EU governments are engaged in high level diplomacy as the Israeli Civil Administration has recently issued a raft of demolition orders against renewable energy projects funded with European public money. European-funded infrastructure in the West Bank had previously received a measure of security but that appears to have now been eroded with demolition orders placed upon multiple projects funded by German, Spanish and Polish donors in the past few months.
Israel holds complete control over Area C, which comprises 62 per cent of the West Bank and is also where the majority of the West Bank’s natural resources are located. However the Israeli Civil Administration, which is responsible for planning and zoning, has overseen the systematic destruction of Palestinian civilian infrastructure, including homes, schools, roads, hospitals, water and power plants, even animal shelters and underground water cisterns that collect rain.
When the UN Special Rappoteur on Human Rights visited the OPT in mid-February, he reported that 80 Palestinian structures had already been demolished in Area C this year. 30 per cent of those structures were family homes. This is a sharp increase in demolitions compared to the same period in 2011.
Solar and water plants providing sustainable power
In recent years EU governments have funded renewable energy infrastructure projects in the West Bank. Such funding had several benefits. It enabled isolated Palestinian communities to receive energy for homes, schools, hospitals and businesses. While Israel has a habit of demolishing Palestinian infrastructure, power plants funded with European money were less likely to be targeted. The projects also promoted green technologies and sustainable development.
But now the Israeli authorities are clamping down on EU-funded infrastructure as demolitions increase across the West Bank.
An international outcry and pressure from the Spanish Consulate at the end of last year forced Israel to freeze the demolition order on a solar plant for a community 70 km south of Hebron. The plant is the only source of power for the 40 families, school and medical centre in the town of Imneizeland the Spanish Government contributed 290,000 euros to the project.
“If they demolish the plant and the batteries’ building, the town will lose all connection to electricity. This means no electricity for the houses, but also closing down the clinic, the school and some of the small businesses that opened in the last years,” explained a Spanish activist that works with the project. Despite the diplomatic pressure however, the demolition order has still not been formally rescinded and the solar plant remains at risk.
In February Israeli authorities managed to upset both the German and Polish Governments. In Poland the Israeli Ambassador was summoned to explain to the Government in February why the IDF had demolished a well built with Polish funds during a demolition raid on a small Palestinian village. 83 people, including 43 children, were also made homeless during the raid on El Rahawia where the well was destroyed. The well had been built by a Polish humanitarian charity with funds from the Polish Foreign Ministry.
The German Government is currently involved in high-level dialogue around the future of six renewable energy projects which were built with money from German aid group Medico. Medico funded the installation of16 renewable energy project by Comet-ME, a joint initiative of Israeli and Palestinian communities. These projects utilise solar panels and wind turbines to bring much-needed electricity to villages and towns in Area C with a combined population of 1,500 people. Elad Orian, Israeli co-founder of the organisation, said that the group did not apply for permits as they believed that they would have been rejected.
The German Government have expressed their concern at the demolition orders and asked for clarifications on the building permit regime. The matter was on the agenda during a recent visit to Israel by the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who discussed the Comet-ME/Medico projects with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
A discriminatory planning regime
Many of the Palestinian structures which are issued with demolition orders in Area C indeed do not have proper planning permits. However most Palestinians (and EU/Israeli humanitarian projects, it would seem) no longer bother to apply for planning permits from the Israeli Civil Administration because they know that they will almost certainly be refused. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racism and Discrimination noted in its March 2012 report on Israel that “the current Israeli planning and zoning policy in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem seriously breaches a range of fundamental rights” and said that “The Committee is increasingly concerned at the State party’s discriminatory planning policy.”
International law clearly states that the occupation forces must guarantee access to basic service for the civilian population under occupation and Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Article 23 of the Hague Convention prohibit the destruction of individual, collective or state property by occupying forces. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits “forcible transfers” of people from occupied land by an occupying power.
The Israeli Civil Administration was in fact set up in 1982 with a mandate to “administer the civil affairs in the area [West Bank]… for the welfare and the benefit of the population and for provision and operation of public services.” It is clear however, that the Civil Administration operates its planning regime for the benefit of the Israeli settlers rather than the Palestinian population.
The combined effect of the targeted demolition of civilian infrastructure and a discriminatory planning permit regime is the displacement of large numbers of Palestinians out of Area C of the West Bank. This long-standing policy has brought about a huge demographic change over the decades; in 1972 there were 1,200 Israeli settlers in Area C whereas today there are 310,000 living in 124 settlements and 100 illegal settlement outposts.
At the same time, the number of Palestinians living in the area has decreased sharply. Although Area C constitutes 62 per cent of the West Bank’s land, only 5.2 per cent of West Bank Palestinians (around 150,000 people) remain there. A lack of infrastructure, including structures as basic as homes and water cisterns, and an increase in settler violence, makes Palestinian life hard and encourages Palestinian to migrate out of Area C in search of better living conditions.
The EU is well aware that the planning system is being abused in Area C. An internal EU Heads of Mission report on Area C that was leaked to the press in January 2012 says that “Frequent destructions of houses; public buildings and livelihood-related constructions result in the forced transfer of the native population.” The same report notes that Area C is the only contiguous land in the West Bank and that “protecting the rights of Palestinians in Area C is of paramount importance for the realization of a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Recommendations to the EU
The leaked report shows that the EU realises the importance of Area C and understands the Israeli policies in effect there. But is it going to translate its words into action and take a firm stance to combat the systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructure?
Now that structures funded by European taxpayers’ money are being targeted, the EU has a clearer mandate than ever to demand that Israel cease its discriminatory planning policies in the West Bank. These actions do not only demolish infrastructure; they also destroy the possibility of a viable and just two-state solution which can bring peace and security to Israelis and Palestinians.
The EU should:
- Call for all demolition orders to be frozen on Palestinian infrastructure until their cases can be reviewed by a body with equal Palestinian representation
- Continue to fund infrastructure projects in Area C for Palestinian communities, especially renewable energy projects, water infrastructure and community structures such as schools
- Demand that Israel compensates European Governments financially for any European-funded infrastructure demolished in Area C
- Support the PA to plan projects for economic and infrastructure development in Area C.