There are around 647,000 people living in Area C of the West Bank. The UN split that total between around 54% Israelis living in settlements and outposts and the other 46%, who are Palestinians. This article has been co-written by Ella Taylor-Fagan & Noah Libson.
Why is this distinction important? Because although all these people live in the same territory, and are all governed by the Israeli Defence Forces’ Civil Administration, they don’t enjoy the same rights.
This is the basic point that underpins the #DontSettleForThis campaign, in which students from across the country joined together to shed light on the demolition of Palestinian homes in Area C of the West Bank.
Over the past month, we have met with Middle East Minister Alistair Burt, Chair of the parliamentary International Development Committee Stephen Twigg, and Deputy Israeli Ambassador Sharon Bar-Li.
While we could have told them about the disparities across a variety of sectors, as covered in a 2014 report by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), we chose to focus on the area of planning and building permits in particular, where:
“Israelis enjoy the significant representation of their interests in different committees, and they are full partners in planning procedures that pertain to them, the issuing of permits and construction supervision. By contrast, Palestinians are completely excluded from the planning system and have no influence over the outline plans for their places of residence.”
The effect of this is that in a 5-year period between 2010 and 2014, when Palestinians submitted 2,020 applications for building permits in Area C, only 33 – or just 1.5% – were approved. In contrast, in a different 5-year period, this time between 2012 and 2016, 32,373 housing units were approved in Israeli settlements in Area C.
Put another way, that is 1 permit for every 10.8 Israelis and 1 permit for every 9,000 Palestinians in Area C. This is not to mention the fact that the Civil Administration have identified thousands of buildings in Israeli settlements are built on private Palestinian land.
This data illuminated an eye-opening visit a group of students on a Yachad trip made to Umm al-Kheir, an unrecognised Palestinian village in the South Hebron Hills whose lands were appropriated to build the neighbouring settlement of Carmel. What we heard is the effect of knowing that receiving a permit for building a home on your own land is – as a UN representative stated – “virtually impossible”: you either live in squalid conditions, or accept that your home will be among the 12,532 structures in Area C under demolition order. What kind of stability and hope can one have if you don’t know if you’ll have a home tomorrow? How can you think about, let alone believe in a peace process that feels decades away without the certainty of a roof over your head?
As Marcell Horvath shows in his piece, behind each of those demolition orders lies a slightly different story. There are cases of demolitions because the IDF declared a swath of land including 9 Palestinian villages as a firing zone (and thus uninhabitable), and cases where the permits are denied.
Unearthing these different quirks and understanding how they impact the bigger picture is exactly why the Union of Jewish Students’ Conference unanimously voted for a motion that highlighted the negative impact of housing demolitions in Area C and committed to visit unrecognised Palestinian villages like Umm al-Kheir.
That Horvath’s sticking point in our campaign, which took us to the heart of the British and Israeli political systems, is how we have used the term ‘punitive’. The reality that we are presented with is that Palestinians are, en masse, punished for being Palestinian. If it weren’t for their green ID card, they would be able to build a home with the kind of long-term stability that we take for granted.
That Palestinians are overwhelmingly disadvantaged building on their own land vis-à-vis Israelis is not up for debate, and we’d suggest neither is their effect on Palestinians. That a bureaucracy is the face of this disparity does not make the reality any less punishing. We must keep the bigger picture in our sights if we beat our brows over the nuances of each case, otherwise we get stuck not seeing the wood for the trees. We are leaders in our schools and universities, in our synagogues and our youth movements, and many of us have spent extended periods participating and leading programmes in Israel. If we can find a way to make peace a little more likely, we will grab at that opportunity. You can join in, and tell your leaders #DontSettleForThis
– Ella Taylor-Fagan is a final year History student at Oxford University, a member of Finchley Reform Synagogue and a bogeret of RSY-Netzer, as well as being active in her local Labour Party and editing the online journal Zionish in my spare time! She participated in the Yachad Student Trip in 2016.
– Noah Libson a first year student, studying English Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London where he is the treasurer of the Jewish Society. He is a member of New North London Synagogue and has been active in Noam since 2008, having participated in their gap year programme in Israel and have recently been elected onto the Va’ad Tnua (movement committee) overseeing the realisation of Zionism in the movement. He participated in the Yachad Student Trip in 2017.