RHR Area C Planning Appeal: End Discriminatory Planning Policies and Administrative Housing Demolitions for good
**NOTE: Scroll to bottom of page for an update on the High Court’s ruling from the April 28th 2014 hearing**
Background on the Planning Appeal
Back in 2004 RHR’s legal department was trying to legally defend homes in the territories from demolition on an individual basis. A Sisyphean task, we realized that if we really wanted to stop the scourge of administrative home demolitions, there had to be a stop to the intentionally discriminatory manipulation of building and zoning regulations designed to make it virtually impossible for Palestinians in Area C (Or East Jerusalem) to build legally. Once we understood that, we saw that we needed to launch a High Court appeal demanding the restoration of planning authorities in Area C to the Palestinians.
On August 1, 2011, the appeal was filed by the village council of Ad-Dirat- Al-Rfai’ya located in the southern district of Hebron, West Bank, along with a coalition of organizations composed of RHR, The Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and The Society of Saint Yves- The Catholic Center for Human Rights, submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court against the Israeli Minister of Defense, the IDF commander of the West Bank, the head of the Civil Administration and the High Planning Council.
The appeal requests the reinstatement of the Palestinian local and district planning committees in Palestinian areas of Area C of the West Bank according to the existing municipal boundaries, and thereby effectively revives planning institutions which were revoked by force of military order number 418 in 1971 – four years after the beginning of the occupation. For the full text of the appeal (in Hebrew).
The petitioners also asked for an urgent interim injunction to delay the demolition of structures in built up areas in Area C, or, at the very least, to postpone the demolition of essential public structures (such as cisterns, etc.)
The petition relies upon the legal opinion of experts in the field of international humanitarian and human rights law: Professor Marco Sassòli, Director of the Department of Public International Law and International Organization at the University of Geneva and Associate Professor at the Universities of Quebec in Montreal and Laval, Canada and Dr. Théo Boutruche, Consultant in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
The appeal is also supported by another expert opinion of Prof. Eyal Benvenisti regarding the unlawful destruction of cisterns, as constructions essential for the survival of the protected civilian population, due to lack of construction permits. Unofficial translation of the opinion from Hebrew.
Implications of the Appeal
1. This is the first time that Palestinians in the West Bank have demanded the restoration of their planning rights and institutions. Up till now, objections have been made against the discriminatory and negligent conduct of the Civil Administration in matters of planning and construction in Area C, that is to say, the planning failure followed by the practice of house demolitions. By contrast, the current petition aims to change the very focus of the public debate—from procedural questions (i.e., how does the Civil Administration manage matters of planning and construction in Area C?) to essential questions of planning authority (why does the Civil Administration interfere in the first place in the planning and construction issues of Palestinian communities in the Occupied Territories?). The issue at hand is civil in nature pertaining to Palestinian villages and towns, and Israel has no right or privilege to assume authority in planning issues in the Palestinian Territories. Israeli security considerations—insofar as they are legitimate—can be addressed with minimal intervention in particular cases, and do not justify the complete control over the entire planning system over the course of decades of occupation.
(To view with subtitles, please start video and click on the icon on the bottom right of the video that looks like an envelope– it only shows while playing–and select “English” and “on”)
2. The appeal also raises for the first time before the High Court of Justice the phenomenon of the forced transfer of Palestinians within the Occupied Territories as a result of the planning failure and practice of house demolition. This policy is in contravention of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 which prohibits the forced transfer of protected persons within occupied territory.
3. Another aspect of the appeal deals with the separate but systematic, institutional and discriminatory nature of the planning regime in the West Bank: in the abovementioned military order 418 from 1971, simultaneous with the termination of the local and district Palestinian planning committees, came the establishment of “special” local councils (as they were called in the order) for the settlements. Today the settlements have sixteen local planning committees for settlements with the status of local council, and additional four local committees for settlements with the status of city. Discrimination between Palestinians and settlers exists within the planning process itself, when the latter has generally a favorable planning system to promote their needs. The claim of discrimination is even more severe as the current planning institutions and process ignores the special status of Palestinians as protected peoples in occupied territory, and in light of the illegality of settlements per se according to international law.
FACT: Less than 1% of Area C is designated for Palestinian development, compared to the 70% of Area C within the domain of the local councils of the settlements. More information on military planning discrimination by numbers.
APRIL 28th 2014 UPDATE: The Supreme Court gave an interim decision on the appeal requesting that planning authority be returned to Palestinians for their own communities in Area C. The decision ordered the State to propose, within ninety days, institutionalized ways to facilitate participation of local Palestinians in Area C in the planning processes that affect their lives.
More on the ruling: