While all eyes are turned towards Gaza since last summer, the West Bank moves into a slow-onset emergency that is being overlooked. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in the West Bank which represents continuous violations of international humanitarian law has been plunging the region into humanitarian crisis for years. Despite the start of a peace process through the Oslo accords, Palestinians in the West Bank still live under constant threat such as forcible displacement, settlers’ violence, restriction of movement and lack of access to basic services.
In 1967, the West Bank came under Israeli military administration. In the years following the Six-Day War, and especially in the 1990s during the peace process, Israel re-established communities destroyed in 1929 and 1948 as well as established numerous new settlements in the West Bank. In 2005, all residents of Jewish settlements in the Gaza strip were evacuated, and all residential buildings were demolished. However the issues of Israeli settlements in the West Bank continue and have been described by the UK and the Western European Union as an obstacle to the peace process. The United Nations and the European Union have also called the settlements "illegal under international law."
In 2000, the Israeli government started to construct the Israeli West Bank barrier, within the West Bank, separating Israel and several of its settlements, as well as a significant number of Palestinians, from the remainder of the West Bank. Although Israel claims the building of the barrier is a matter of security (Suicide bombings have decreased by 90%) it is also a strategy to occupy the West Bank. Border closures, curfews, and checkpoints have significantly restricted Palestinian movement impacting imports and exports in Palestine and weakening the industrial and agricultural sectors leading to loss of land, increased difficulty in accessing medical and educational services in Israel, restricted access to water sources, and economic effects such as the stifling of business and high unemployment.
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 into three areas: A, B and C. With the breakdown in negotiations in 2000, approximately 36 per cent of the West Bank had been categorized as Areas A and B, this left 60% of the West Bank as Area C, home to approximately 300,000 Palestinians. 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.
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”. Due to the lack of adequate planning and discriminatory allocation of public land, it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits in most of Area C. Those Palestinian residents who attempt to stay are often left with no choice but to build without authorization to meet their basic needs and such structures face the threat of demolition.
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.
Home demolitions are yet another strategy utilized by the Israeli government to occupy the West Bank. Official data released by the Israeli authorities indicate that over 11,000 demolition orders- affecting an estimated 13,000 Palestinian owned structures, including homes -are currently ‘outstanding’ in Area C of the West Bank. These orders heighten the vulnerability of thousands of poor Palestinian households, some of whom are at imminent risk of forcible displacement. According to Israeli planning NGO, Bimkom, between 1988 and April 2013 Israeli authorities issued 12,570 demolition orders to Palestinian owned structures in Area C, of which approximately 2,470 have already been demolished. Since the beginning of 2015, demolitions and evictions in Area C have continued. In total 239 structures were demolished in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
While the demolitions of Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank is systematically monitored by the humanitarian community, this single activity has proved to be insufficient to deter them, and the issue of demolitions has been largely ignored or disregarded by the international community allowing for them to continue unhindered.
© Daniel Botelho