Permits, Demolitions and Discrimination: Weaponizing Bureaucracy
The Israeli government’s planning permit program is one of the most insidious and destructive tools used to dispossess and displace Palestinians in the West Bank. Planning permits determine the legality of structures built on West Bank land under Israeli control and whether they’re subject to demolition orders. While the government readily grants these permits to Israeli settlers, applications by Palestinians are almost universally denied.
Since 1967, the Israeli government has granted 99.8% of its land allocations in the West Bank to Israelis. Amnesty International reports that permits are “virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain,” with Haaretz noting that Israeli authorities rejected “over 98 percent of Palestinian building permit requests in West Bank’s Area C” between 2016 and 2018. A study by the Israeli group Peace Now found that between 2009 and 2016, just 66 permits in Area C were granted to Palestinians, compared to 12,763 for Israeli settlers. Meanwhile, the American Friends Service Committee notes that “more than 100 outpost settlements in the West Bank are all built without permits or plans, but rarely receive demolition orders.”
Demolition orders are, however, a common occurrence for Palestinians. Every year, thousands of Palestinians are affected directly and indirectly by demolitions of homes, businesses, power utilities, water infrastructure and other services they rely upon. Since 1967, almost 50,000 structures have been demolished, including hundreds of EU, UN and other internationally funded aid projects. This includes the demolition of farms, apartment buildings, infrastructure projects, schools and medical facilities.
A Palestinian woman argues with Israeli soldiers who are demolishing animal shelters on her family farm.
Last year, across East Jerusalem and the broader West Bank, more than 600 Palestinian structures were demolished with more than 900 people made homeless. These figures don’t account for self-demolitions carried out by Palestinians seeking to avoid fines and other penalties. Dozens of West Bank schools are also currently at risk of full or partial demolition. So far in 2020 — despite the increasing threat of COVID-19 in both Israel and the Palestinian territories — more than 350 structures have been demolished and almost 400 Palestinians displaced.
The Israeli government’s discriminatory usage of planning permits and demolitions has severely impacted Palestinian society in the West Bank. Layered on top of these abuses is a system which restricts freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank, including requiring permits to visit certain areas, checkpoints which can take hours to pass through and periodic or permanent shutdowns in certain areas. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes that “many of these restrictions have been justified by the Israeli authorities as means to address security concerns, which often include the protection of settlements established across the West Bank, in contravention of international law.”
A Palestinian man watches as his house is demolished by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem.
The OCHA notes that displacement in the West Bank places “immediate and longer-term physical, socio-economic and psycho-social impacts on Palestinian families, particularly on children.” Many displaced Palestinians reside in refugee camps and often lack access to proper healthcare, financial resources, or educational opportunities, with demolitions and overcrowding now heightening the risks of COVID-19 transmission and limiting Palestinians’ ability to respond.