Palestinians give up on legal building route - UN

Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, under Israeli control, have given up on obtaining construction permits from the authorities and instead build without them, leaving 3,000 structures in the territory under constant threat of demolition, according to a UN report.

[Read this report in Arabic]

"Over 94 percent of [Palestinian] applications for building permits in Area C, submitted to the Israeli authorities by Palestinians between January 2000 and September 2007, were denied," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, 'Lack of Permit' Demolitions and Resultant Displacement in Area C, stated.

In the first quarter of 2008, 124 Palestinian structures were destroyed by the Israeli authorities for not having a permit; in all of 2007, some 208 structures were demolished. Between 2000 and September 2007 about 1,600 structures were destroyed, the report stated.

However, Major Peter Lerner from the Israeli Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (a division of the Ministry of Defense), said: "In the last two years we've approved 13 master plans for villages in Area C and another 14 are in process", explaining that this meant fewer house demolitions would take place and more building would be able to go ahead.

According to the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the 1990s, the occupied Palestinian territory was divided into three categories: Area A was supposed to be under complete Palestinian control, Area B was split and Area C, comprising more than half of the West Bank, remained under Israeli control.

"Area C is under Israeli responsibility, as the majority of the [Palestinian] population do not live there," said Lerner.

The majority of Palestinians live in Areas A and B.

It is in Area C that the demolitions continue today, with more than 400 Palestinian communities in that section. According to OCHA, over 200,000 people are affected by the Area C policies.

Children affected by demolitions

Children are particularly affected by the demolitions. According to a forthcoming survey by the Palestinian Counseling Center, demolitions lead to gaps in children's access to education, health services and clean water.

Their schooling suffers and can lead to dropouts, the OCHA report stated.

Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
Salem Jabar, 85, received an order to stop building his house

"Even though demolition is a single event, its impact is similar to multiple and continuous traumas," it said.

During a recent press conference in Jerusalem, Tony Blair, the envoy of the Quartet - the Middle East international body made up of the US, EU, Russia and the UN - said he was working with the Israeli authorities on issues such as home demolitions in Area C.

In general, Blair has stressed the importance of developing Area C for the future Palestinian state supported by the Quartet.

Area C not only connects the main population centres in the other two areas, but would also serve as the site for many needed projects, including waste-water treatment.

However, Area C is also home to the majority of Israeli settlements.

"While Palestinian development in Area C has been impeded, the expansion and development of Israeli settlements and other Israeli infrastructure has flourished ... despite these settlements' status as illegal under international humanitarian law," OCHA said.

The report added that "Palestinian residential areas already have a population density double to that in the Israeli settlements.