Some 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control, according to new data published Tuesday by a UN body. That figure is considerably higher than 150,000 to 180,000 Palestinians said to live in the area, according to a 2008 estimate by the Israeli NGO, Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights.
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The new estimate, published by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in occupied Palestinian territory (OCHA), concludes that there are 297,000 residents living in 532 residential areas in Area C, which is under full Israeli civil and security control, and which comprises just over 60 percent of the West Bank. There are 67,016 Palestinians living in 241 communities and villages which are entirely in Area C. Of these 51 are villages and cities with most of their built-up area in Area C , with the rest in Areas A (under Palestinian control) and B (under shared Israeli-Palestinian control); 240 residential areas are cities and villages with less than half of their land in C.
The Palestinian population in Area C is considered to be especially vulnerable and in need of international assistance because of limited access to educational and health-care institutions, harassment by settlers, proximity to firing zones and insufficient connection to water and electricity infrastructure. The population was a special target of the 2014-2016 Strategic Response Plan of the humanitarian community in the occupied Palestinian territory, a group of international aid organizations, primarily European ones.
The OCHA figures are also included in an updated report on Area C by delegations of the European Union countries in East Jerusalem and Ramallah. It was sent about two weeks ago to EU decision makers in Brussels, an EU source told Haaretz. It is based on a report from two and a half years ago, in which the European representatives criticized the Israeli policy of discrimination in Area C, which allows the construction of settlements and forbids Palestinian construction in the most of the area. The report also described the trend of evicting Palestinian communities from their homes as forced uprooting, which is forbidden according to international law.
The source told Haaretz that for the EU the political importance of Area C has never been dependent on the number of residents, “but on guaranteeing the territorial contiguity of the Palestinian state, and the territory earmarked for it according to UN decisions. So that as far as we’re concerned, it makes no difference whether the number of residents is 300,000 or half of that or less.”
The artificial administrative division into Areas A, B and C was set in the 1995 interim agreement, part of the Oslo Accords, and was supposed to be terminated after about five years. Until 2000 the size of the areas has changed several times. Since 2000 there has been no change in the size of Area C, which comprises 61 percent of the area of the West Bank.
About 18 percent of the area of the West Bank is defined as a closed military area designated for military training, while the size of Area A, which is under Palestinian civilian and policing authority, comprises 17.7 percent of the West Bank. There are 38 communities (with about 6,200 residents) whose source of livelihood is herding and agriculture, who live within the firing zones. Many of them were there even before the area was defined as a firing zone. In addition to the danger to their lives, the residents are also subject to temporary evacuation orders from the Israel Defense Forces.
OCHA has mapped 183 residential areas that are communities of Bedouin and shepherds, with a population of slightly over 30,000. About 27 percent of the entire population in Area C are registered as refugees, whose families were expelled from their original homes after 1948.
Eighty seven percent of the area of the Jordan Valley is defined as Area C. The Jordan Valley itself takes up almost a third of the area of the West Bank. Israel’s policy of limiting the number of Palestinian residents there began long before the Oslo Accords, when extensive firing zones and nature reserves were set aside there. Outside the city of Jericho, which is defined as Area A, there are 68 Palestinian residential communities in Area C in the Jordan Valley, with about 18,000 residents, 42 percent of them registered as refugees. In the Jordan Valley there are 37 Jewish settlements, with about 9,500 residents.
According to OCHA estimates, the Jerusalem district has the largest number of Palestinians living in Area C - about 74,000; another 67,000 Palestinians in Area C live in the Hebron area. According to OCHA, 18,000 of the 60,000 residents of El Bireh live in neighborhoods in Area C. When Haaretz expressed surprise at this large number and other large numbers of residents of cities and villages living in neighborhoods in Area C, OCHA replied that in all the places where the estimate was higher than 3,000 people in one residential area - they conducted another investigation to confirm the figure.
The data collection was carried out by OCHA teams between June and September 2013, in cooperation with the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics and with the Ministry of Local Government and its elected representatives in the communities. The work was based on the distribution of questionnaires, cross-referencing the figures with aerial photographs and figures for water and electricity consumption, as well as a comparison of the data with that of the Central Bureau of Statistics. One of the reasons for this investigation by OCHA is that Palestinian Authority population censuses failed to relate to the artificial administrative division of the interim agreement.