The Civil Administration acknowledges extreme discrimination in building permits and law enforcement between Palestinians and settlers

During the discussion in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset on Area C (“Palestinian Authority’s control over the open areas in the West Bank and the Israeli response”) held on Wednesday, July 19, 2023, representatives of the Civil Administration and Minister Bezalel Smotrich provided information about the scope of Israeli and Palestinian construction as well as enforcement activities in the West Bank, including Minister Smotrich’s plans for the occupied territories.

  • – It is planned to establish a new Border Police unit that will join the existing Civil Administration enforcement unit currently operating in Area C. 
  • – Expansion of enforcement in Areas A and B. Since the Oslo Accords, the military has no authority to demolish Palestinian buildings in Areas A and B except in exceptional cases based on “security considerations.” 
  • – In order to take control of additional lands in Area C, the Settlements Administration will invest in promoting agricultural areas for settlers and land clearance. 
  • – The Settlements Administration will advance a series of illegal agricultural outposts (approximately 50), with the aim of taking control of open lands in the West Bank. 
  • – The Civil Administration acknowledges that 95% of Palestinian building permit applications in Area C are rejected. In practice, over the past twenty years, on average, less than 10 permits are granted per year. According to the administration, there are over 300,000 Palestinians living in Area C. 
  • – Between 2022 and the first half of 2023, a total of 770 Palestinian buildings were demolished in Area C.
  • – During the same period, only 88 buildings were demolished in the settlements, and in practice, most of them were illegal outposts of hilltop youth that were demolished by the army and rebuilt again. 

Building permits and demolitions in Area C:

During the discussion in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Civil Administration and the Minister did not deny the structural discrimination against Palestinians. According to their statements, 95% of Palestinian building permit applications are rejected, while a significant majority of settler requests are approved. In reality, the situation seems even more severe. For example, between 2016 and 2018, only 21 building permits were granted to Palestinians, despite the Civil Administration’s claim that over 300,000 Palestinians live in the area.

It is important to note that according to data provided to Bimkom between 2016 and 2020, Palestinians submitted 2,550 building applications, of which only 24 were approved. The information received by Bikmom indicates a rejection rate of 99% for building permit requests. For further reading on building permits for Palestinians, refer to the report published by Bikmom.

Also, regarding enforcement, there is a gap between demolitions of buildings belonging to settlers and Palestinians. In 2022 alone, the Civil Administration demolished approximately 550 Palestinian buildings in Area C which demolition orders were issued (about 37%), out of about 1,600 buildings identified and defined as illegal by the Civil Administration. 

It is important to note that Palestinians in Area C do not have a real possibility of obtaining building permits since the Civil Administration, except for isolated cases, does not approve construction plans for Palestinians. Therefore, Palestinians living in Area C are forced to build without approvals. In contrast, the Civil Administration demolished 67 buildings belonging to settlers out of 340 illegal buildings that were identified (less than 20%). 

It should be noted that in the past, the Civil Administration counted the number of demolished buildings for settlers in a way that if one building in a settler outpost was demolished multiple times, it was counted as the number of times it was demolished. The implication is that 67 buildings of settlers were not demolished, but rather it probably refers to the number of times hilltop youth buildings were demolished and rebuilt.

To read Peace Now’s report on building permits and demolitions of Palestinian buildings in Area C, click here. 

Plans to seize Palestinian lands in Area C:

During the discussion, Minister Smotrich presented three additional components for seizing lands in the West Bank. The Minister mentioned that the Settlements Administration will work to promote additional parcels for settlers and invest in clearing state-claimed lands. In addition, the Settlements Administration will work to authorize all the illegal agricultural farms (about 50), whose purpose is to take control of Palestinian lands.

Expanding enforcement in Area C and demolishing Palestinian buildings in Areas A and B:

Minister Smotrich stated that the supervision and enforcement of construction in Areas A and B should be expanded. Currently, the military has no authority to demolish buildings except in Area C, and only under exceptional security considerations. To strengthen the enforcement system in Area C, a new Border Pollice unit will be established, focusing on enforcement and assisting the Civil Administration’s enforcement unit in demolishing illegal constructions. In practice, the unit’s main focus will be on enforcing against Palestinians, which will adversely affect Palestinian development and construction.

Selected quotes from the discussion protocol:

Lieutenant Colonel Adam Avidan, Head of the Infrastructure Branch at the Civil Administration, responsible for coordinating infrastructure-related activities, stated

“The Civil Administration grants authorization for planning to the local/regional council or the landowner. Subsequently, construction plans are submitted for approval. Settlers receive building permits from the local/regional council. Palestinians receive permits from the planning authorities of the Civil Administration. In the past years, there have been an average of between 5,000 to 10,000 housing units (combined) built for settlers. Regarding Palestinian construction, only a few hundred units per year, mostly individual buildings or facilities. In both cases, when there is no outline plan and no building permit, the construction is considered illegal. 95% of Palestinian building applications are rejected, for planning and policy reasons. In the Israeli-settler sector, the term “building refusal” is not used. In practice, 60-70% of the submitted and discussed plans are approved.”

Lt. Col. Avidan did not elaborate on the building process in settlements, but it can be assumed that most plans that were not approved in the first discussion undergo changes and are resubmitted for approval. In other words, almost no construction plans for settlers are rejected.

Additionally, Lt. Col. Avidan stated that the Civil Administration estimates that over 300,000 Palestinian residents and half a million settlers live in Area C.

According to Avidan, in 2022, around 1,600 illegal Palestinian buildings were identified, and 550 of them were demolished. In the first half of 2023, about 1,000 illegal Palestinian buildings were identified, and 220 of them were demolished. Avidan noted that there are about 8,000 illegal Palestinian structures in total, including water wells, fences, and agricultural buildings.

He also mentioned that between the years 2000 and 2020, only 220 building permits were granted to Palestinians, averaging about ten permits per year. Between 2016 and 2018, only 21 building permits were granted, averaging about seven permits per year.

In parallel, Avidan stated that in 2022, 340 illegal buildings were identified in settlements, of which 67 were demolished. In the first half of 2023, 266 illegal buildings were identified, and 21 were demolished. Thus, despite the increase in illegal construction in settlements and outposts, there is a decrease in enforcement towards settlers. Avidan emphasized that demolitions often repeat in cases of hilltop youth outposts, where the same outpost is repeatedly demolished and rebuilt.

When it comes to unauthorized construction within a construction permit from the municipality, the responsibility for issuing the necessary order lies with the local authority. Furthermore, this same authority is accountable for ensuring the enforcement of the issued order. With respect to executing demolition orders within approved plans, our knowledge is lacking; we are only informed about the actions undertaken by the administration, excluding those pertaining to the construction permit from the municipality, that is, for the most part, in outposts. There is no information regarding the construction of illegal structures inside “settlements.”

Marco, Head of the Surveillance Unit, stated:

“Trespassing on state lands that are identified can be evicted within 90 days without any legal proceedings. Illegal construction in areas defined as Priority Area, such as fire zones, the Separation Wall area, or alongside main roads, can be demolished within 96 hours, and only the Supreme Court can delay the demolition.”

Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Finance and Settlements, claimed that:

“We are reconstructing the enforcement system. Enforcement will be based on state considerations, including activities in Areas A and B in accordance with national security considerations. The intention is to establish a unit within the Border Police for the purpose of enforcing illegal construction, and it will join the enforcement system of the Civil Administration. To prevent the expansion of Palestinian presence in the territory, there is an intention to promote agriculture on hundreds of thousands of dunams defined as state lands. Additionally, there are plans for aforestation of state lands in the West Bank. The Civil Administration is working on authorizing 50 scattered agricultural farms in the West Bank.” 

Smotrich acknowledges that transferring authorities to the Settlements Administration is a significant change from the military perspective. The army is forced to consider civilian considerations, while the core of the army’s thinking remains focused on security considerations.

Knesset member and former Chief of General Staff of the IDF, Gadi Eisenkot, said that: 

“To the best of my memory, 60% of the IDF’s activities in the West Bank aim to maintain security, order, and a sense of security.”

Peace Now: “For settlers, the enforcement approach in Area C essentially extends across Areas A, B, and C. This represents the Israeli government’s broader stance affecting Palestinians’ fundamental rights – encompassing their livelihoods, housing, and overall well-being. It’s vital to recognize that the discourse doesn’t solely address challenges in enforcing regulations on Palestinians. Rather, it sheds light on the reinforcement of oppressive practices and the repercussions of security measures on the civilian lives of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s appointment of Smotrich as the Minister of Settlements, along with the allowance of annexation procedures, were strategic moves aimed at eroding the prospects of dignity for Palestinians from the very start. While the Knesset’s focus should ostensibly be on addressing “unauthorized Palestinian constructions,” the situation underscores the stark discrimination perpetuated by the Civil Administration and the unrelenting pressures from settlers, which in turn intensify hardships for Palestinians in the West Bank.”