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?
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.
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:
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 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.
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.