Tony Greenstein | 01 January 2018 | Post Views:

The permit regime has a chilling effect on day to day life and political activity 

Israel confiscates solar
panels supplying power to village not connected to grid for 50 years

When we think of Apartheid, whether Israeli or South African, we think of discrimination, segregation and separation.  But the essence of Apartheid was labour control and to organise this it was necessary to have a system of pass control.  People could only move with the requisite paper.  In South Africa this was a crude system and it fell into abeyance but in Israel it is highly sophisticated, with over 100 different varieties of permit.  It is the means by which Israel segments and divides the Palestinians, setting one off against another.


The fight against Apartheid in South Africa
began in earnest with the Sharpeville massacre on March 21st
1960.  69 Black Africans were gunned down
and 180 were injured when the Apartheid Police opened fire on an unarmed demonstration
of between 5,000 and 10,000 Africans who had been protesting against the
imposition of passes.  The pass system
had been in operation in South Africa from 1800 until it was abolished in
1986.  It had first been introduced to
control Black slaves.

In Israel and the apartheid analogy we learn that a permit and closure system was introduced in Israel in 1990. Leila Farsakh maintains that this system imposes “on Palestinians similar conditions to
those faced by blacks under the pass laws. Like the pass laws, the permit
system controlled population movement according to the settlers’ unilaterally
defined considerations.”
In response to the al-Aqsa
, Israel modified the
permit system and fragmented the West Bank and Gaza Strip territorially. “In April 2002 Israel declared that the
WBGS would be cut into eight main areas, outside which Palestinians could not
live without a permit.”

John Dugard has said
these laws “resemble, but in
severity go far beyond, apartheid’s pass system
“. Jamal
, an Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset for Balad said
that this permit system was a feature of apartheid. Azmi Bishara, a former
Knesset member, argued that the Palestinian situation had been caused by
“colonialist apartheid”
How the BBC reported Sharpevill – the good old BBC bias was evident then when it described the massacre as a ‘shoot out’ as if the Africans had guns
B’Tselem wrote in 2004, “Palestinians are barred from or have restricted access to 450
miles of West Bank roads” and has said this system has “clear
similarities” with the apartheid regime in South Africa

In October 2005 the Israel Defense Forces stopped
Palestinians from driving on Highway 60, as part of a plan for a separate Road Network for Palestinians and
Israelis in the West Bank. The road had been sealed after the fatal shooting of
three settlers near Bethlehem. As of 2005, no private Palestinian cars were
permitted on the road although public transport was still allowed.
Whereas South Africa abolished its Pass Laws in
1986, in Israel they are maintained with full vigour.  The West Bank is segmented with hundreds of
check points.  Anyone who fools
themselves that this is not a military occupation is living on another plant.
As the following article shows, Israel’s permit
system is far more sophisticated than that of South Africa and there are more
than 100 different types of permit, covering different areas and different
categories of person.
Tony Greenstein
Israel’s permit regime costs Palestinians

Living Emergency: Israel’s Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank by Yael
University Press
This slim book, only 152 pages long, contains volumes. Although it
focuses on a single aspect of the Israeli occupation – the use of permits to
control the Palestinian population – Israeli author Yael Berda manages to illuminate the occupation as a whole.
The focus of Living Emergency is even narrower than the “permit
regime” implied in the subtitle, as it examines work permits specifically and,
in particular, the use of the security threat designation to deny work permits
to Palestinians.
Living Emergency conveys a Kafkaesque world imposed on Palestinians
in the occupied West Bank who may one day find that a steady construction job
in Israel simply evaporates, a work permit denied and a livelihood destroyed by
classified rules and secret evidence. Many face a Catch-22, knowing that refusing
to become an informer in exchange for a work permit can be considered
resistance to the occupation and therefore a security threat in itself.
Berda is an attorney who represented hundreds of Palestinian clients
between 2005 and 2007 from her Jerusalem office. Those experiences form the
basis of this study of Israel’s “population management” strategies that have
also been described by other authors as Israel’s
“social engineering” or “matrix of control.”
In the seam zone
Berda notes that her privileged status as a Jewish Israeli citizen
enabled her to gain access to information that Palestinian attorneys would
never receive, and that sexism – the perception that she was “harmless” and
“loyal” – opened the door to yet more revelations.
Israel imposes more than 100 different types of permits on Palestinians
in the West Bank. There are 13 types of permits just to travel within the “seam
zone” – the area around Israel’s wall in the West Bank that divides
Palestinians from their work, their hospitals and often their farmland.

The permit regime has a chilling effect on political activity and
resistance to the occupation because of the fear of being classified as a
security threat. Having the power to award, revoke or deny permits enables
Israel to control those Palestinians who would attempt labor organizing and
improvement of work conditions, enables Israel to recruit informers and imposes
significant costs on Palestinian living standards and economic development.
Berda points out that in 2005 the cost of a work permit for experienced
Palestinian construction workers could amount to half their salary. A more recent study found that
Palestinians typically paid a quarter to a third of their wages to job brokers,
or middlemen, who helped them find work in Israel and obtain the necessary
Berda observes that the permit regime grew out of the 1945 Defense
(Emergency) Regulations. These repressive regulations, which denied basic
democratic rights in order to prevent political activity, were established by
the British during the Mandate period. Zionist settlers despised the negative
effects such regulations had on them. Some even compared them to laws enacted
by the Nazis.
After Israel took control of the West Bank by force in 1967, the
occupation authorities set up administrative rules that were copied
word-for-word from the British regulations, changing only the titles of
functionaries and replacing terms like “His Majesty’s Forces” with “Israeli
The 1993 Oslo accords failed to dismantle the permit regime and instead
helped abet it.
Initially, the accords curbed Israel’s ability to recruit Palestinian
collaborators due to the withdrawal of its military forces from many
Palestinian towns and cities. Without a physical presence in these areas, it
became more difficult for Israeli forces to identify potential informers.
However, Israel’s Shin Bet secret police soon realized that permit denials
could be used to coerce people to inform, one of the most pernicious aspects of
the permit regime.
Berda notes that this practice is a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva
Convention. Article 31 specifies that “No
physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in
particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.”
The permit regime was injurious not only because failure to inform could
mean the loss of livelihood, but also because it induced paranoia and jealousy
among Palestinians.
Obtaining a permit to work in Israel could in itself imply
collaboration, or a Palestinian previously denied a permit who later received
one could be suspected of agreeing to inform. Meanwhile, a jealous or grudgeful
acquaintance might approach Shin Bet with security accusations simply for
“Living emergency”

Berda estimates that more than 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank
have been labeled “security threats.” She notes that one of the most revealing
aspects of her work in defending those so labeled is how often the Shin Bet
withdrew the designation when met with a legal challenge, as if it “would
rather grant an individual request than expose its practices and
decision-making to judicial oversight.”
The frequency with which this happened in her practice and that of other
human rights legal groups indicates the arbitrariness of the designation,
particularly since the legal system is designed to prevail on behalf of the
bureaucratic entities in charge of the permit system.
The author is impressed with how many Palestinians have resisted the
permit regime by taking part in legal challenges, considering the risks they
assume, including the possibility of receiving a lifetime ban disqualifying
them from future permits. She takes to task some of Israel’s human rights
organizations, such as B’Tselem and Yesh Din, for merely seeking to reform the
permit regime when in her view it must be rejected “in its entirety.”
The permit regime was founded on the perception among Israeli leaders
that Israel existed in an emergency situation and therefore needed to impose
draconian control over Palestinians simply for being Palestinian. Berda concludes
that the permit regime resulted in a “living emergency for millions of
in which “race and racial hierarchy infused the practices and
routines” of a settler-colonial bureaucracy and made life difficult and
humiliating for its victims.
Consider, for example, that some of her cases led to “clemency pleas” in
which a person had to apologize for wrongdoing even though they had never done
anything wrong.
The abuses against her Palestinian clients “eradicated my faith in
Israel’s legal system,”
she writes, but it did not eradicate her faith “in the
possibility to change its political regime and demand citizenship and equal
rights for all the inhabitants from the Jordan River to the sea.”
Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He
lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland

trapped between the separation barrier and the
Green Line, Palestinians living in the ‘Seam Zone’ are forced to reckon with a
Kafkaesque permit regime that appears designed to do one thing and one thing
only: make them give up and leave.

By Idan Landau, translated by
Jordan Michaeli
A Palestinian woman takes part in a demonstration against the Israeli army’s permit regime, Bidu, West Bank, August 30, 2009. (Photo:
Israeli NGO Hamoked:
Center for the Defense of the Individual published “The Permit Regime” earlier this year, a
report amazing in its discoveries and the level it details the parallel
universe Israel has created in the “Seam Zone,” the area between the separation
barrier and the Green Line. The bulk of the information in the report was
collected from UN reports (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs,
OCHA) and the State of Israel’s responses to 76 Supreme Court petitions filed
by Hamoked over the years. As expected, the report gained zero media coverage.
The following 25
stations, on the journey to the land of permits, were drawn from the report.
Refreshment stations, scattered along the way, were taken from sources that
will be named.
1. “The Seam Zone” –
Territories of the West Bank that were de facto annexed to Israel by the
separation wall. Today 7,500 Palestinians live in the Seam Zone, trapped
between the wall and the Green Line. With the completion of the wall their
number will increase to 30,000. Overall, the Seam Zone will expropriate 9.4
percent of the West Bank’s territory.
2. More than half of
the land in the Seam Zone is private Palestinian land, expropriated
from residents living east of the wall.
3. Palestinians must
apply for special permits to enter the Seam Zone. Moreover, permanent residents
of the villages in the Seam Zone must also apply for a permit that will allow
them to live on lands that have been theirs since time immemorial. In contrast
to the judicial principal according to which a person is entitled
to be on any part of his land except for in exceptional circumstances, wherein
the burden of proof lays on the authorities, in the Seam Zone,
the situation is completely reversed: no person is entitled to be on their land
except under exceptional circumstances, wherein the burden is on the person
to justify his or her presence.
4. Correction: The
burden of proof lays on the Palestinian, not on the person. The permit regime
in the Seam Zone is operated on the basis of ethnicity. Israelis and tourists
may move freely within and into the Seam Zone.
The state of Israel
sees the permit regime as a regime of privilege… contrary to a rights-base
regime, which obligates the state to avoid infringing individual rights and even
to  actively work toward their realization. In a regime of privilege the
sovereign can grant services to a certain population (or deny them) as part of
an administrative decision that is the prerogative of the state. (Phantom
Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank, Yael Berda, Van
Leer Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing, 2012, pg 89)
5. The “exceptional
circumstances” that allow one’s presence within the Seam Zone are divided into
13 categories, resulting in 13 kinds of permits: a proof of permanent residency
document, a permanent farmer permit, a temporary farmer permit, a business
permit, an employment permit, a personal needs permit, an education worker
permit, an international organization employee permit, a Palestinian Authority
employee permit, an infrastructure worker permit, a medical personnel permit, a
student permit and a minor child permit.
6. The words
“permanent resident” and “permanent farmer” are deceiving: all permits in the
Seam Zone are temporary. Most of them are granted for three months and the
longest permit is granted for two years. As a Palestinian, your status
in the Seam Zone is always temporary,
even if you were born and have
worked there your entire life. Additionally, Civil Administration inspectors
are likely to follow you around and may add you to the “Suspected of losing
connection to the Seam Zone” list – the code name for a transfer list used to
revoke his residency.
7. A permit granted
for one purpose may not be used for another. A person who received a farming
permit in the Seam Zone cannot use it to travel to a family gathering; they
must apply for a special “personal needs permit.” A person who received an
“infrastructure worker” permit cannot use the same permit to conduct business,
and so on and so forth. Moreover, the army does not handle more than one
application per person at any given time. The result is that there’s no real
possibility to live an organic, multi-dimensional life in the Seam Zone, only,
at best, to divide it into a stream of events, disconnected from each other in
From the perspective
of the colonial model, the merging of the security and civilian mechanisms is
actually a desirable one, because it allows administrative flexibility and the
manufacturing of exceptions on an ongoing, daily basis, thanks to the recurring
states of security emergency – until even civilian considerations become
reactive and operate in emergency mode. (Phantom Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of
the Occupation in the West Bank, pg 90)
8. The army does not
issue farming permits to joint owners of land. One owner will receive a permit,
the other won’t. The only way for the other owners to access their land is by
applying for a permit as a “temporary worker,” employed by the owner holding
the permit. For this they must present a work contract. Palestinians are forced
to sign work contracts with their parents, children and siblings.
9. The number of
Palestinians holding permits is steadily decreasing, while the number of
permits issued remains identical. The reason is that the time period for the
permits are valid is becoming ever shorter. Between 2007 and 2010 the number of
permits granted for two years decreased from 23 to 7 percent of all permits.
What characterizes
the administrative flexibility of the permit regime is, in fact, that the
squandering of resources and the frequent administrative friction involved in
providing work permits brings about two results desired by the governmental
system: creating a dependency of the population on the administrative system in
order to preserve ample space for monitoring and control; and preventing the
entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel. (Phantom Sovereign: The
Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank, pg 88)
10. As a result of
the permits’ short validity, the difficulty of renewing them on time and delays
faced at Israeli check points, farmlands in the Seam Zone are not regularly
cultivated. Greenhouses have been taken down, crops such as citrus and almonds
were abandoned, and for the most part, only olive trees, which provide less
revenue, remain. Due to difficulties in reaching the land, the yields from
olive harvest also decreased 60 percent, compared to yields on the eastern side
of the fence. In short, the permit regime transformed the Seam Zone into an area
of economic impoverishment.   
11. The circle of
life and death of a ‘permit’: File an application at the Palestinian District
Coordination and Liaison (DCO) Office → forward it to the Israeli DCO
→ permit is granted, outright procedural rejection or refusal → in
case of refusal, file an appeal at the Israeli DCO → be summoned to a
committee hearing → the permit is granted or it is refused → in case
of refusal, appeal to the High Court of Justice.
12. There is
potential for trouble at every step in the process. Many times, the same
application will be filed again and again since the Israeli DCO claims that an
application “was not transferred” to it. The length of the delay between the
Palestinian DCO (which only acts as an intermediary) and the Israeli DCO is
unknown. A Palestinian has no way of knowing the status of his or her
application, whether it reached its destination, whether documents are missing,
and so on. Applications are often rejected without informing the applicant. The
delay is crucial, since those who don’t file an appeal within a set period of
time after being rejected must wait another six months before filing a new
appeal. Filing an appeal also involves a risk: the military does not issue
written confirmations when receiving appeals, thus making it difficult to prove
that an appeal was ever made. Even if you are summoned to appear in front a
committee hearing following an appeal, there is no guarantee that the subpoena
will arrive on time. Many Palestinians have missed their hearings simply
because they were not informed of them. Of course, not appearing at a hearing
is the equivalent of not submitting an appeal at all. The refusal is then
automatically extended for six months.
In the Castle the
telephone works beautifully of course, I’ve been told it’s going there all the
time, that naturally speeds up the work a great deal. We can hear this
continual telephoning in our telephones down here as a humming and singing, you
must have heard it too. Now this humming and singing transmitted by our
telephones is the only real and reliable thing you’ll hear, everything else is
deceptive. There’s no fixed connexion with the Castle, no central exchange
transmits our calls further. When anybody calls up the Castle from here the
instruments in all the subordinate departments ring, or rather they would all
ring if practically all the departments – I know it for a certainty – didn’t
leave their receivers off. Now and then, however, a fatigued official may feel
the need of a little distraction, especially in the evenings and at night and
may hang the receiver on. Then we get an answer, but an answer of course that’s
merely a practical joke. And that’s very understandable too. For who would take
the responsibility of interrupting, in the middle of the night, the extremely
important work up there that goes on furiously the whole time, with a message
about his own little private troubles? (Franz Kafka, The Castle)
13. Thirty percent of
all applications are rejected. Either the army denies the application was ever
transferred to it, or the applicant, according to the army, didn’t “prove a
need” to enter or be in the Seam Zone, or the army has security related
information on the applicant. In any case – the rejection is not explained, or
even handed down in writing.
14. The army requires
applicants to present documents that already appear in its database (land
ownership, payments of fees and so forth). Often the documents are kept at the
Civil Administration’s office. A Palestinian resident is thus forced to make
their way to the office (a procedure that is made difficult by travel
limitations – the same limitations that the permit is meant to remove), make a
copy of the sought-after document and take it to the Palestinian DCO, only for
the latter to return the copy to the Civil Administration office.
15. In principle,
there is no need for documents when renewing a permit. In practice, an
application made once an old permit expires is labeled a “new request” and all
of the documents must be attached to it.
16. The problem is,
that for a long period of time the Israeli DCO refused to accept applications
for permits before the old permit expired. That created lengthy interim periods
between permits, during which entrance to the Seam Zone was denied (fields were
neglected, family gatherings postponed). Two years ago the army agreed to
accept applications for extension starting three weeks before a permit expires
– an awfully short time in the DCO’s bureaucracy, in practice not allowing for
consecutiveness in between permits.
17. Following a
petition to the Supreme Court in April 2011 the army updated its orders and
declared that permit applications for those living outside the Seam Zone will
be decided upon within 14 days. An examination of 195 applications filed during
the first half of 2012 revealed that the army kept to its own time frame in
only 7 percent of the cases.
And now I come to a
peculiar characteristic of our administrative apparatus. Along with its
precision it’s extremely sensitive as well. When an affair has been weighed for
a very long time, it may happen, even before the matter has been fully
considered, that suddenly in a flash the decision comes in some unforeseen
place, that, moreover, can’t be found any longer later on, a decision that
settles the matter, if in most cases justly, yet all the same arbitrarily. It’s
as if the administrative apparatus were unable any longer to bear the tension,
the year-long irritation caused by the same affair – probably trivial in itself
– and had hit upon the decision by itself, without the assistance of the
officials. Of course a miracle didn’t happen and certainly it was some clerk
who hit upon the solution or the unwritten decision, but in any case it
couldn’t be discovered by us, at least by us here, or even by the Head Bureau,
which clerk had decided in this case and on what grounds. The Control Officials
only discovered that much later, but we will never learn it; besides by this
time it would scarcely interest anybody. Now, as I said, it’s just these
decisions that are generally excellent. The only annoying thing about them –
it’s usually the case with such things – is that one learns too late about them
and so in the meantime keeps on still passionately canvassing things that were
decided long ago. (Franz Kafka, The Castle)
18. All application
procedures, appeals and hearings are covered in a 60-page booklet, the Standing
Orders for the Seam Zone (SO). Although the SO is meant for use by the Palestinian
population, it is written in Hebrew and not Arabic and is formulated in an
unclear legal language.
19. The Israeli DCOs
are staffed not only by its clerks but also by Shin Bet officers. Palestinians
who file an appeal find themselves in front of a Shin Bet agent who pressures
them to become collaborators. Those who refuse can expect to receive their
permit only after a processing time of many months, if at all. This dilemma
dissuades many Palestinians from even trying to appeal a refusal: in the years
2007 – 2010, less than 3 percent of all rejected applicants were summoned to a
20. You filed an
application, you were turned down, you filed an appeal and were summoned to the
committee hearing – then what? Sometimes the committee decides to conduct an
on-the-ground tour before coming to a decision. Six months can pass until the
tour takes place – another six months of delays before granting a permit.
According to the SO, a temporary three-month permit must be given to the
applicant during that time (as if another kind of permit exists). In reality,
such temporary permits are seldom granted. When they are granted, they are so
temporary they must be often renewed. As a result, while waiting for a
“non-temporary” permit (the length of which won’t be more than six months in
most cases), one must handle constant extensions of short term permits.
When one cannot find
the sovereign one also cannot appeal the sovereign’s decisions, learn his
decision-making patterns and adapt to them or change them. Still, as this is a
constant situation of emergency, sovereign power is present in nearly every
decision, even if it cannot be pinpointed as responsible. The ruling mechanism
prefers personal control over comprehensive policy, because the former can be changed
at any time, without any need for a cumbersome, organized legal system of
decision-making. (Phantom Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the
West Bank, pg 111)
21. Bureaucratic
reasons have made residents of the Seam Zone ineligible for marriage. Those who
marry Seam Zone residents are unable to obtain a permanent permit to be there
(only a few receive a permanent residency permit, which is also, as previously
mentioned, valid only for two years). A Seam Zone resident who moves in with a
spouse out of the Seam Zone “loses their connection” to it, according to the
army’s definition, and consequently loses their residency permit.
22. The loop:
a couple from the Jenin area was married at the beginning of November
2009. The distance between their houses was less than one kilometer, but in
between runs the separation wall. The man applied for a “new seam zone
resident” document. His request was denied on the basis that “the applicant is
not a permanent resident.”
23. In February 2004
in a reply to the High Court, the State Attorney declared that
Palestinian farmers will be granted free entry to the Seam Zone through
“passages open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” That was an empty promise.
Dozens of gates are positioned along the Seam Zone border; only two of them are
continuously open. It is no coincidence that they are the only two gates that
also serve settlers.
24. Any permit, of
any kind, after it was obtained by hard work – may be confiscated on the spot.
An army officer standing at a checkpoint may decide the permit holder deviated
from the conditions of the permit and confiscate it then and there. There is no
judicial oversight of confiscation; often the person whose permit was
confiscated does not receive a document attesting the confiscation and they are
not told of the possibility of filling an appeal.
25. The Seam Zone was
closed to Palestinian movement in 2002, when the permit regime was established.
In April 2011 the Supreme Court rejected petitions against it and ruled it is a
“temporary situation, resulting from a difficult, interim reality.” For over 10
years this situation hasn’t been temporary, although it’s the source of said
difficult reality.
A few fundamental truths
Contrary to common
belief, the permit regime in the West Bank wasn’t established as a response to
a wave of Palestinian terror that started in 1994, but three years earlier in
January 1991 (Hebrew). Severe
restrictions on movement, which created a de facto separation between
Palestinian populations, prepared the ground for the Oslo accords, which were
based on the logic of separation. An investigation in 2011 revealed that the
Civil Administration issues Palestinians 101
different kinds of entry permits
to Israel.
The Seam Zone is a
bureaucratic monster, illegal and immoral since day one. It’s the result of the
Israeli desire for annexation and the decision to build the separation wall
beyond the Green Line. The International
Court of Justice in The Hague ruled
as follows on July 9, 2004,
sections 141 and 163:
The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and
deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right,
and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its
citizens. The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity
with applicable international law … Israel is under an obligation to
cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in
the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem
[and] to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated.
The end goal of the
permit regime in the Seam Zone, like the limitations on movement and
construction in the Jordan Valley (Hebrew), is to gradually
thin out the indigenous Palestinian population and to clear lands for the
benefit of Israeli settlements. The method: revocation of permanent residency
(forced transfer), prevention of agricultural and economic development,
destruction of local communal and family structures, and turning day-to-day routines into bureaucratic nightmares that will eventually make
them hate life and leave the area – a voluntary transfer to complete the forced
In this life it might easily happen, if he were not always on his
guard, until one day or other, in spite of the amiability of the authorities
and the scrupulous fulfillment of all his exaggeratedly light duties, he might
– deceived by the apparent favor shown him – conduct himself so imprudently
that he might get a fall; and the authorities, still ever mild and friendly,
and as it were against their will but in the name of some public regulation
unknown to him, might have to come and clear him out of the way. (Franz
Kafka, The Castle)
This post was first published in Hebrew on Idan Landau’s blog.

Policy in the West Bank

Israel’s planning and building policy in the West
Bank is aimed at preventing Palestinian development and dispossessing
Palestinians of their land. This is masked by use of the same professional and
legal terms applied to development in settlements and in Israel proper, such as
“planning and building laws”, “urban building plans (UBPs)”, “planning
proceedings” and “illegal construction”. However, while the planning and
building laws benefit Jewish communities by regulating development and
balancing different needs, they serve the exact opposite purpose when applied
to Palestinian communities in the West Bank. There, Israel exploits the law to
prevent development, thwart planning and carry out demolitions. This is part of
a broader political agenda to maximize the use of West Bank resources for
Israeli needs, while minimizing the land reserves available to Palestinians.
The 1995 Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank into
three types of areas. Concentrations of Palestinian population in built-up
areas, which were – and still are – home to most of the Palestinian population
in the West Bank, were designated Areas A and B and officially handed over to
Palestinian Authority control. They are dotted throughout the West Bank in 165
disconnected ‘islands’. The remaining 61% of the West Bank were designated Area
C – the land mass surrounding Areas A and B, where Israel retains full control
over security and civil affairs, including planning, building, laying
infrastructure and development. This artificial division, which was meant to
remain in effect for five years only, does not reflect geographic reality or
Palestinian space.
In the West Bank, the potential for urban,
agricultural and economic development remains in Area C. Israel uses its
control over the area to quash Palestinian planning and building. In about 70%
of Area C – 42% of the West Bank – Israel has blocked Palestinian development
by designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones,
nature reserves and national parks; by allocating land to settlements and their
regional councils; or by introducing prohibitions to the area now trapped
between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line (the boundary between
Israel’s sovereign territory and the West Bank).
Even in the remaining 30% of Area C, Israel
restricts Palestinian construction by seldom approving requests for building
permits, whether for housing, for agricultural or public uses, or for laying
infrastructure. The Civil Administration (CA) – the branch of the Israeli
military designated to handle civil matters in Area C – refuses to prepare
outline plans for the vast majority of Palestinian communities there. Until
September 2015, it had prepared and approved plans for just 16 of the 180
Palestinian communities located entirely within Area C. The approved plans span
less than 1% of Area C, and relate to land that has largely been built up
already. The plans were drawn up without consulting the communities and do not
meet international planning standards. Their boundaries run close to the
built-up areas of the villages, leaving out land for farming, grazing flocks
and future development. From 2010 to 2015, the Palestinian Authority prepared
108 outline plans for 116 communities in Area C, 77 of which were submitted to
the planning authorities in the CA for approval. However, these efforts were to
no avail. By the end of 2015, only three had been approved, covering a total
area of 57 hectares (0.02% of Area C).
The odds of a Palestinian receiving a building
permit in Area C – even on privately-owned land – are slim to nonexistent. CA
figures show that from 2010 to 2014, Palestinians applied for 2,020 building
permits, of which a mere 33 – or 1.5% – were approved. Given the futility of
the effort, many Palestinians forgo requesting a permit altogether. Without any
possibility of receiving a permit and building legally, the needs of a growing
population leave Palestinians no choice but to develop their communities and
build homes without permits. This, in turn, forces them to live under the
constant threat of seeing their homes and businesses demolished.
The impact of this Israeli policy extends beyond
Area C, to the hundreds of Palestinians communities located entirely or
partially in Areas A and B, as the land reserves for many of these communities
lie in Area C and are subject to Israeli restrictions there.
The demand for land for development has grown
considerably since the 1995 division of the West Bank: The Palestinian
population has nearly doubled, and the land reserves in Areas A and B have been
nearly exhausted. Due to the housing shortage, much land still available in
these areas is used for residential construction, even if it is more suited for
other uses, such as agriculture.
Without land for construction, local Palestinian
authorities cannot supply public services that require new structures, such as
medical clinics and schools, nor can they plan open spaces for recreation
within communities. Realizing the economic potential of Area C – in branches
such as agriculture, quarrying for minerals and stone for construction,
industry, tourism and community development – is essential to the development
of the entire West Bank, including creating jobs and reducing poverty. Area C
is also vital for regional planning, including laying infrastructure and
connecting Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank.
In contrast to the restrictive planning for
Palestinian communities, Israeli settlements – all of which are located in Area
C – are allocated vast tracts of land, drawn up detailed plans, connected to
advanced infrastructure, and the authorities turn a blind eye to illegal
construction in them. Detailed, modern plans have been drawn up for the
settlements, including public areas, green zones and, often, spacious
residential areas. They enjoy a massive amount of land, including farmland that
can serve for future development.
Israel’s policy in Area C is based on the
assumption that the area is primarily meant to serve Israeli needs, and on the
ambition to annex large parts of it to the sovereign territory of Israel. To
that end, Israel works to strengthen its hold on Area C, to further exploit the
area’s resources and achieve a permanent situation in which Israeli settlements
thrive and Palestinian presence is negligible. In doing so, Israel has de facto
annexed Area C and created circumstances that will leverage its influence over
the final status of the area.

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Tony Greenstein

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