What’s the Difference? Illegal Outposts, Palestinian Towns in Area C, and Unrecognized Villages in the Negev
Update:March 26, 2012
Demolition in an unrecognized village in the Negev
In recent months, there has been an ongoing public debate in Israel regarding the demolition of houses that were built without a permit. When a home is demolished, an entire family is harmed. On the other hand, enforcement of the law requires the monitoring of planning and building. But what can be done when the law itself is discriminatory, or if there is no planning at all – thus preventing local residents from any possibility of legal building?
Below you will find questions and answers that examine this issue – while explaining the differences between unrecognized villages in the Negev, home demolitions of Palestinians in Area C of the Occupied Territories, and the demolition of unauthorized Israeli outposts in the Occupied Territories. Click on the buttons below to view the answers to each of the questions.
In all these places – Israeli outposts in the Occupied Territories, Palestinian towns in the Occupied Territories, and Bedouin villages in the Negev – houses are being demolished and families left homeless. Why do human rights organizations support the demolition of some homes, but object to demolishing others?
Most Bedouin villages in the Negev are located on land that the Bedouin tribes have lived on for generations. Some live in areas the State of Israel forced them to move to in the 1950s, promising they could eventually return to their own land – a promise that was never kept. Because, for decades, no town planning was carried out and these villages have not been officially recognized, the residents cannot build in compliance with planning and construction laws. Meanwhile, children are born, families grow, and the Bedouin need a place to live. Over time, more and more homes were constructed without the necessary permits, as residents of unrecognized villages do not have the option of legal construction.
Under the Oslo Accords, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B, and C. Area A includes all the Palestinian cities, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has responsibility for both civil and security matters; Area B includes most of the large Palestinian towns, and the PA has authority over civil matters only; in Area C, Israel has authority for both security and civil matters. Area C constitutes 60% of the West Bank, with 150,000 Palestinians living there in addition to all the settlements.
Like the Bedouin villages in the Negev, many Palestinian towns and villages in Area C are not recognized by Israel and have not benefited from even minimal town planning, even though many have been rooted in this land for generations. The natural expansion of these towns as a result of population growth is defined by Israel as “illegal.”
Unlike the Negev, however, the West Bank is not part of Israel, but under military occupation. As mandated by international humanitarian law [Article 43 of the Hague Convention (1907) and Articles 4 and 47-48 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949)], the occupying power is obligated to preserve the status quo that had existed in the area prior to its occupation, and to ensure the welfare of its inhabitants, defined as “protected persons”: The occupying power is responsible for maintaining public order and safety, and providing for needs in all areas of life. This means that it is incumbent upon Israel not just to recognize the towns that existed here prior to the occupation, but to afford the inhabitants the opportunity to plan and build to accommodate their natural increase, traditional lifestyle, and desire to improve their living conditions.
In practice, not only did Israel not undertake town planning for these villages, it even thwarted planning efforts initiated by the Palestinian residents. This has far-reaching consequences not just for development and construction in these villages, but also for ensuring the basic needs of the residents, such as infrastructure for water, electricity, and sewage. As a result, residents have two options – to continue building without permits on their private land and face the constant threat of demolition, or to move to Areas A or B and thereby lose their land – the family property.
Israeli outposts in the Occupied Territories are often referred to as “illegal” because they were built without official government permission. However even settlements built by government decision are in violation of international law: Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel in 1951, explicitly prohibits the transfer of civilian population from the occupying state into the territory occupied. In many senses, the outposts are a direct continuation of Israel’s settlement enterprise, which has led to many grave violations of the human rights of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
Furthermore, a significant number of outposts were built on private land that belongs to Palestinians. In other words, as a result of establishing these outposts, land was stolen from its owners in violation of their property rights. Israeli law naturally prohibits the theft of private property, while international law defines the appropriation of property belonging to a protected person as a war crime [Rome Statute, Article 8(2)(a)(iv)].
The outposts were not created for lack of an alternative or the need to provide shelter. They are an ideological-political act designed to “establish facts on the ground”, i.e., to increase the Israeli presence in and control over the West Bank. Without reference to the historical, political, or ideological justice of this goal, these outposts clearly have nothing to do with ensuring housing or planning rights. Furthermore, the settlements – and particularly the outposts – are in grave breach of the rights of the native population – the Palestinians – to use the land as they see fit.
What role did Israel play in creating these three types of settlements?
For years, Israeli governments have had primary – if not sole – responsibility for the planning chaos and the unauthorized or illegal construction within both Israel and the Occupied Territories:
The problem of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev began as soon as the State of Israel came into being. In the early 1950s, Israel compelled all the Negev Bedouin to live in an area called the sayig [restricted region], located between Beer Sheva, Arad, Dimona, and Yeruham. Some Bedouin villages were already located in this region, and others were forced to move there from elsewhere, as the entire Arab population of Israel was under martial law from the birth of Israel until 1966. On more than one occasion, Bedouin were told that this was a temporary measure, a matter of six months, but the lands left behind were declared closed military zones and the tribes were never allowed to return.
At the same time, the Bedouin were not given property rights to the lands to which the State moved them. It did not even recognize the proprietary rights of those who had lived in the sayig previously and continued to live there on their own land. The forced move of the Bedouin population and their confinement to the sayig were part of a deliberate policy to restrict the living space of the Arab population in the Negev and to urbanize them, compelling them to give up their lifestyle, culture, and traditional economy.
As a result of government policies over many years, Bedouin homes in the Negev face a constant threat of demolition, the villages are not connected to the water, electricity, or sewage infrastructure, and the education, health and welfare services available to Bedouin citizens are inadequate or partial.
In parallel with the growth and expansion of the settlement enterprise, Israel began to place limitations on the number of construction permits granted to Palestinians in the West Bank. After the Oslo Accords and the division of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C in 1995, Israel completely suspended the planning of Palestinian towns in Area C. Since then, only a small number of permits are issued annually, and every attempt to enlarge or develop a Palestinian village incurs an automatic demolition order.
In 2011, the Civil Administration announced its intent to engage in planning of some Palestinian towns in Area C. This has not yet been implemented, and is not likely to meet the needs of the Palestinian residents after decades of restrictions and deliberate neglect. Meanwhile, the policy of demolition continues, and many Palestinians continue to live without connection to the electricity grid and having to purchase water from mobile tankers at inflated prices. Israel does not even acknowledge its obligation to provide basic services such as education or health to the Palestinians in Area C, even though the full responsibility for this rests with Israel.
Although the outposts were built without government approval or in fact any planning whatsoever, in most cases the government not only acquiesced by silence, but actively cooperated with the settlers in establishing them. Various government arms invested large sums of money to connect the outposts to the water system and electricity grid; they allocated land and mobile homes; and they even directly financed some outposts. According to a legal opinion ordered by then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and submitted by Atty. Talia Sasson in 2005 (“the Sasson report”), the following authorities were directly involved in establishing the outposts: the Housing Ministry, Defense Ministry, Civil Administration, and the Settlement Division of the World Zionist Organization, which is financed by the Agriculture Ministry.
Some outposts are built on private Palestinian land, such as Migron. Over the years, Israel has done nothing to enforce the law on these outposts, even though the authorities were aware of the fact that the Migron settlers seized private Palestinian land for their outpost – they acknowledged this to the Court. The Migron case is unique because in August 2011, for the first time since the Alon Moreh case (in 1979), the Supreme Court explicitly instructed the State to dismantle the outpost and it even set a time frame for its completion – by the end of March 2012. In other cases, the Court made do with promises by the State that the law would be enforced through dialogue with the settlers.
But the Bedouin are nomads, aren’t they? How could they have “historic ownership” of land?
The Arab Bedouin of the Negev have been a semi-nomadic people for hundreds of years, earning a living from farming and livestock. It is estimated that until 1948, the Bedouin inhabited and farmed some 2-3 million dunam of land. This land was passed down from generation to generation within the tribe, which had its own system of recording property ownership that functions to this day, and for which there is evidence from the Ottoman and British Mandate authorities. Israel does not recognize this historical ownership.
Why do the human rights organizations oppose the Prawer Plan for regulating Bedouin settlement in the Negev?
The Prawer Plan would entail the uprooting of 30,000-40,000 people from their homes and the destruction of entire villages – for no justified reason and in complete disregard of the desires of the residents. The plan seeks to use legislation to compel an arrangement that is not acceptable to the Bedouin, undermining their proprietary rights and their constitutional right to equality. And all this when the issue of Bedouin settlement could be regulated within the current, existing villages.
In 2008, a committee chaired by former State Comptroller and retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg was established by the government to come up with a consensual solution to the regulation of Bedouin settlement in the Negev. One of the committee’s recommendations was to recognize, to the extent possible, the unrecognized villages (the total population of which numbers over 60,000 people), to end the intolerable conditions that exist in them, and even to legalize many of the “illegal” structures as long as they were “within the purview of a valid plan” and did not adversely affect the infrastructure. The Prawer Committee was actually established to implement the Goldberg Committee’s recommendations, but it virtually reversed these conclusions, proposing that the residents of unrecognized communities be forced to live in one of several regional towns, rather than regulating the existing villages.
Why do some people claim that Israel discriminates between Palestinian towns and Jewish settlements in Area C?
Israel conducts two separate legal systems in the West Bank – one for Israelis and the other for Palestinians. One manifestation of this discriminatory legal regime is the two systems of planning that operate in the West Bank, which distinguish between inhabitants based on their nationality – one planning system for the settlers, and a different one for Palestinians. In keeping with a military order that regulates planning and construction in the West Bank [Order concerning the Cities, Villages, and Buildings Planning Law (PDF in Hebrew)], the local Jewish authorities also function as a special planning committee authorized to submit detailed town plans to the Higher Planning Council (within the Civil Administration), and to issue building permits to the settlers. The Palestinian towns, on the other hand, have no such planning committees, and the only body authorized to deal with planning and construction in Palestinian towns is the Civil Administration, in which the Palestinians residents are not represented. As a result, most settlements have detailed town plans that allow for future growth, while Palestinian towns in Area C have, at best, “boundary demarcation plans”, which delineate the borders of the village, and whose main purpose is to minimize the boundaries of the built-up area, while paying no attention to planning within these boundaries.