The European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, criticized Israel on Wednesday, July 27, for its demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C of the occupied West Bank. At a conference held at the Knesset, Faaborg-Andersen said that from 2009 to 2013, in response to approximately 2,000 requests submitted by Palestinians for building permits, Israel had granted only 44. “EU assistance is provided in situations where Israel is not fulfilling its duty as the occupying power in accordance with international law, universal norms and the Oslo accords,” Faabourg-Andersen told the conference. The conference was initiated by Hadash lawmakers Dov Khenin and Ayman Odeh of the Joint List, Michal Rozin of Meretz and Ksenia Svetlova of the Labor party.
“Some 70% of Area C has been appropriated for exclusive Israeli use. Nearly all of the remaining 30% is private Palestinian property, but is effectively off limits for Palestinian development, Faabourg-Andersen said. The envoy added that “in the first 6 months of 2016 alone, 91 EU-sponsored structures in Area C have been demolished. This is more than all of 2015. Since 2009, approximately 170 EU-backed structures built for humanitarian use have been demolished.”
“Israel has created conditions on the ground which force Palestinians to leave Area C of the West Bank, a situation which is tantamount to creeping annexation of the area,” warned Natalie Grove, the UN envoy who attended the conference. The country’s “policies and practices have created a highly coercive environment in Area C that forces people [Palestinians] to leave,” said Grove, who is a representative of the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Forcible [population] transfer is a great breach of the Geneva Convention,” Grove said.
“Israel creates humanitarian need in a place where it should be addressing it. When the humanitarian community seeks to address these needs, Israel tries to prevent it,” the UN representative added. “The occupying power has the primary responsibility to meet the basic needs of the population in Area C. It does not do so,” she said. Many of the Palestinians living in Area C have inadequate housing; shelters do not protect the residents from the heat; communities that were previously prosperous have become reliant on food aid. Primary school children walk long distances to reach their nearest school; 180 communities are not connected to a water network; and obtaining building permits is virtually impossible,” Grove said. “Palestinians who attempt to repair or upgrade their homes risk demolitions; those who install solar panels risk demolitions; those who dare to install children’s playgrounds risk demolitions,” said the UN envoy.
MK Ayman Odeh added that the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have no intention of going anywhere. “Our fight will continue until the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel” he added. This “is not just a Palestinian interest, but in the interest of all those who live here and seek peace,” Odeh said.
According to data gathered by B’Tselem which was presented at the conference, Israel has demolished more Palestinian homes in the first half of 2016 than the annual average for every year during the past decade, with the exception of 2013, when 175 homes were destroyed. During the period from January to June of this year, Israel has razed 168 Palestinian homes in Area C built without permits. By comparison 125 homes were demolished in all of 2015.
There are currently around 11,000 outstanding demolition orders in Area C, out of a total of about 14,000 which Israel has issued since 1988. By the end of 2015, approximately 3,000 of these latter had been executed. The outstanding 11,000 pertain to roughly 17,000 Palestinian homes or other structures still standing.
Nearly 60% of the demolition orders Israel has issued threaten structures located along the peripheries of Palestinian communities inside Area C (where, based on the Oslo Accords, Israel tentatively retains full civilian and military control). These peripheral locations straddle the boundaries of Area A (where there is full Palestinian control) or Area B (where Israel retains control of security, while the Palestinian Authority is in control of civilian administration). This spatial distribution of the demolition orders by Israel is entirely deliberate: Because almost all Israeli settlements are in Area C, and most Palestinian cities and larger towns are in Areas A and B, the major Palestinian population centers like Nablus, Ramallah and Qalqiliyah have most, if not all, of their boundaries determined by the encroachment of Area C. The results on the ground are that invisible walls have been purposely created around Areas A and B, with the intention of making it impossible for Palestinian villages and towns inside these areas to expand laterally to accommodate growth. This is the key to the disproportionate number of demolition orders issued by Israel’s Civil Administration for Area C communities straddling Areas A and B: precisely, to ensure that these invisible walls remain intact.
This pattern – of keeping Palestinians hemmed in invisible and visible urban cages – sums up the true story of this aspect of the reality in the West Bank: one of structural violence, attrition and bureaucratic strangling. It is often argued by apologists for the occupation that Israel’s demolition activities in Area C are a minor problem, because they “only” have the potential of affecting around 300,000 Palestinians out of some 2.8 million living in the entire West Bank. But, in fact, they are a central tactic in Israel’s overall strategy to permanently cantonize the West bank, and prevent the establishment of a viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory.
As the universally unrecognized “sovereign” power in the West Bank, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories regularly falls back on standard formulas of civil administration to justify the demolitions. Calling such cases “illegal buildings which didn’t receive a permit form the authorities and therefore enforcement procedures were employed against them,” is nothing more than a cynical attempt to conflate occupation and apartheid with the everyday banality of civics, and thereby camouflage Israel’s “grand strategy” in the language of town hall. No one is fooled.