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.