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Building, Planning and Destruction in the West Bank Focus on South Hebron Hills 

Building, Planning and Destruction in the West Bank

Focus on South Hebron Hills     by Leah Levane   28 August 2012         EAPPI  (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel

Leah Levane in front of the demolition for this tent in Susiya took place 6:30 in the morning. The people were still asleep!

Photo by Anne Cillier. 

 What is needed to start the process of building or extending a house, adding a toilet, or planting your garden or your field, taking away the stones from your own land in order to drive to your house when there is no track from the main road and the stones are damaging your car, or, since you have no access to piped water, where would you store your water tanker legally and how would you get it to your land (given the stony access way described above)? 

However difficult you may think it could be to deal with European bureaucracy, for Palestinians living in Area C (62% of the West Bank), the process is Kafkaesque[1] rather than  bureaucratic and the consequences of not finding the way through these procedures, are disastrous.

According to Israel, it is only the absence of planning permission that is behind any demolition orders and actual demolitions that take place.

Can Palestinians get permission to build?

Evidence (OCHA) shows that it is virtually impossible for Palestinians living in Area C to get planning permission.  One issue is the absence of Masterplans for the area with which the individual’s or village’s proposals need to comply. These only exist for 1% of Area C (yes 1%, that was not a typo) and this 1% has almost no space left on which to build. 

Permission needs to be granted by the Israeli Civil Administration, which is not a civilian authority but a military body charged with responsibility for civil issues under the Occupation. There is no democratic aspect to

this process and Palestinians have no representation.  However, most Palestinians do apply for planning permission in the hope of it being granted and avoiding the risk of living with the threat of demolition and possibly a fine for constructing without permission. To make an application, it is necessary to have considerable technical expertise, e.g. need to know the co-ordinates for the plot of land and, as elsewhere, making an application costs money. Once an application is submitted, Palestinians will often wait many months and even many years for a decision.

Then, according to the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 94% of applications were rejected between 2000 and 2007.  In 2010, only 4 out of  the 444 building permit applications submitted were approved. (that is less than 1% - and again, not a typo).

Meanwhile families grow, communities want to move into the 21st century, for example, have solar panels or wind turbines for electricity, or a new shed for their sheep, or a school for the children.  Sometimes, therefore, while waiting the months or years for permission which almost never comes, some people do build – or erect tents following a house demolition – without getting the planning permission….they then live with the risk of demolition…..

Can a Palestinian community improve its chances of avoiding demolitions?

Ramesh Rajasingham, head of OCHA in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said that Israel as an “occupying power has an obligation to protect Palestinian civilians and to administer the territory in a manner that ensures their welfare and basic needs.”  Logically, under the Geneva conventions, the responsibility for producing appropriate plans for the population in Area C lies with Israel since under the Oslo Accords, it has full responsibility for everything that happens there.  

However, as Israel is not producing these plans for Palestinian villages, the villagers do, in theory, have the right to produce one themselves – which may or may not be approved. But the Israeli planning policies are extremely restrictive and requested building permits must fit into spatial plans that have not changed since they were drawn up in the 1930s, when the area was under the British Mandate.  Furthermore, drawing up such plans is  expensive (c. 200,000 dollars needed for a village of c. 500 people with, say 4,000 dunams of land). And where is the money to come from – after all, there are no Palestinian municipal institutions in Area C, since this is under the full control of Israel….?

In addition, 28.8% of the West Bank has been designated as nature reserves  (B’TSelem 2011) where construction is not allowed and fully 18% of the West Bank is designated as firing zones, where the likelihood of getting approval for a Masterplan or for individual structures is roughly 0%. However 12% of the West Bank, has been allocated to Settlements for Jewish Israelis. 

All the nature reserves, Firing Zones and West Bank Settlements are in Area C, which you will remember encompasses 62% of the West Bank and comes under complete Israeli control. Of course, Settlements are illegal under international law.….

Additionally land is designated as archaeological sites and taking all the limitations together, 70% of Area C is actually off limits to Palestinians and 29% is heavily restricted (OCHA).  Yes that does equal 99% - remember the 1% of Area C mentioned above where building is legal for Palestinians.

As the Palestinians are living in a Kafkaesque nightmare, what happens when they try to build to meet the needs of their families, communities and livelihoods?

The semi rhetorical questions at the beginning of this article were not facetiously included. The range of things considered structures by the civil (i.e. military) administration is extensive…and remember in almost every case, the Palestinian families will have been living on these lands since before the foundation of the State of Israel and/or the occupation.

According to IRIN, demolition orders can target solid houses, tents or other structures including schools, water wells, solar panels, electricity grids and animal shelters. Out of the 622 structures destroyed by Israeli forces in 2011, 222 were homes, 170 were animal shelters, two were classrooms and two were mosques. (For 2012, 395 demolitions have already taken place by the end of July). And on August 28th, we witnessed the demolition of 6 homes, 3 animal shelters and 3 wells in three villages in the Souh Hebron Hills.

While in the South Hebron Hills, the Ecumenical Accompaniment Team has witnessed the demolition of a road (Um Lasafer), and stop work orders (which precede demolition orders) on homes that have been completed for years (Abu Al Urgan). We have seen destroyed cisterns (Saadet Tha’lah)  and also official demolitions of olive and almond trees have taken place Um Nir. This is in addition to the many trees that have been destroyed by settlers (e.g. at At Tuwani and Shib Il Butum in the last month). We have read about a stop work order being issued to villagers who were clearing stones from the dirt track along which tractors have to drive, including to bring water. (Ha’Aretz, Amira Hass)

70% of the structures in Susiya (which has seen many demolitions over the past 26 years) are currently under demolition orders and these include: homes, animal shelters, the school, the clinic, the solar panels and mini grid

All structures in Khirbet Zanuta, where this community has also lived since long before the creation of Israel, is built on what is now designated as an archaeological site. It is under threat of demolition and the villagers tell us that they have nowhere else to go.  At the court hearing on 30th July, the Civil (Military) Administration were told to come up with places for people to go but the state representative said that it was not the responsibility of the military authority to find a solution.  The Court disagreed and will reconvene on 30th August, but this will still mean demolition and displacement.

Dkaika is an extremely isolated village very close to the green line is also under a 100% demolition order, but there are, so far, no court dates set.

There is also the planned evacuation and demolition of the 8 villages of  Massafer Yatta (aka Firing Zone 918 - see previous newsletter), affecting 1500 people and 14,000 animals – about which there will be a further, possibly final, decision in November.  In fact demolition orders on several structures affect at least the following villages in the South Hebron Hills where I am based, most of which we have visited:

There is then a Kafkaesque appeal process……

Villages with demolition orders in South Hebron Hills

Ar Rakeez, A Seefer, A-Sfay (100%), Al Fakheit  (100%), A-Tabban (100%), Al Kharuba (100%), Al Majaz  (100%), Dkaika (100%), Halaweh (100%), Imneizel, Jinba (100%), Khirbet Ar Rahwa, Khirbet at Tawamin, Khirbet Zanuta (100%), Mirkez (100%), Saadet Tha’lah, Shi’b al Butum, Susiya (70% but 100% of the structures in Area A), Tuba, Um El Kher, Um Fagara, Wadi Al Amayer,  Wadi J’Hesh and Wedadie.

Meanwhile, Settlements built for Jewish Israelis are expanding …. Permission is almost always granted and these are becoming major towns and some are even designated as cities. Even so called illegal outposts often have sophisticated buildings and infrastructure; almost all have electricity from the grid (often running directly past the Palestinian villages that cannot get permission for electricity), most have piped water (also often running alongside Palestinian villages that have to bring water in tankers using tractors at up to 10 times the price paid by Settlers). Please note that the use of the term illegal outpost is to show that these are illegal even under Israeli law – under International Law, all Settlements in occupied territory are illegal.

The result of actions and processes such as those described above have resulted in large numbers of Palestinians moving from Area C into Area A (under the Palestinian Authority) or Area B (under joint authority of the PA and Israel). There are now only 150,000 Palestinians living in Area C compared with 350,000 Israeli settlers. (This figure excludes the c. 200,000 Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem since this was annexed by Israel and was not designated as Area A, B or C under the Oslo Accords)

A question to contemplate: even disregarding international law, how can it almost always be legal for settlers to build and expand and almost never for Palestinians? The ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ structures can even be side by side (e.g. Um el Kher and Karmel Settlement), or on opposite sides of a small valley (such as Susiya Village and Suseya Settlement).


If you also think this is unjust then please take action, share this information with your local groups, neighbours, faith organisations, contact your MP, the Foreign Secretary and ask them to do the same.

The statistical information in this newsletter came from IRIN: The Integrated Regional Information Network humanitarian news and analysis, a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Visit:

and from B’Tselem The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  Visit

Leah Levane is serving for three months with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). EAPPI brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation. Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions


[1] marked by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity (as described in  the novels by Franz Kafka)

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