Israeli organization empowers Palestinians to appeal against house demolitions
On a calm morning in the south of the West Bank, Palestinian villagers in At-Tuwani are experiencing two very different types of encounters with Israelis.
About one or two hundred meters from the village of some 400 inhabitants, Israeli settlers have erected tents to start what is known as an ‘outpost’, a makeshift, unauthorized settlement often inhabited by no more than a few people. While all Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are considered illegal under international law, Israel itself deems these outposts to be illegal.
From the roof of her house, 58-year old Umm Juma’ keeps a wary eye on these new settlers, worrying about her sons: “The settlers block the path we use to access grazing land. They have already attacked my sons as they were herding our sheep. Now I worry about their safety each time they leave the house”.
At the same time, Umm Juma’ serves tea to a different group of Israelis that she has invited onto her roof terrace. They work for Oxfam’s partner Bimkom / Planners for Planning Rights, and have come to help her protect her home from being destroyed.
Bimkom's architects advise Palestinians. Credit: Catherine Weibel/Oxfam
Bimkom’s architects and planners help Palestinians fight house demolition orders and restrictive building policies that are pervasive in Area C. A creation of the Oslo II accords in 1995, Area C constitutes 60% of the entire territory of the Palestinian West Bank. Home to 150,000 Palestinians and twice as many Israeli settlers, a vast majority who moved to the West Bank over the past few decades, it is under full Israeli civil and military control, including the administration of all aspects pertaining to land. According to Bimkom, statistical evidence shows that it is extremely hard for Palestinians to obtain building permits in Area C, while settlements continue to grow.
Even though Umm Juma’s house was built 30 years ago, she still needs to obtain a building permit for the house to be legal in the eyes of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), the Israeli military agency that decides on planning schemes and issues building permits for Palestinians in Area C. Umm Juma’s house faces the threat of possible demolition, as it lies 100 meters outside of the planning boundaries defined by the ICA. Even if the 6-room house is not demolished, it will still be located outside the boundaries of the plan for the village. This means that Umm Juma’s family of 30 won’t be able to legally expand or renovate the already overcrowded house.
The villagers of At-Tuwani complain that the ICA serves demolition orders, but offers no services. They say they have been asking for their village to be connected to the electrical network for years, but that the electrical network serving the neighboring Israeli settlements still bypasses At-Tuwani.
All planning institutions in the Civil Administration lack any representation of the Palestinian population. In Bimkom’s judgment, Israel’s planning policy in Area C is used to maintain reserves of land for future development of Israeli settlements. Palestinians are often left with no choice other than to build without a permit, despite the ever present risk of demolition which threatens thousands of buildings and puts thousands of families at risk of forced displacement.
For the time being, Umm Juma’ simply hopes that the house where she’s been living for 30 years won’t be destroyed.