Monday, 1 January 2018

Why Israel's Permit System is more sophisticated and controlling than Apartheid South Africa’s Pass System

The permit regime has a chilling effect on day to day life and political activity 

Israel confiscates solar panels supplying power to village not connected to grid for 50 years

When we think of Apartheid, whether Israeli or South African, we think of discrimination, segregation and separation.  But the essence of Apartheid was labour control and to organise this it was necessary to have a system of pass control.  People could only move with the requisite paper.  In South Africa this was a crude system and it fell into abeyance but in Israel it is highly sophisticated, with over 100 different varieties of permit.  It is the means by which Israel segments and divides the Palestinians, setting one off against another.

The fight against Apartheid in South Africa began in earnest with the Sharpeville massacre on March 21st 1960.  69 Black Africans were gunned down and 180 were injured when the Apartheid Police opened fire on an unarmed demonstration of between 5,000 and 10,000 Africans who had been protesting against the imposition of passes.  The pass system had been in operation in South Africa from 1800 until it was abolished in 1986.  It had first been introduced to control Black slaves.

In Israel and the apartheid analogy we learn that a permit and closure system was introduced in Israel in 1990. Leila Farsakh maintains that this system imposes "on Palestinians similar conditions to those faced by blacks under the pass laws. Like the pass laws, the permit system controlled population movement according to the settlers' unilaterally defined considerations." In response to the al-Aqsa intifada, Israel modified the permit system and fragmented the West Bank and Gaza Strip territorially. "In April 2002 Israel declared that the WBGS would be cut into eight main areas, outside which Palestinians could not live without a permit."

John Dugard has said these laws "resemble, but in severity go far beyond, apartheid's pass system". Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli-Arab member of the Knesset for Balad said that this permit system was a feature of apartheid. Azmi Bishara, a former Knesset member, argued that the Palestinian situation had been caused by "colonialist apartheid"
How the BBC reported Sharpevill - the good old BBC bias was evident then when it described the massacre as a 'shoot out' as if the Africans had guns

B'Tselem wrote in 2004, "Palestinians are barred from or have restricted access to 450 miles of West Bank roads" and has said this system has "clear similarities" with the apartheid regime in South Africa

In October 2005 the Israel Defense Forces stopped Palestinians from driving on Highway 60, as part of a plan for a separate Road Network for Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank. The road had been sealed after the fatal shooting of three settlers near Bethlehem. As of 2005, no private Palestinian cars were permitted on the road although public transport was still allowed.

Whereas South Africa abolished its Pass Laws in 1986, in Israel they are maintained with full vigour.  The West Bank is segmented with hundreds of check points.  Anyone who fools themselves that this is not a military occupation is living on another plant.

As the following article shows, Israel’s permit system is far more sophisticated than that of South Africa and there are more than 100 different types of permit, covering different areas and different categories of person.

Tony Greenstein
How Israel’s permit regime costs Palestinians

Living Emergency: Israel’s Permit Regime in the Occupied West Bank by Yael Berda, Stanford University Press (2017)

This slim book, only 152 pages long, contains volumes. Although it focuses on a single aspect of the Israeli occupation – the use of permits to control the Palestinian population – Israeli author Yael Berda manages to illuminate the occupation as a whole.

The focus of Living Emergency is even narrower than the “permit regime” implied in the subtitle, as it examines work permits specifically and, in particular, the use of the security threat designation to deny work permits to Palestinians.

Living Emergency conveys a Kafkaesque world imposed on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank who may one day find that a steady construction job in Israel simply evaporates, a work permit denied and a livelihood destroyed by classified rules and secret evidence. Many face a Catch-22, knowing that refusing to become an informer in exchange for a work permit can be considered resistance to the occupation and therefore a security threat in itself.

Berda is an attorney who represented hundreds of Palestinian clients between 2005 and 2007 from her Jerusalem office. Those experiences form the basis of this study of Israel’s “population management” strategies that have also been described by other authors as Israel’s “social engineering” or “matrix of control.”
In the seam zone
Berda notes that her privileged status as a Jewish Israeli citizen enabled her to gain access to information that Palestinian attorneys would never receive, and that sexism – the perception that she was “harmless” and “loyal” – opened the door to yet more revelations.

Israel imposes more than 100 different types of permits on Palestinians in the West Bank. There are 13 types of permits just to travel within the “seam zone” – the area around Israel’s wall in the West Bank that divides Palestinians from their work, their hospitals and often their farmland.


The permit regime has a chilling effect on political activity and resistance to the occupation because of the fear of being classified as a security threat. Having the power to award, revoke or deny permits enables Israel to control those Palestinians who would attempt labor organizing and improvement of work conditions, enables Israel to recruit informers and imposes significant costs on Palestinian living standards and economic development.

Berda points out that in 2005 the cost of a work permit for experienced Palestinian construction workers could amount to half their salary. A more recent study found that Palestinians typically paid a quarter to a third of their wages to job brokers, or middlemen, who helped them find work in Israel and obtain the necessary permits.

Berda observes that the permit regime grew out of the 1945 Defense (Emergency) Regulations. These repressive regulations, which denied basic democratic rights in order to prevent political activity, were established by the British during the Mandate period. Zionist settlers despised the negative effects such regulations had on them. Some even compared them to laws enacted by the Nazis.
After Israel took control of the West Bank by force in 1967, the occupation authorities set up administrative rules that were copied word-for-word from the British regulations, changing only the titles of functionaries and replacing terms like “His Majesty’s Forces” with “Israeli forces.”

The 1993 Oslo accords failed to dismantle the permit regime and instead helped abet it.

Initially, the accords curbed Israel’s ability to recruit Palestinian collaborators due to the withdrawal of its military forces from many Palestinian towns and cities. Without a physical presence in these areas, it became more difficult for Israeli forces to identify potential informers.

However, Israel’s Shin Bet secret police soon realized that permit denials could be used to coerce people to inform, one of the most pernicious aspects of the permit regime.

Berda notes that this practice is a grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Article 31 specifies that “No physical or moral coercion shall be exercised against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them or from third parties.”

The permit regime was injurious not only because failure to inform could mean the loss of livelihood, but also because it induced paranoia and jealousy among Palestinians.

Obtaining a permit to work in Israel could in itself imply collaboration, or a Palestinian previously denied a permit who later received one could be suspected of agreeing to inform. Meanwhile, a jealous or grudgeful acquaintance might approach Shin Bet with security accusations simply for revenge.

“Living emergency”

Berda estimates that more than 200,000 Palestinians in the West Bank have been labeled “security threats.” She notes that one of the most revealing aspects of her work in defending those so labeled is how often the Shin Bet withdrew the designation when met with a legal challenge, as if it “would rather grant an individual request than expose its practices and decision-making to judicial oversight.”

The frequency with which this happened in her practice and that of other human rights legal groups indicates the arbitrariness of the designation, particularly since the legal system is designed to prevail on behalf of the bureaucratic entities in charge of the permit system.

The author is impressed with how many Palestinians have resisted the permit regime by taking part in legal challenges, considering the risks they assume, including the possibility of receiving a lifetime ban disqualifying them from future permits. She takes to task some of Israel’s human rights organizations, such as B’Tselem and Yesh Din, for merely seeking to reform the permit regime when in her view it must be rejected “in its entirety.”

The permit regime was founded on the perception among Israeli leaders that Israel existed in an emergency situation and therefore needed to impose draconian control over Palestinians simply for being Palestinian. Berda concludes that the permit regime resulted in a “living emergency for millions of Palestinians,” in which “race and racial hierarchy infused the practices and routines” of a settler-colonial bureaucracy and made life difficult and humiliating for its victims.

Consider, for example, that some of her cases led to “clemency pleas” in which a person had to apologize for wrongdoing even though they had never done anything wrong.

The abuses against her Palestinian clients “eradicated my faith in Israel’s legal system,” she writes, but it did not eradicate her faith “in the possibility to change its political regime and demand citizenship and equal rights for all the inhabitants from the Jordan River to the sea.”

Rod Such is a former editor for World Book and Encarta encyclopedias. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and is active with the Occupation-Free Portland campaign.

trapped between the separation barrier and the Green Line, Palestinians living in the ‘Seam Zone’ are forced to reckon with a Kafkaesque permit regime that appears designed to do one thing and one thing only: make them give up and leave.

By Idan Landau, translated by Jordan Michaeli
A Palestinian woman takes part in a demonstration against the Israeli army’s permit regime, Bidu, West Bank, August 30, 2009. (Photo:
Israeli NGO Hamoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual published “The Permit Regime” earlier this year, a report amazing in its discoveries and the level it details the parallel universe Israel has created in the “Seam Zone,” the area between the separation barrier and the Green Line. The bulk of the information in the report was collected from UN reports (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA) and the State of Israel’s responses to 76 Supreme Court petitions filed by Hamoked over the years. As expected, the report gained zero media coverage.
The following 25 stations, on the journey to the land of permits, were drawn from the report. Refreshment stations, scattered along the way, were taken from sources that will be named.
1. “The Seam Zone” – Territories of the West Bank that were de facto annexed to Israel by the separation wall. Today 7,500 Palestinians live in the Seam Zone, trapped between the wall and the Green Line. With the completion of the wall their number will increase to 30,000. Overall, the Seam Zone will expropriate 9.4 percent of the West Bank’s territory.
2. More than half of the land in the Seam Zone is private Palestinian land, expropriated from residents living east of the wall.
3. Palestinians must apply for special permits to enter the Seam Zone. Moreover, permanent residents of the villages in the Seam Zone must also apply for a permit that will allow them to live on lands that have been theirs since time immemorial. In contrast to the judicial principal according to which a person is entitled to be on any part of his land except for in exceptional circumstances, wherein the burden of proof lays on the authorities, in the Seam Zone, the situation is completely reversed: no person is entitled to be on their land except under exceptional circumstances, wherein the burden is on the person to justify his or her presence.
4. Correction: The burden of proof lays on the Palestinian, not on the person. The permit regime in the Seam Zone is operated on the basis of ethnicity. Israelis and tourists may move freely within and into the Seam Zone.
The state of Israel sees the permit regime as a regime of privilege… contrary to a rights-base regime, which obligates the state to avoid infringing individual rights and even to  actively work toward their realization. In a regime of privilege the sovereign can grant services to a certain population (or deny them) as part of an administrative decision that is the prerogative of the state. (Phantom Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank, Yael Berda, Van Leer Institute and Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing, 2012, pg 89)
5. The “exceptional circumstances” that allow one’s presence within the Seam Zone are divided into 13 categories, resulting in 13 kinds of permits: a proof of permanent residency document, a permanent farmer permit, a temporary farmer permit, a business permit, an employment permit, a personal needs permit, an education worker permit, an international organization employee permit, a Palestinian Authority employee permit, an infrastructure worker permit, a medical personnel permit, a student permit and a minor child permit.
6. The words “permanent resident” and “permanent farmer” are deceiving: all permits in the Seam Zone are temporary. Most of them are granted for three months and the longest permit is granted for two years. As a Palestinian, your status in the Seam Zone is always temporary, even if you were born and have worked there your entire life. Additionally, Civil Administration inspectors are likely to follow you around and may add you to the “Suspected of losing connection to the Seam Zone” list – the code name for a transfer list used to revoke his residency.
7. A permit granted for one purpose may not be used for another. A person who received a farming permit in the Seam Zone cannot use it to travel to a family gathering; they must apply for a special “personal needs permit.” A person who received an “infrastructure worker” permit cannot use the same permit to conduct business, and so on and so forth. Moreover, the army does not handle more than one application per person at any given time. The result is that there’s no real possibility to live an organic, multi-dimensional life in the Seam Zone, only, at best, to divide it into a stream of events, disconnected from each other in time.
From the perspective of the colonial model, the merging of the security and civilian mechanisms is actually a desirable one, because it allows administrative flexibility and the manufacturing of exceptions on an ongoing, daily basis, thanks to the recurring states of security emergency – until even civilian considerations become reactive and operate in emergency mode. (Phantom Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank, pg 90)
8. The army does not issue farming permits to joint owners of land. One owner will receive a permit, the other won’t. The only way for the other owners to access their land is by applying for a permit as a “temporary worker,” employed by the owner holding the permit. For this they must present a work contract. Palestinians are forced to sign work contracts with their parents, children and siblings.
9. The number of Palestinians holding permits is steadily decreasing, while the number of permits issued remains identical. The reason is that the time period for the permits are valid is becoming ever shorter. Between 2007 and 2010 the number of permits granted for two years decreased from 23 to 7 percent of all permits.
What characterizes the administrative flexibility of the permit regime is, in fact, that the squandering of resources and the frequent administrative friction involved in providing work permits brings about two results desired by the governmental system: creating a dependency of the population on the administrative system in order to preserve ample space for monitoring and control; and preventing the entry of Palestinians from the West Bank into Israel. (Phantom Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank, pg 88)
10. As a result of the permits’ short validity, the difficulty of renewing them on time and delays faced at Israeli check points, farmlands in the Seam Zone are not regularly cultivated. Greenhouses have been taken down, crops such as citrus and almonds were abandoned, and for the most part, only olive trees, which provide less revenue, remain. Due to difficulties in reaching the land, the yields from olive harvest also decreased 60 percent, compared to yields on the eastern side of the fence. In short, the permit regime transformed the Seam Zone into an area of economic impoverishment.   
11. The circle of life and death of a ‘permit’: File an application at the Palestinian District Coordination and Liaison (DCO) Office → forward it to the Israeli DCO → permit is granted, outright procedural rejection or refusal → in case of refusal, file an appeal at the Israeli DCO → be summoned to a committee hearing → the permit is granted or it is refused → in case of refusal, appeal to the High Court of Justice.
12. There is potential for trouble at every step in the process. Many times, the same application will be filed again and again since the Israeli DCO claims that an application “was not transferred” to it. The length of the delay between the Palestinian DCO (which only acts as an intermediary) and the Israeli DCO is unknown. A Palestinian has no way of knowing the status of his or her application, whether it reached its destination, whether documents are missing, and so on. Applications are often rejected without informing the applicant. The delay is crucial, since those who don’t file an appeal within a set period of time after being rejected must wait another six months before filing a new appeal. Filing an appeal also involves a risk: the military does not issue written confirmations when receiving appeals, thus making it difficult to prove that an appeal was ever made. Even if you are summoned to appear in front a committee hearing following an appeal, there is no guarantee that the subpoena will arrive on time. Many Palestinians have missed their hearings simply because they were not informed of them. Of course, not appearing at a hearing is the equivalent of not submitting an appeal at all. The refusal is then automatically extended for six months.
In the Castle the telephone works beautifully of course, I’ve been told it’s going there all the time, that naturally speeds up the work a great deal. We can hear this continual telephoning in our telephones down here as a humming and singing, you must have heard it too. Now this humming and singing transmitted by our telephones is the only real and reliable thing you’ll hear, everything else is deceptive. There’s no fixed connexion with the Castle, no central exchange transmits our calls further. When anybody calls up the Castle from here the instruments in all the subordinate departments ring, or rather they would all ring if practically all the departments – I know it for a certainty – didn’t leave their receivers off. Now and then, however, a fatigued official may feel the need of a little distraction, especially in the evenings and at night and may hang the receiver on. Then we get an answer, but an answer of course that’s merely a practical joke. And that’s very understandable too. For who would take the responsibility of interrupting, in the middle of the night, the extremely important work up there that goes on furiously the whole time, with a message about his own little private troubles? (Franz Kafka, The Castle)
13. Thirty percent of all applications are rejected. Either the army denies the application was ever transferred to it, or the applicant, according to the army, didn’t “prove a need” to enter or be in the Seam Zone, or the army has security related information on the applicant. In any case – the rejection is not explained, or even handed down in writing.
14. The army requires applicants to present documents that already appear in its database (land ownership, payments of fees and so forth). Often the documents are kept at the Civil Administration’s office. A Palestinian resident is thus forced to make their way to the office (a procedure that is made difficult by travel limitations – the same limitations that the permit is meant to remove), make a copy of the sought-after document and take it to the Palestinian DCO, only for the latter to return the copy to the Civil Administration office.
15. In principle, there is no need for documents when renewing a permit. In practice, an application made once an old permit expires is labeled a “new request” and all of the documents must be attached to it.
16. The problem is, that for a long period of time the Israeli DCO refused to accept applications for permits before the old permit expired. That created lengthy interim periods between permits, during which entrance to the Seam Zone was denied (fields were neglected, family gatherings postponed). Two years ago the army agreed to accept applications for extension starting three weeks before a permit expires – an awfully short time in the DCO’s bureaucracy, in practice not allowing for consecutiveness in between permits.
17. Following a petition to the Supreme Court in April 2011 the army updated its orders and declared that permit applications for those living outside the Seam Zone will be decided upon within 14 days. An examination of 195 applications filed during the first half of 2012 revealed that the army kept to its own time frame in only 7 percent of the cases.
And now I come to a peculiar characteristic of our administrative apparatus. Along with its precision it’s extremely sensitive as well. When an affair has been weighed for a very long time, it may happen, even before the matter has been fully considered, that suddenly in a flash the decision comes in some unforeseen place, that, moreover, can’t be found any longer later on, a decision that settles the matter, if in most cases justly, yet all the same arbitrarily. It’s as if the administrative apparatus were unable any longer to bear the tension, the year-long irritation caused by the same affair – probably trivial in itself – and had hit upon the decision by itself, without the assistance of the officials. Of course a miracle didn’t happen and certainly it was some clerk who hit upon the solution or the unwritten decision, but in any case it couldn’t be discovered by us, at least by us here, or even by the Head Bureau, which clerk had decided in this case and on what grounds. The Control Officials only discovered that much later, but we will never learn it; besides by this time it would scarcely interest anybody. Now, as I said, it’s just these decisions that are generally excellent. The only annoying thing about them – it’s usually the case with such things – is that one learns too late about them and so in the meantime keeps on still passionately canvassing things that were decided long ago. (Franz Kafka, The Castle)
18. All application procedures, appeals and hearings are covered in a 60-page booklet, the Standing Orders for the Seam Zone (SO). Although the SO is meant for use by the Palestinian population, it is written in Hebrew and not Arabic and is formulated in an unclear legal language.
19. The Israeli DCOs are staffed not only by its clerks but also by Shin Bet officers. Palestinians who file an appeal find themselves in front of a Shin Bet agent who pressures them to become collaborators. Those who refuse can expect to receive their permit only after a processing time of many months, if at all. This dilemma dissuades many Palestinians from even trying to appeal a refusal: in the years 2007 – 2010, less than 3 percent of all rejected applicants were summoned to a hearing.
20. You filed an application, you were turned down, you filed an appeal and were summoned to the committee hearing – then what? Sometimes the committee decides to conduct an on-the-ground tour before coming to a decision. Six months can pass until the tour takes place – another six months of delays before granting a permit. According to the SO, a temporary three-month permit must be given to the applicant during that time (as if another kind of permit exists). In reality, such temporary permits are seldom granted. When they are granted, they are so temporary they must be often renewed. As a result, while waiting for a “non-temporary” permit (the length of which won’t be more than six months in most cases), one must handle constant extensions of short term permits.
When one cannot find the sovereign one also cannot appeal the sovereign’s decisions, learn his decision-making patterns and adapt to them or change them. Still, as this is a constant situation of emergency, sovereign power is present in nearly every decision, even if it cannot be pinpointed as responsible. The ruling mechanism prefers personal control over comprehensive policy, because the former can be changed at any time, without any need for a cumbersome, organized legal system of decision-making. (Phantom Sovereign: The Bureaucracy of the Occupation in the West Bank, pg 111)
21. Bureaucratic reasons have made residents of the Seam Zone ineligible for marriage. Those who marry Seam Zone residents are unable to obtain a permanent permit to be there (only a few receive a permanent residency permit, which is also, as previously mentioned, valid only for two years). A Seam Zone resident who moves in with a spouse out of the Seam Zone “loses their connection” to it, according to the army’s definition, and consequently loses their residency permit.
22. The loop: a couple from the Jenin area was married at the beginning of November 2009. The distance between their houses was less than one kilometer, but in between runs the separation wall. The man applied for a “new seam zone resident” document. His request was denied on the basis that “the applicant is not a permanent resident.”
23. In February 2004 in a reply to the High Court, the State Attorney declared that Palestinian farmers will be granted free entry to the Seam Zone through “passages open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” That was an empty promise. Dozens of gates are positioned along the Seam Zone border; only two of them are continuously open. It is no coincidence that they are the only two gates that also serve settlers.
24. Any permit, of any kind, after it was obtained by hard work – may be confiscated on the spot. An army officer standing at a checkpoint may decide the permit holder deviated from the conditions of the permit and confiscate it then and there. There is no judicial oversight of confiscation; often the person whose permit was confiscated does not receive a document attesting the confiscation and they are not told of the possibility of filling an appeal.
25. The Seam Zone was closed to Palestinian movement in 2002, when the permit regime was established. In April 2011 the Supreme Court rejected petitions against it and ruled it is a “temporary situation, resulting from a difficult, interim reality.” For over 10 years this situation hasn’t been temporary, although it’s the source of said difficult reality.
A few fundamental truths
Contrary to common belief, the permit regime in the West Bank wasn’t established as a response to a wave of Palestinian terror that started in 1994, but three years earlier in January 1991 (Hebrew). Severe restrictions on movement, which created a de facto separation between Palestinian populations, prepared the ground for the Oslo accords, which were based on the logic of separation. An investigation in 2011 revealed that the Civil Administration issues Palestinians 101 different kinds of entry permits to Israel.
The Seam Zone is a bureaucratic monster, illegal and immoral since day one. It’s the result of the Israeli desire for annexation and the decision to build the separation wall beyond the Green Line. The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled as follows on July 9, 2004, sections 141 and 163:
The fact remains that Israel has to face numerous indiscriminate and deadly acts of violence against its civilian population. It has the right, and indeed the duty, to respond in order to protect the life of its citizens. The measures taken are bound nonetheless to remain in conformity with applicable international law ... Israel is under an obligation to cease forthwith the works of construction of the wall being built in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem [and] to dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated.
The end goal of the permit regime in the Seam Zone, like the limitations on movement and construction in the Jordan Valley (Hebrew), is to gradually thin out the indigenous Palestinian population and to clear lands for the benefit of Israeli settlements. The method: revocation of permanent residency (forced transfer), prevention of agricultural and economic development, destruction of local communal and family structures, and turning day-to-day routines into bureaucratic nightmares that will eventually make them hate life and leave the area – a voluntary transfer to complete the forced transfer.
In this life it might easily happen, if he were not always on his guard, until one day or other, in spite of the amiability of the authorities and the scrupulous fulfillment of all his exaggeratedly light duties, he might – deceived by the apparent favor shown him – conduct himself so imprudently that he might get a fall; and the authorities, still ever mild and friendly, and as it were against their will but in the name of some public regulation unknown to him, might have to come and clear him out of the way. (Franz Kafka, The Castle)
This post was first published in Hebrew on Idan Landau’s blog.

Planning Policy in the West Bank

Israel’s planning and building policy in the West Bank is aimed at preventing Palestinian development and dispossessing Palestinians of their land. This is masked by use of the same professional and legal terms applied to development in settlements and in Israel proper, such as “planning and building laws”, “urban building plans (UBPs)”, “planning proceedings” and “illegal construction”. However, while the planning and building laws benefit Jewish communities by regulating development and balancing different needs, they serve the exact opposite purpose when applied to Palestinian communities in the West Bank. There, Israel exploits the law to prevent development, thwart planning and carry out demolitions. This is part of a broader political agenda to maximize the use of West Bank resources for Israeli needs, while minimizing the land reserves available to Palestinians.

The 1995 Oslo II Accord divided the West Bank into three types of areas. Concentrations of Palestinian population in built-up areas, which were – and still are – home to most of the Palestinian population in the West Bank, were designated Areas A and B and officially handed over to Palestinian Authority control. They are dotted throughout the West Bank in 165 disconnected ‘islands’. The remaining 61% of the West Bank were designated Area C – the land mass surrounding Areas A and B, where Israel retains full control over security and civil affairs, including planning, building, laying infrastructure and development. This artificial division, which was meant to remain in effect for five years only, does not reflect geographic reality or Palestinian space.

In the West Bank, the potential for urban, agricultural and economic development remains in Area C. Israel uses its control over the area to quash Palestinian planning and building. In about 70% of Area C – 42% of the West Bank – Israel has blocked Palestinian development by designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks; by allocating land to settlements and their regional councils; or by introducing prohibitions to the area now trapped between the Separation Barrier and the Green Line (the boundary between Israel's sovereign territory and the West Bank).

Even in the remaining 30% of Area C, Israel restricts Palestinian construction by seldom approving requests for building permits, whether for housing, for agricultural or public uses, or for laying infrastructure. The Civil Administration (CA) – the branch of the Israeli military designated to handle civil matters in Area C – refuses to prepare outline plans for the vast majority of Palestinian communities there. Until September 2015, it had prepared and approved plans for just 16 of the 180 Palestinian communities located entirely within Area C. The approved plans span less than 1% of Area C, and relate to land that has largely been built up already. The plans were drawn up without consulting the communities and do not meet international planning standards. Their boundaries run close to the built-up areas of the villages, leaving out land for farming, grazing flocks and future development. From 2010 to 2015, the Palestinian Authority prepared 108 outline plans for 116 communities in Area C, 77 of which were submitted to the planning authorities in the CA for approval. However, these efforts were to no avail. By the end of 2015, only three had been approved, covering a total area of 57 hectares (0.02% of Area C).

The odds of a Palestinian receiving a building permit in Area C – even on privately-owned land – are slim to nonexistent. CA figures show that from 2010 to 2014, Palestinians applied for 2,020 building permits, of which a mere 33 – or 1.5% – were approved. Given the futility of the effort, many Palestinians forgo requesting a permit altogether. Without any possibility of receiving a permit and building legally, the needs of a growing population leave Palestinians no choice but to develop their communities and build homes without permits. This, in turn, forces them to live under the constant threat of seeing their homes and businesses demolished.

The impact of this Israeli policy extends beyond Area C, to the hundreds of Palestinians communities located entirely or partially in Areas A and B, as the land reserves for many of these communities lie in Area C and are subject to Israeli restrictions there.

The demand for land for development has grown considerably since the 1995 division of the West Bank: The Palestinian population has nearly doubled, and the land reserves in Areas A and B have been nearly exhausted. Due to the housing shortage, much land still available in these areas is used for residential construction, even if it is more suited for other uses, such as agriculture.

Without land for construction, local Palestinian authorities cannot supply public services that require new structures, such as medical clinics and schools, nor can they plan open spaces for recreation within communities. Realizing the economic potential of Area C – in branches such as agriculture, quarrying for minerals and stone for construction, industry, tourism and community development – is essential to the development of the entire West Bank, including creating jobs and reducing poverty. Area C is also vital for regional planning, including laying infrastructure and connecting Palestinian communities throughout the West Bank.

In contrast to the restrictive planning for Palestinian communities, Israeli settlements – all of which are located in Area C – are allocated vast tracts of land, drawn up detailed plans, connected to advanced infrastructure, and the authorities turn a blind eye to illegal construction in them. Detailed, modern plans have been drawn up for the settlements, including public areas, green zones and, often, spacious residential areas. They enjoy a massive amount of land, including farmland that can serve for future development.

Israel’s policy in Area C is based on the assumption that the area is primarily meant to serve Israeli needs, and on the ambition to annex large parts of it to the sovereign territory of Israel. To that end, Israel works to strengthen its hold on Area C, to further exploit the area’s resources and achieve a permanent situation in which Israeli settlements thrive and Palestinian presence is negligible. In doing so, Israel has de facto annexed Area C and created circumstances that will leverage its influence over the final status of the area.

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