Under Threat: Demolition orders in Area C of the West Bank
Area C is a home to approximately 300,000 Palestinians currently esiding in 532 residential areas. Many of these residential areas are located entirely in Area C, but, in other cases, the area is part of a larger community, part of which is located in Areas A or B.1
According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, there are also about 356,000 Israelis residing in 135 settlements and some 100 settlement 'outposts' established in Area C; both are considered to contravene international law, while the settlement 'outposts' are also considered illegal under Israeli law.
The planning and zoning regime applied by the Israeli authorities, including the ways in which public land is allocated, makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in most of Area C. Even basic residential and livelihood structures, such as a tent or a fence, require a building permit.
This situation impedes the development of adequate housing, infrastructure and livelihoods in the Area C Palestinian communities, and has significant consequences for the entire West Bank population. A recent World Bank report, for example, estimated that if "businesses and farms were permitted to develop in Area C, this would add as much as 35 per cent to Palestinian GDP".2 Those Palestinian residents who attempt to stay are often left with authorization to meet their basic needs.
Structures built without permits are regularly served with demolition orders. While only a minority of the orders issued are executed, these orders do not expire and leave affected households in a state of chronic uncertainty and threat. Where the orders are implemented, they have resulted in displacement and disruption of livelihoods, the entrenchment of poverty and increased aid dependency.
While the demolition of Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank is systematically monitored by the humanitarian community, the issue of demolition orders has received less attention. A database released by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) this year sheds light on the scope of this phenomenon. The dataset includes detailed information on all the demolition orders issued in Palestinian communities and Israeli settlements across Area C between 1988 and 2014.3 This OCHA report explores these data and highlights some of the key trends to emerge.
Creating Area C
In the 1995 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed to the temporary division of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) into three areas: A, B and C. In Area C, Israel retained full control over security and planning and zoning, as well as other aspects related to 'territory'. This division was intended to last until a final status agreement was reached within five years.
With the breakdown in negotiations in 2000, approximately 36 per cent of the West Bank had been categorized as Areas A and B, with an additional three percent of land, designated a nature reserve that was to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority under the Wye River Memorandum. This left the majority of the West Bank as Area C. There has been no official change to this division since 2000. Of particular importance is that responsibility over planning and zoning in Area C, which was to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority by the end of 1998, has remained with Israel.
Moreover, Area C holds the most significant land reserves available for Palestinian development, as well as the bulk of Palestinian agricultural and grazing land. It is also the only contiguous territory in the West Bank; therefore, any large-scale infrastructure projects (roads, water and electricity networks, etc.) also involve work in Area C. As a result, the entire West Bank population is affected by what happens in Area C.
The Israeli position regarding Area C demolitions
According to the Israeli authorities, the demolition of structures erected without the required building permit is a legitimate measure of law enforcement grounded in Jordanian legislation, which was in force at the start of Israeli rule in the West Bank, and in the amendments introduced to it since by Israeli military legislation. These demolitions are also consistent, according to the authorities, with Israel's obligations under Article 43 of the Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land of 1907, which requires the occupying power to ensure "[...] public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." Finally, the Israeli authorities defend the legality of demolitions by citing the 1995 Interim Agreement signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), under which planning and zoning in Area C is subject to the approval of the appropriate planning committees.5
1. OCHA, In the Spotlight: Area C Vulnerability Profile, 2014.
2. World Bank, report on “Area C of the West Bank and the Future of the Palestinian Economy,”report No: AUS2922, October 2013.
3. The dataset was obtained from the Israeli Civil Administration by Dror Etkes based on the Israeli Freedom of information Act.
5. Letter from the Israeli Civil Administration to OCHA, 9 June 2015; HCJ11258/05 Majd ‘Afif ‘Aaref Hanani et al. vs. the Planning Inspection Committee et al., petition dated 2005.