In recent years there has been growing concern about Israel’s planning regime and its operations across the West Bank. In particular, organizations have expressed their apprehension towards the growing number of demolitions, eviction orders, and restrictions in Area C. According to the 1995 Oslo Accords, Area C of the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) amounts to an estimated sixty-two percent of the West Bank. It is rich in land and water, and critical to the sustainable long-term development of a future viable Palestinian state. Israeli restrictions on planning and development in Area C have created systemic poverty and instability across local Palestinian communities, undermining developmental possibilities. Additionally, Israel has tightened its military control of Area C of late, and increased restrictions on the delivery of international aid and humanitarian assistance. This process has produced new threats for an already vulnerable population, and brings into question both the legitimacy and responsibility of Israel as an occupying power.
Since 2005, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) has initiated a number of “special outline plans” for Palestinian villages in Area C. These plans carve out territorial arrangements, which set in motion a series of home demolitions and other civil-military orders that forcibly displace the local population. These conditions are designed in order to maintain Israeli hegemony in Area C. Planning tools play a critical role in how those on the ground make and implement those decisions. In response to the slowly deteriorating status of Area C communities, the Office of the Quartet Representative initiated planning activities in 2008 for at least fourteen Palestinian villages there. The ICA adopted the new initiative, but appointed itself as the governing body, which will approve or disapprove any plans submitted on behalf of the Palestinians in Area C.
The result is that the Israeli planning regime disadvantages the Palestinians in Area C on two levels. First, it creates systematic barriers to development. Second, it creates an institutional reality, which would oversee, and in a sense implement, Palestinian planning according to its own interests and master-plans. Indeed, in spite of that 2008 directive, by 2009 demolition of Palestinian structures, homes, and property reached alarming levels. Local and international human rights organizations sharply criticized this trend. The rising attention to the status of Area C led UN OCHA to produce an Area C Humanitarian Response Plan. The UN Humanitarian Country Team (UN HCT) later adopted it. To date, Israel itself has failed to adopt or respond to the Plan. As a result, humanitarian actors face real challenges as they attempt to deliver aid and assistance across Area C.
By 2011, frustrations around the restrictions the ICA imposed led stakeholders to consider other avenues to bypass the Israeli planning regime and its Area C practices. The systematic forced displacement of the local population has raised concerns from both local and international stakeholders who view Israeli occupation policy and practice to be in direct violation of both international law and previous agreements. Indeed, between 2010 and 2011, there was a forty percent increase in demolitions of Palestinian structures, property, and homes. These conditions led human rights organizations to demand the transfer of planning powers back to the Palestinian local and district planning committees in order to protect existing structures and to encourage sustainable development for future infrastructure.
The Israeli public relations machine portrays the ICA as a separate administrative and legal body, distinct from the armed forces. However it is really an extended arm of the Israeli military occupation, and works parallel to the military in order to maintain and expand its power over the Palestinian territories. The two bodies are joined in a manner which supports a clear Zionist vision towards territory in the West Bank, particularly the natural resource-rich Jordan Valley. By producing legal and administrative deadlocks, the ICA has several tools to shape a complex system, operating through a dizzying array of permits, demolition orders, military zones, and guidelines, all designed to displace and devastate Palestinians’ capacities to achieve sustainable livelihoods.
Since the occupation of the West Bank began in 1967, the Jordan Valley in particular has witnessed a heightened military and security presence, which has had a significant impact on the local population. An estimated 300,000 Palestinians lived in the Jordan Valley before the 1967 war. Today after forty years of occupation the population in the area has been reduced to perhaps 56,000. In addition to displacing the local communities, forced urbanization has shifted the livelihoods of local communities from rural to urban. Seventy percent of the residents are concentrated in the city center of Jericho, particularly in parts that are either Area A or B, in order to avert confrontations with either Israeli settlers or the military. Communities that were formerly dependent on farming, livestock, and other rural activities for income have been dramatically reduced – to forty percent of the remaining population.
Agriculture used to be a primary source of livelihood. It has suffered drastically amidst Israeli restrictions on access to resources, development, and infrastructure. A 1968 census documented that at the time, at least forty-two per cent of the Palestinian labor force worked in agriculture. By 2011, this was reduced to about fourteen percent. From 1984 to 2010, the total land dedicated to agriculture decreased from 1,700,000 dunams to 1,105,000 dunams. At least one third of the local arable land is no longer accessible to Palestinians. Furthermore, in 2012 the ICA issued permits to destroy agricultural networks and structures of at least 242 families in the West Bank. The ICA has particularly targeted the Jordan Valley. The authority has issued several restrictive measures to annex around 60,000 dunams of Palestinian agricultural lands. This loss of land means that over ninety percent of the remaining Palestinian farming communities in the Jordan Valley have great difficulty cultivating their land amidst the ICA planning regime and restrictions.
On the other hand, Israeli military and planning practices have incubated and strengthened illegal Israeli settlements and their agricultural businesses. An estimated ninety percent of the Jordan Valley is designated as Area C – full Israel military and civil control. Out of that ninety percent, at least fifty percent is split between military zones, natural reserves, and illegal settlements. This leaves about six percent of the land to the Palestinian population, which has almost no participation and control over their land, mobility, and resources. These conditions have fast-tracked the growth of the Israeli agriculture sector, as illegal settlements and associated businesses are flourishing on Palestinian resources. By taking advantage of the climate, water, and soil conditions, Israeli agribusinesses are able to experiment with crop diversity and produce a variety of goods for export. Furthermore, by monopolizing the production of seeds, Israel also prevents Palestinian farmers and their enterprises from advancing local capacity in agricultural research and development.
Master-Planning: Israeli and Donor-Funded Plans
One key way the Israeli planning regime administers the building and development of Israeli settlement infrastructure is by using “master-plans,” a tool of urban planning which factors in the necessary infrastructure for local communities including water, power, sewage, and other necessary human needs. Master planning also involves accounting for the natural growth of the local community, and includes protective measures towards nature reserves and water networks.
There are two sets of policies that are enforced with respect to Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank. While Israeli settlements, industries, and businesses enjoy support, funds, and social services from the state, Palestinians under Israeli occupation are stripped of their most basic and human rights. The conditions in Area C are exceptionally difficult, as the local Palestinian population is under the complete military and administrative control of the Israeli occupation. The ICA prohibits Palestinian development in Area C under various pretexts, including claiming that the lands are state owned, military firing zones, nature reserves or parks, or are a security area due to their proximity to the Green line or Wall. In the remaining parts of Area C, the ICA has to preapprove any construction. This applies to all private development, including residences, agricultural structures, or other infrastructure that would help improve the living conditions of the local Palestinian population. A 2011 B’Tselem report notes that the ICA has not approved any master plans for the majority of villages located in Area C. Only sixteen communities have Israeli-approved master-plans. Communities that do not have plans are extremely vulnerable to forced displacement. Communities with existing plans are at constant risk of losing large plots of land and access to resources, and can be easily isolated and disconnected from other parts of the West Bank.
In response to the current ICA-established planning system, the international donor community and other third-party stakeholders have recently heightened efforts to create a parallel planning mechanism. That alternative scheme could include Palestinians in key decision-making processes which affect their communities. By doing so, a parallel planning regime is taking form, which includes donors and their implementing partners – the UN and other contractors – the community in question, and representatives from the PA. Each plan is drafted with input from the local community, and is then measured against Israeli master-plans for the area. Furthermore, donor-funded plans are still subject to ICA approval. Ultimately, Israel still enforces its planning restrictions.
For that reason, key civil-society agents and human-rights groups view donor-led planning with great suspicion. Some claim it to be a direct violation of humanitarian law and the principles as stipulated under UN Security Council Resolution 242, which clearly states that Israel must withdraw all armed forces from the occupied territories of 1967. Critics of donor-led planning also claim that it participates and coordinates with the ICA, and therefore indirectly legitimizes the occupation and its practices in Area C. Still others argue that Israel must be held accountable towards its responsibilities as an occupying power as specified under the Geneva conventions.
Nonetheless, there are few avenues by which the situation on the ground can be quickly and drastically altered. So in the meantime, spectators and stakeholders argue that there is a need to continue investing in humanitarian aid to respond to Palestinian needs. One approach that donors, international organizations, and UN agencies propose is to engage in their own “master-planning” initiatives in order to document and design plans to reflect the needs identified by local Palestinians with respect to individual communities. However, there are critical challenges posed for policy-makers, practitioners and planners who engage in master-planning across the Palestinian territories – particularly in Area C. The main challenge is that the ICA must approve all master-plans, which means that the passing of a sustainable plan for a Palestinian community rests in the hands of those least likely to approve it. This wastes efforts, while the broader process of master-planning leads ceaselessly to the shaping of smaller and broken communities.
Displacement by Design
The core feature of the Israeli occupation can be summarized as displacement by design, a process which encompasses designing and shaping the evolving state of Israel, alongside the systematic and continuous displacement of the indigenous population. To do so, Israel employs a variety of means including, war, geography, and law. The combination of tools helps separate Israelis from Palestinians and Palestinians from other Palestinians, in order to formalize Israeli colonial control and structural divisions.
In using urban-planning to design and organize communities, residences, infrastructures, and resources, Israel is clear in its aim to monopolize resources while annexing Palestinian lands to build Israeli settlements. The Israeli occupation employs planning as a tool to cause shifts in the local geography and territory, thereby serving broader state interests. By using arguments based on planning, the ICA issued roughly 9682 demolition orders between 2000 and 2012 for Palestinian structures. To date, at least 2829 of those structures have been demolished. Between 2006 and 2013, the ICA ordered the demolition of at least 624 Palestinian homes in the West Bank – not including East Jerusalem – which resulted in the displacement of 3075 persons, at least 1457 of them minors.
In 2009 the UN reported the highest number of home demolitions in Area C communities, where at least seventy-nine percent of the Palestinians displaced during this period were previously residing in the Jordan Valley. Often times this is done by declaring the area in question as a closed military zone, as in the case of Al-Hadidiya village in 2009 where 162 residents were displaced over a short period. This had a critical impact on a relatively small herding community, leaving the remaining families vulnerable to encroaching settlements and military raids.
Other methods to displace communities include designing a web-of-sorts, one that restricts Palestinian access and mobility. There are at least three main checkpoints that limit access into and movement within the Jordan Valley. These checkpoints separate people from land and land from the livelihoods of rural communities. In addition to physical barriers designed to restrict, limit, and prevent access to Palestinians, Israel enforces a permit and ID system in order to control individual access. It is evident that both physical and other legal means work towards limiting access to Palestinians, which makes ordinary and daily tasks substantially more difficult. An OCHA report explains how the ICA enforces the planning and permit system:
In order to obtain a building permit, a proposed construction must be consistent with an approved planning scheme-regional, outline or detailed. In practice, however, the Israeli authorities generally allow Palestinian construction only within the boundaries of an ICA detailed, or special plan, and those plans cover less than one percent of Area C, much of which is already built-up […] in the current system applied by the ICA, Palestinians have no role in zoning of Area C land. In addition, they no input into the development of plans for their communities or in approving construction; Israeli modifications to the Jordanian planning law in force at the start of the occupation eliminated Palestinian community participation and centralized authority for these tasks within the ICA.
Normalizing the Israeli Planning Regime: Donors, PA, and Local Contractors
Recently, donors have emphasized emerging development and infrastructural needs of Palestinians living in Area C. In addition to basic human needs, the EU and the World Bank have estimated the monetary importance of Area C and its resources, and their potential impact on the local Palestinian economy – about $3.4 billion. This attracts the interest of the Palestinian private sector, the PA, and other stakeholders, all of whom see a potential in investment and cooperation to access, control, and build on Area C resources.
At the humanitarian level, donors are interested in designing and planning infrastructural projects to meet local community needs. Nonetheless, any structural planning or implementation in Area C requires an approval from the ICA. Therefore, donors and humanitarian organizations continue to struggle with finding a median between funding or implementing critical development projects in Area C or jeopardizing their relationship with the Israeli authorities to whom they are completely dependent operationally.
This raises a series of ethical and legal questions for third-party stakeholders operating in the Palestinian territories. What, exactly, is the role of humanitarian agents in an ongoing conflict zone where land relations are at the core of dispute? How can the international assistance program assist the needs of Palestinians in Area C without negotiating their historical right to the land through direct coordination with the ICA and its policies? By gaining approval on all plans that detail building permits, and allocates key resources, is the international community and its efforts merely mediating occupation policy between the Israelis and Palestinians?
In recent years, third-party stakeholders have revised the term “master planning” in an attempt to create a parallel approach to the Israeli planning regime as a proposed solution to the development-based needs of Palestinians. The Office of the Quartet Representative website proudly announces that around 100 “community-driven” master plans for Area C have been developed since 2011. The Quartet also announces that 100 master plans for communities across Area C have been submitted to the Israeli authorities, but does not specify either time-frames for approval or other crucial details.
This paucity of information begs questions about how master plans are designed, by whom and for whom, and to what level “participation-planning” can help shape a grassroots, bottom-up plan to represent actual community needs. Participation-planning implies the active, free and engaged participation of community members – minorities, women, elders, youth – in making critical decisions with respect to the shaping of local spaces and use of local resources. The implication that participation-planning is enforced within broader master-planning activities raises serious concerns about popular consent. A key issue with participation-planning processes in the occupied territories is that planners are working with an occupied population directly, and often at the level of individual and isolated communities. As a result, the community is often in a vulnerable position as it participates in critical decision-making processes. That participation can take place without full knowledge of potential risks towards the community, neighboring village or town, or the overall Palestinian territories in the long-term. Furthermore, by working at the community level to produce and re-produce elastic borders and territorial alignments, the system directly or indirectly aids in fragmenting Palestine. This process divests from any national aspiration to de-colonize historic Palestine. Instead, it engages in activities that produce smaller and disconnected Palestinian communities.
More seriously, as donors and other agents are aware, any master plan approved by the ICA will seriously disadvantage Palestinians at every level. The final plan frequently fails to include several sustainable features, including water networks, access to arable/agricultural lands, human and infrastructural development, or networks that connect one Palestinian community to another. Planning through the ICA process ends up shaping isolated, smaller, and disjointed communities surrounded by structures of the occupation, including check-points, settlements, the Wall, and military zones or areas.
The PA maintains a passive-aggressive approach towards master-planning. It participates in the facilitation process of planning and design across Area C, while simultaneously stressing the importance of regaining control of the territory. To this end, both the PA and other international agents must consider the serious implications of master-planning. First, international humanitarian law is clear with respect to the 1967 border and therefore both the occupation and its structures are deemed illegal and unlawful. Second, as the ICA is undoubtedly an extension of the occupation, its policies and practices are both unlawful and discriminatory towards Palestinians. Therefore there are critical risks in negotiating or fine-tuning ICA policies with respect to planning in the interest of Palestinians in Area C.
There are also serious short-term and long-term consequences of enforcing or participating in ICA-enforced planning regulations for Palestinian communities. A key threat includes making permanent illegal settlements inside the 1967 borders, and the displacement of communities from Area C to other parts of the occupied territories. A critical report produced by Diakonia lays out a comprehensive legal analysis, which identifies the Israeli planning regime as “inherently unlawful,” discriminatory, and one that fails to respect and protect Palestinians and their properties as international law stipulates. The report states:
It is worth reiterating that parties to the conflict must bear in mind at all times the inviolability of the rights of the protected Palestinian population, as stipulated by Article 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The protection afforded to the Palestinian population cannot be undermined by any changes to the institutions or governments of the oPt, nor by any agreement between the authorities of the occupied territory and the occupying power. It should be noted in this regard, that the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip ( including Annex III, Article 27: Planning and Zoning) cannot derogate from the fundamental protections granted to the protected population under the law of occupation, and cannot serve to codify or justify an unlawful planning regime put in place by Israel; or explain the detrimental impediment on Palestinians in initiating, preparing, amending and abrogating planning schemes, issuing building permits and supervising and monitoring building activities.
International humanitarian law with respect to territorial changes clearly highlights that any changes made on the ground, policy, or local military law and practice cannot annul the protections safeguarded for Palestinians living under occupation. Thus there is clear protocol for donors – PA and other civil-society agents – to place pressure on Israel as the occupying power to enforce and implement the rights and responsibilities of an occupying power. As is made clear in international humanitarian law, Israel is obliged to administer the occupied territories, protect the local population, maintain law and order, and ensure that the rights and needs of the Palestinians under occupation are respected. Furthermore, in the context of prolonged occupation, the status of Palestinians as “protected persons” is far more serious. Both the occupation and the linked planning regime have continuously undermined that status.
One way to look at the entire occupation is to include the various aspects of how Israel exercises control over land and bodies. Area C, in particular, highlights the occupation’s character, which seeks to consistently de-develop and displace Palestinian communities. Therefore, interventions which donors propose must be critical, direct, and clear in targeting the occupation’s symptoms while constantly challenging it at its core.
Recommendations and Proposed Approaches to Planning
In light of the violations which international law clearly identifies, donors funding planning initiatives and their implementing partners, including UN agencies, must immediately halt all such practices and recognize that any coordination around planning and zoning legitimizes the illegal Israeli occupation and its practices across the Palestinian territories. Serious effort must be placed towards challenging the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories by holding Israel accountable to its obligations as an occupying power as stipulated under international law. Moreover, the PA must ensure that any bilateral agreements with Israel do not concede the rights of Palestinians, including their right to sovereignty over natural resources.
With respect to the international assistance program operating in the Palestinian territories, both humanitarian and development organizations must revise their interventions and reflect whether their presence furthers or distracts from the national liberation project for historic Palestine. Often, this may mean making difficult decisions to neither negotiate nor coordinate with the occupation, and to put Palestinian needs and rights above all operational protocols. In Area C, the situation is exceptionally dire, which is a clear indicator that the assistance program falls short of the needs of the local communities. Moreover, it is critical to hold Israel responsible to its duties as an occupying power. Currently, several curative and traditional models are being implemented across the Palestinian territories. With respect to Area C, donor and international engagement is limited and has yet to deeply consider alternatives to drastically improve the living conditions of the local population.
Some questions that both planners and practitioners must reflect on include: how to critically respond and challenge the ICA planning regime, and how can interventions reverse and improve the livelihoods and development of Area C. Some interventions could respond to the conditions heightened military occupation in Area C creates. Some concrete tasks include filling the gaps for rural communities by providing access to subsidized or sustainable water networks, animal fodder, agricultural inputs, and other infrastructural necessities for people and livestock. Another possible measure is preparing for post-demolition relief, in order to respond immediately to protect Palestinians against displacement.
For example, recently, the Red Cross reportedly altered its post-demolition intervention under Israeli pressure. Ran Goldstein from the Red Cross confirmed that tents would no longer be provided to Jordan Valley residents in cases of post-demolition. Such decisions are detrimental to the cause and struggle of Palestinian communities facing displacement and other occupation-related risks. Moreover, the failure of humanitarian organizations to protect vulnerable communities calls into question their legitimacy and accountability to humanitarian law, commitment to universally accepted principles, and human rights. In order to reverse the current status of Palestinians in Area C, donors and other stakeholders must launch an active campaign to build the resilience of communities, instead of taking reactionary or submissive approaches that continue to perpetuate the occupation.
Finally, any donor-led master planning initiative that works under the framework of the ICA will continue to be misplaced in its attempt to build sustainable and viable communities. Therefore donors and their partners must adopt a different approach: one that seeks to lobby against ICA control of planning across Area C, and restore authority to the Palestinians.
 Meron Benvenisti, Judea and Samaria Lexicon (Hebrew) (Jerusalem, 1987), 67-69.
 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), Labor Force Survey: Annual Report 2000, 2011 (Ramallah, Palestine).
 Policy Briefing: “Area C: More than 60% of the occupied West Bank threatened by Israeli annexation,” European Parliament Directorate- General for External Policies (April, 2013).
 OCHA, Al-Hadidiya Fact Sheet (July, 2009).