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The Government of Australia pretty much tows the Israeli Government line that Israel has no partner for peace because of the alleged Palestinian refusal to refrain from violence/terrorism. The notion that Palestinian violence/terrorism might stop if Israel stopped oppressing Palestinians is not seriously considered. Maybe if more members of the Australian Government (and people) understood the facts on the ground, this attitude might change.

A case in point is that of house demolitions. Although the Israeli military has reinstated the practice of demolishing the homes of terrorism suspects and their relatives (against International Law), the vast majority of demolitions have nothing to do with acts of violence from Palestinians. These demolitions are a result of the planning and zoning policies of the Israeli Military, who govern the West Bank. There have been nearly 25,000 house demolitions in the West Bank since 1967 and over 90% of them have nothing to do with punitive measures against terrorism. All house demolitions in the West Bank by the Israeli Military are just as illegal under International Law (4th Geneva Convention) as the Israeli settlements that Israel is so determined to build.

These zoning and planning policies are chiefly devised to facilitate the construction of Israeli settlements and the accompanying infrastructure. As the Mayor of Bruqin told us, “They (the settlers) get houses and settlements, we (the Palestinians) get demolitions!”. Allowances made in the policies for the expansion and development of Palestinian housing and infrastructure are grossly inadequate. Nearly 70% of the West Bank is designated area C, for Israeli settlements and areas that come under full Israeli control. Palestinian homes and structures in area C are extremely vulnerable to demolition orders and building permits are virtually impossible to get even if the building is to be done on land that a Palestinian can prove is their own.

Obtaining a building permit is extremely expensive and statistics show that there is a 97% rejection rate of building permits in the West Bank. To even get the proper documentation together, which includes a very expensive land survey, for the application, can cost tens of thousands of shekels. Sometimes the cost of the application is more than the cost of the construction of the structure itself. These factors combined leave Palestinians with little choice but to build without a proper permit, hence leaving themselves open to demolition orders.

Another problem seems to be that the exact location for area C seems to be very hard to assertain. Area A, under full Palestinian control (in theory anyway), is for the highly concentrated areas of Palestinian population, like the towns of Bethlehem, Tulkarm, Nablus, Hebron, Ramallah, Qalqiliya and so on. Area B is for slightly less built up areas with area C taking up all the rest of the space. The only contiguous zone is that of area C. Area A and B comprise some 227 enclaves of Palestinian population “swimming” in an ocean of Area C. Yet we have been shown a hospital and main road right down the centre of Tulkarm which is designated area C.

Structures most vulnerable to demolition orders are those closest to the separation barrier, Israeli settlements, settlement roads and military zones. But this is not always the case. We discovered this when we went to the village of Hajja last week after hearing that six new demolition orders had been given by the Israeli Military. Amongst the buildings set to be destroyed was a furniture factory in the middle of the village which employs 45 people and a banquet hall. As well as this, there included a number of beautiful houses all of which were not within 10 kilometres of any type of Israeli settlement or settlement infrastructure. The logic seems hard to follow.

Wedding Venue under demolition order in Hajah (2)

Banquet Hall in Hajja, soon to be demolished.

Factory under demolition order in Hajah (3)

Furniture factory in the middle of Hajja, also soon to be demolished.

According to sources that I have been talking to over the last few weeks, it is virtually impossible to stop the demolition of a structure once it is ordered. Generally the best that can be done is to delay the demolition. It must be remembered that the cost of the demolition falls on the people whose structure is demolished. The only way to avoid this cost is, for the people owning the structure, to do the demolition themselves. We know of a case, in the village of Farun, where a man had been slowly building his dream home for his family for some 20 years. He started building the home before the separation barrier was even started and on the day that he finished building his house and was ready to move in, the house was demolished by the Israeli Military because it was too close to the barrier. I have seen many Palestinian houses closer to the barrier than the one in Farun that have no demolition order on them.

Since our EA team has been in the West Bank (5 weeks), there has been 84 structure demolitions displacing some 247 persons, according to OCHA’s protected persons weekly reports. With the housing situation already in crises due to land confiscation, poor planning and zoning policies and the desperate state of the Palestinian economy, these people are left in a desperate situation to say the least.

A recent increase in the number of house demolitions in East Jerusalem, along with threats by right wing settler groups to blow up the Al Asqa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and added to that the deaths of 6 Palestinians and injuries to nearly 600 others ( all in the last 5 weeks), all add up to a massive level of incitement by the Israeli Government that goes largely unreported in the western media.

Ordinary Palestinians keep asking me how it is that any country can take Israeli Government statements about the Israeli desire for peace seriously, when they continue to maintain this “status quo” of violence, land theft and dispossession. I struggle to give them an answer that makes any sense.

CRAIG NIELSEN

DISCLAIMER

I am participating in a program as an Ecumenical Accompanier serving in the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI). The views contained here are personal to me and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Council of Churches Australia or the World Council of Churches. If you would like to publish the information contained here (including posting on a website), or distribute it further, please first contact the EAPPI Communications Officer (eappi.communications@gmail.com) for permission. Thank you.

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