat of expulsion for living in alleged firing zones or “illegal” communities.
In addition, Israel has taken over most of the water sources in Area C and has restricted Palestinian access to them. In theory, Israel retains full control in the West Bank only of Area C. In practice, Israel’s control of Area C adversely affects all Palestinian West Bank residents. Scattered throughout the vast expanses of Area C are 165 “islands” of Area A- and B-land that are home to the major concentrations of population in the West Bank. The land reserves that surround the built-up sections of West Bank towns and villages are often designated as Area C, and Israel does not allow construction or development on these reserves. Israel thereby stifles many Area A and B communities, denying them the opportunity to develop.
This is one of the contributing factors to the difficulty in obtaining lots for construction, the steep price hike in the cost of the few available plots, the dearth of open areas, and the total lack of suitable sites for infrastructure and industrial zones. If, for want of an alternative, residents of these areas build homes without permits on nearby land – owned by them but classified “Area C” – they live under the constant shadow of the threat of demolition.
This report presents Israel’s policy as implemented in Area C, primarily by the Civil Administration, and explores the policy’s implications for the population of the West Bank as a whole. The report focuses on several specific locations in Area C where the policy has considerable impact on the lives of the residents:
– There are dozens of Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills that the Civil Administration refuses to recognize and for which it does not prepare master plans. Over 1,000 people, residents of eight of these villages, currently live under the perpetual threat of expulsion on the grounds of residing in a designated “firing zone”.
– The Civil Administration plans to uproot at least two thousand Bedouins from land near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and transfer them to so-called “permanent communities” in order to expand nearby Israeli settlements and achieve a contiguous built-up bloc linking the settlements to the city of Jerusalem. Previously, hundreds of Bedouins from this area had been displaced for the establishment and then the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim.
– Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are subject to frequent house demolitions. They are occasionally evacuated for the benefit of military exercises and must deal with the confiscation of water cisterns that are the source of drinking water for them and their livestock.
– Al-Khader, Yatma and Qibyah are examples of Palestinian communities most of whose built-up area is located in Area B. Yet most of these communities’ lands available for construction of homes, infrastructure and public services are located in Area C, where the Civil Administration does not allow construction and development. Palestinians in these communities who, for the want of any other options, built homes on their community’s lands in Area C, face the constant threat of demolition.
Some Area C residents, harmed by Israel’s planning and building policy, have applied to Israel’s High Court of Justice for redress. However, of the dozens of petitions submitted, the court deemed not a single case worthy of its intervention with Civil Administration considerations. The court thus enabled the restrictive, harmful and discriminatory policy to carry on.
At the same time, and counter to international law, Israel encourages its own nationals to settle in the West Bank. Israel allocates vast tracts of land and generous water supplies to these settlements, draws up detailed plans that take into account both current requirements and future expansion, and turns a blind eye to violations of planning and construction laws in settlements.
Israel’s policy in Area C is anchored in a perception of the area as meant above all to serve Israeli needs. Consequently, Israel consistently takes actions that strengthen its hold on Area C, displace Palestinian presence, exploit the area’s resources to benefit Israelis, and bring about a permanent situation in which Israeli settlements thrive and Palestinian presence is negligible. Israel’s actions have brought about a de facto annexation of Area C and have created circumstances that will influence the final status of the area.
Israel’s policy in Area C violates the essential obligations of international humanitarian law, namely: to safeguard occupied territory on a temporary basis; to refrain from altering the area or exploiting its resources to benefit the occupying power; and, most importantly, to undertake to fulfill the needs of the local residents and respect their rights. Instead, through the Civil Administration, Israel pursues a policy designed to achieve precisely the opposite: the Civil Administration refuses to prepare master plans for the Area C communities and draws on the absence of these plans to justify the prohibition of virtually all Area C construction and infrastructure hook-ups. In cases where, having no alternative, residents carry out construction despite the prohibition, the Civil Administration demolishes their homes. Israel utterly ignores the reality that residents cannot build their homes legally. Israel conducts itself as though this situation were not in fact a direct result of its own policy.
One of the most important sentences in the report above:
Israel’s actions have brought about a de facto annexation of Area C and have created circumstances that will influence the final status of the area.
Increasingly, we are hearing educated observers say out loud what many of us have long suspected: Israel has successfully annexed most of the territory long considered to be the heart of an eventual Palestinian state.
Please read this report and share it widely.
Excellent post and report, Rabbi Rosen. Someone should send it to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and the new US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, especially in view of her recent despicable attack on Richard Falk.
If the residents whose land is in Area C but live in area B applied for Israeli citizenship, would the access to Area C land be affected?
It all is Israel…all of it..from the sea to the river…..you can cry…weep …complain..bellyache….render your clothes…or gay cockin afom home….the Arabs need to go to Jordan…or to hell….and Rosen with them
nice civilized, caring response. Shows your jewish values
In the orthodox Hamodia this past weekend, there was an extensive article by their military correspondent, Yisroel Katzover, entitled “Netanyahu’s Unspoken Plan for PA Statehood”. He debunks most of your article, explaining how construction of multiple towns and cities in area C is achieving the opposite of your concerns. Israel is in an awkward position to protest, so they’re letting the construction go on, and the new towns will cut off many Israeli settlements from each other, before any talks about what stays and what goes in any final agreement. Please, Rabbi Rosen, show concern for BOTH sides.
Roz, most people in Palestine don’t see a series of fragmented bantustans as constituting a viable state, whatever Yisroel Katzover might think. And ‘one state and a bantustan’ is Netanyahu’s policy – attaining the maximum amount of land with the minimum amount of Palestinians on it, and corralling Arabs into areas that aren’t even contiguous, surrounding on all sides by the Israeli military.
I have seen the devastation inflicted on Palestinian communities in Area C through demolition and displacement, all in aid of settlement expansion. A colleague of mine worked with one little girl who has experienced so many home demolitions that she has actually developed a fear of the colour yellow (bulldozer colour). It seems that ‘showing concern for BOTH sides’ would mean turning our backs on her, on that. But once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it – it is only possible to avoid such sights if you choose to take your news from media that has the specific aim of supporting occupation and making it palatable to a wider audience. But for people who live under it and deal with what de facto annexation actually entails, there can be no sugar-coating. That’s the privilege of someone living in a stable home, who is able to take it for granted that the army won’t come knocking tonight, and that there will still be running water tomorrow.
No one is asking you to unsee anything, Vicky. When you observe back to Roz that “showing concern for both sides would mean turning your back” on the girl who is frightened of the color of bulldozers, you are falling into the classic trap of radicalization – assuming that the less-enlightened among us can’t take the point and counterpoint. Yes we can, Vicky (and Rabbi Rosen). When I hear that home demolitions are taking place, I assume that kids are being traumatized, as I assume with other gut-wrenching events throughout Israel/Palestine. Your reporting on it is to be praised, as is anyone’s bringing to a discussion additional facts and references. And I think it’s perfectly fair for the Roz’s of the world, myself included, to regularly ask Rabbi Rosen why it’s so difficult to examine how we (and the kids you talk about) got into this situation in the first place, and to wonder why all of the anecdotes have to be from one side – and what that says about the advocacy on the issues expressed here.
MFC: How do you think we got into this situation in the first place?
MFC, Roz is not even asking ‘how we got into the situation in the first place’. She is quoting an article by a military commentator who is a known supporter of occupation and who is arguing that construction policies in Area C are actually going to benefit Palestinians and could injure settlers’ interests. Anyone making such an argument is either being deliberately disingenuous or is unfamiliar with basic realities of life in the OPT, especially in Area C. Based on some of Roz’s previous comments, which showed lack of knowledge of Israeli government policy, I’m assuming it’s the latter. Refusing to allow people to set up false parity that minimises people’s suffering – and in Katzover’s case it’s not even parity, he’s trying to turn the whole situation on its head and say up is down and black is white – is hardly ‘falling into the classic trap of radicalisation’, whatever that is supposed to mean anyway.
By the Palestinian Arabs, or at least their leadership with great influence over the people as a whole, not accepting Israel’s right to exist nor for there to be a majority-Jewish homeland somewhere in Palestine, and thus forfeiting up to half a dozen chances since 1947 for a state of their own, in several of these occasions utilizing terrorism as a principal means of expressing that non-acceptance.
I suspect I speak for many in saying that I honestly find it hard to understand how you don’t see that.
MFC: Are you saying you find it hard to understand how I don’t agree with your analysis?
Vicky, I agree that a report that appears in Hamodia has to be read with a certain perspective (although it’s not as bad as other ultra-Orthodox publications where the bias leaps out of every sentence). Perhaps you would like to tell us what publications which are reporting on both construction and destruction in Area C are reliable. It can’t be the case that any counter-example to yours is “false parity,” to my point about the censorious instinct within radicalization. You’re not giving people engaged in the issues enough credit.
In fact, I read in your many vignettes about the effect on young people of the Israeli (yes) occupation and the fear that they won’t be taken seriously the inability to understand that someone could be pro-Israel and yet also credit your reports. This is why I brought up the dreaded T-word (terrorism) in Brant’s challenge question to me. Like many people, you don’t seem to be considering the unique dimension of defending against the tactic of deliberate (that’s the key word here) targeting of the civilian population with violence. No philosophy of security in this arena, including both defensive and offensive measures, can possibly go after only parties who are proven to be “guilty” or avoid certain traumas to bystanders, including children.
I see a mild version of that in the U.S. where people whine about new security measures at airports such as those that might penetrate to views of people’s bodies – “that’s not fair to me, I’m not a terrorist!” That’s babyish in my view – the only alternative is ethnic profiling, which is anathema to the American ethos. The effects that you report on are far more serious, but the concept is the same. Regarding Area C, if the Palestinians’ failure to actuate the concept between the Oslo accords and Camp David 2000 and the resulting reversal into a new intifada led to a more offensive stance by Israel, you cannot just sweep that aside and simply demand that your reports about individual events stand alone without someone else providing a larger frame of reference. And I invite you to state which media you prefer to provide that reference, if not the one that Roz cited.
You are taking it for granted that policies harmful to Palestinians are rooted in legitimate security needs, and you are asking that I use the same frame of reference. I reject it. There is no security value in the villagers of Umm al-Khair not even being permitted to build a bathroom for themselves, and the injustices against Palestinians that we see now existed a long way prior to 2000. (That Bedouin living in the Negev – an area officially slated for ‘Judaization’ – are subject to very similar planning restrictions and demolitions to those facing Area C residents makes it clear that home demolition in particular is not a ‘security’ issue.) Basically what you are asking for is for me to provide you with some context that makes what is happening to Palestinians look more acceptable, at the very least excusable. I can’t. It simply isn’t there.
I also don’t write solely about individual events. I use a lot of illustrative anecdotes, to prevent discussions from becoming too abstract (and comfortable), but I do not divorce them from their wider context – a history of ethnic cleansing and oppression against an indigenous people. If you want the context on home demolitions, we can begin with the demolitions that took place immediately after the Nakba to prevent the inhabitants of those houses from ever returning home and the Absentee Property Law that meant even internally displaced Palestinians (now holding Israeli citizenship) could not reclaim their former homes. Even while it forbade their return to their original houses, the state did not grant recognition to their new communities, making their buildings illegal and consequently subject to demolition order. The fight of IDPs to live with a guaranteed roof over their heads went on for decades. Ayn Hawd only won its recognition in 2005, after a tremendous struggle against the bulldozers. This is the larger frame of reference in which I locate the settlement expansion in Area C, with all that such expansion means for Palestinians living there – some of whom, like the residents of Umm al-Khair, have already been displaced once. We see these policies on both sides of the Green Line, predating Oslo by decades, and the common thread connecting them all is that they are directed against Palestinians in the name of territoral ethnic nationalism that privileges one group of people far above the other.