Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Part 2

Separate and Unequal


This report focuses on East Jerusalem and on “Area C,” the latter an administrative area that derives from the temporary agreement (known as “Oslo 2”) signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in September 1995, which created and granted limited autonomy to the Palestinian Authority (PA) ahead of an as-yet unreached final status agreement. Oslo 2 divided the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) into three administrative areas—A, B, and C. As modified by subsequent agreements, Area A, which includes Palestinian cities and covers approximately 18 percent of the land of the West Bank, was transferred to the civil and military control of the PA.[7] Israel retains military control over Area B, which covers 22 percent of the territory, including most of the built-up areas of the Palestinian villages, but transferred civil control to the PA.[8] Israel retained full control of security, planning, and building in the remaining 60 percent of the West Bank (some 340,000 hectares of land), known as Area C, which includes Israeli settlements, main roads, and smaller Palestinian villages and agricultural lands . Most Palestinians live in Areas A and B. Some four percent live in Area C.

The rationale for the division was, in part, that the agreement granted the PA control of the majority of the Palestinian population, while leaving sparsely populated but extensive areas under Israeli control.[9]

Israel controls civil matters related to planning and construction and access to utilities and other services in Area C. It has granted Jewish-only settlements control of roughly 70 percent of the area (or 42.8 percent of the West Bank, including settlements’ built-up areas and land reserves), and offers settlers sizable subsidies to move, build, and invest there. Israel effectively allows Palestinians to build or improve their homes and agricultural lands in only one percent of Area C, by designating lands there according to several categories, all of which restrict Palestinians’ ability to use them. In addition to areas controlled by settlers, Israel has designated roughly 18 to 20 percent of the West Bank closed military zones (often designated as firing zones that overlap with the large land areas designated as the territory of settlement regional councils) and 10 percent as nature reserves, where Palestinian and Israeli land use is prohibited. Only Palestinians with special permits may enter the settlements, usually for work such as construction, cleaning, or agriculture.

The PA is responsible under the 1995 Oslo accords for providing services to all Palestinian villages in the West Bank, including education and health services to communities in Area C. Under those agreements, Israel was to retain its military control but progressively to transfer its civil authority over Area C to the PA by 1999. Israel transferred small amounts of Area B to Area A, and of Area C to Area B, in 1999 and 2000 following agreements at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, before the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000, but continues to maintain its absolute authority over Area C. The Civil Administration—the Israel military authority that governs civilian matters in the West Bank— and the IDF must approve any construction in Area C, from small-scale renovations and connections, to utilities, to the construction of homes, schools, and hospitals.

Israel’s complete control over all construction in Area C has made it difficult for the PA to fulfill its limited educational and health responsibilities there. A survey conducted in 2009 by United Nations agencies found that the PA faced “difficulties in obtaining building permits” from the Israeli Civil Administration for building or expanding schools and health clinics, which “significantly impedes the fulfillment of this responsibility.” As a result, Palestinians have generally been forced to fend for themselves in obtaining these services.

The Israeli Interior Ministry recognizes as official “communities” 121 settlements established in the West Bank after Israel occupied the territory in 1967. Israel considers as “neighborhoods” of Jerusalem 12 other settlements located in the part of the West Bank that Israel annexed to the Jerusalem municipality. Since the mid-1990s, Israel largely stopped officially recognizing new settlements, leading to the establishment of an additional 100 “unrecognized” settlements, usually referred to as “outposts.”

Israel continues to expand and invest in the existing settlements. In addition to providing infrastructure to settlements and unrecognized outposts alike—such as connections to the road network and electricity grid, water supply, schools and hospitals, and devoting significant security expenditure in the form of IDF forces obliged to guard them—Israeli policies have provided a wide variety of financial incentives to Jews willing to live in settlements. A study by the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz in 2003 found that government funding to settlements amounted to US$1.4 billion annually (NIS 5.5 billion), including US$526 million in security costs to protect settlers.

In East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War (it remains occupied territory under international law), Israel exerts full governmental control over 190,000 Israeli and roughly 270,000 Palestinian residents. This report documents that Israel has sponsored the development of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem, even in houses from which Palestinian residents are evicted, while strictly limiting Palestinian building and development, including by demolishing homes. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem pay taxes but receive far fewer services than do residents of predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem.

Many Jews move to settlements due to their national-religious views; they believe that the West Bank is part of the historical, ancient land of Israel given to Jews by God. However, many ultra-orthodox and secular Jewish settlers move to the settlements primarily for economic reasons, such as the low cost of housing. Large government subsidies undoubtedly contribute to the high levels of immigration to settlements; in 2006, according to Israeli statistics, 20 percent of the population increase in the settlements resulted from migration from inside Israel (including new immigrants from other countries) rather than “natural growth,” a term the Israeli government uses to justify settlement construction. In 2007, 37 percent of settlement growth was due to such migration.

In addition to receiving support from the Israeli government, settlements receive support from private foreign donors, including Jewish and Christian individuals and non-profit organizations (NGOs) in the United States, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere. Donations to non-profit groups in foreign countries that fund Jewish settlements in the West Bank are often tax-deductible, including in the US. Charities have funded many aspects of settlements, including synagogues, water networks, vocational training for troubled settler youth, rifle scopes, thermal imaging systems, and other security equipment.

Settlers also benefit from Israeli government subsidies that attract investment and produce agricultural and industrial products, including for export to overseas markets. Several multinational corporations have invested, usually through their subsidiaries, in settlement “industrial zones,” which receive massive subsidies and tax abatements from the Israeli government.

Construction Permits, Zoning, and Demolitions

Israel exercises complete control over planning procedures and construction in Area C of the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. Although the PA controls planning and construction in Areas A and B, in many cases these cover only the areas of Palestinian cities and towns that were already built-up in 1995, when the Oslo agreement was signed; over the past 15 years, Israel’s complete control over Area C has significantly affected residents of these cities and towns, particularly in cases where Israel has refused to approve Palestinian requests to build new homes beyond the limit of the built-up area, as necessary to accommodate the expanding population. For the 150,000 Palestinians whose villages lie partly or entirely inside Area C, Israel’s control over planning and construction has had severe consequences. Israeli authorities rarely permit residential construction intended to benefit Palestinians, who are effectively prevented from building outside built-up areas that in many cases are already over-crowded, and that amount to only one percent of Area C. Israel altered the Jordanian planning laws in place in the West Bank so as to exclude Palestinians from any participation in the planning process. As a result, only 18 of the 150 Palestinian communities in Area C have any plans, of which 16 were drafted by Israeli military authorities and which allow building in only very limited areas. In contrast, Israeli military orders have created a separate track for settlers, who participate in planning their own communities.

Palestinian homes and buildings that are not constructed in accordance with an approved Israeli plan are not eligible for building permits and are subject to demolition. When Palestinians construct, repair, or renovate homes, mosques, schools, medical clinics, animal pens, electricity poles, water pipes, wells, and cisterns without prior Israeli authorization—which is often impossible to obtain—the Israeli Civil Administration distributes “stop work” orders and may then authorize demolition. From 2000 to 2007, Israeli authorities rejected more than 94 percent of Palestinian building permit requests in Area C; according to government statistics, for every building permit application granted to Palestinians by the Israeli authorities during this period, 18 Palestinian structures were demolished and demolition orders were issued for 55 more. The UN reported in 2009 that Israeli authorities had delayed granting permits or had ordered the demolition of at least 25 schools in Area C with over 6,000 students.

In contrast, in several cases where Jewish settlers have built buildings, roads, and other infrastructure—and entire settlement outposts—without necessary permits, Israeli authorities did not demolish the buildings, but retroactively approved their construction. An Israeli governmental report in 2005 identified more than 100 settlement outposts that had been built illegally, without the required permits; a few have been demolished–after which settlers often rebuilt them–but virtually the same number of outposts remains today.

In several cases documented in this report, Israeli settlements and outposts continued to expand near Palestinian communities, which some residents were effectively forced to leave due to Israeli planning restrictions that prevented them from remaining in homes they had occupied for years or from building homes to accommodate expanding families. Repeated Israeli demolitions have permanently displaced Palestinian families from communities in the West Bank on the grounds that the communities are located inside “closed military zones,” which the communities pre-dated and which the Israeli military imposed despite the availability of large, uninhabited areas of land nearby and in other areas of the Jordan Valley.

Israel also applies discriminatory policies to housing in East Jerusalem, which unlike the rest of the West Bank it considers to be part of Israel. Israeli zoning laws reserve some 25 percent of the land in East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements, while zoning only 13 percent of the land for Palestinian construction, according to UN figures. In some Palestinian neighborhoods, as a result, Israel has issued no construction permits since 1967, and has demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and buildings on the grounds that they were built illegally. According to the UN, Israeli authorities destroyed 730 Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem from 2000 to the end of 2009 due to lack of building permits. In contrast, Israeli authorities have in several cases failed to implement court orders to seal or demolish unlawful construction by settlers in East Jerusalem. In 2004, for example, 85 percent of recorded building violations in Jerusalem were located in the western part of the city, yet 91 percent of all administrative demolitions orders were for buildings in East Jerusalem, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), an Israeli human rights organization.

Israeli authorities have also repeatedly refused to approve town plans submitted on behalf of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem neighborhoods. In the neighborhood of al-Bustan, municipal authorities rejected local residents’ plans but commissioned and approved a plan that would have razed 88 Palestinian homes to create a “garden” park area adjoining the “City of David,” a settler-run tourist and archaeological site nearby (under international pressure, the municipality revised the plan, which will now destroy between 20 and 40 homes and allow displaced Palestinians to move into the remaining structures already occupied by other families.) El Ad, the settler group operating the archaeological site, has built a settlement that includes several Palestinian homes it obtained on the basis of Israel’s “absentee property” law, which strips ownership rights from Palestinians who were not physically present in East Jerusalem on the date Israel occupied the area in 1967. El Ad has caused property damage and collapses by tunneling and conducting unapproved excavations underneath Palestinian homes.

In 2009, the Jerusalem municipality adopted a master plan (“Jerusalem Outline Plan 2000”) intended “to guide and outline the city’s development in the next decades,” that embraced the goal of “maintain[ing] a ratio of 70% Jews and 30% Arabs” in the city. The plan’s introduction acknowledged that the “goal is not attainable—the demographic ratio was already 65:35 in 2008—and that a 60:40 demographic ratio of Jews to Arabs would emerge by 2020. The plan identified “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city” by improving services and affordable housing for Jews as a “main policy goal.” According to the Israeli NGO Ir Amim, which focuses on Jerusalem issues, based on current demographic trends the plan would create a massive projected housing shortage that would affect 150,000 Palestinians by 2030. Israeli authorities have not invoked a security rationale for the political goal of altering the demographic balance in Jerusalem, which does not justify the different treatment of the populations in Jerusalem.

Seen in their totality, Israeli plans aim to alter the demographic balance in Jerusalem as a whole by lowering the number of the city’s Palestinian residents (including Christians as well as Muslims). Israeli authorities cancelled the Jerusalem residency permits of some 4,500 Palestinians in 2008 alone; the interior ministry allows only those Palestinians whom it determines have their “center of life” in Jerusalem to retain their residency permits. (Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have special residency permits, which are distinct from Israeli citizenship or from PA identity cards held by other residents of the West Bank.)

The government’s housing and construction policies in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) violate the state’s obligation not to discriminate in policies relating to housing, and have led to home demolitions that amount to arbitrary violations of the rights to a home, to housing, and to property; they also violate prohibitions against forced displacement of a population under occupation. Further, as an occupying power, Israel is prohibited from altering the legislation of the occupied territories, including planning laws, and from destroying property except as needed to maintain orderly governance of the territory and for military necessity. Rather than issuing demolition orders against schools, Israel is obliged to “facilitate the proper working” of educational institutions. Israel’s human rights obligations require it to destroy homes only as a last resort and to provide alternative housing at least equivalent to that which it destroyed. Unless and until an agreement is reached that respects the rights of the persons forcibly displaced without due process, Israel is obligated to pay them compensation and allow them to return to their lands.


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