25% of Illegal Building in W. Bank on Arab Land

At least 25 percent of the structures built by Israelis in the West Bank's Area C (full Israeli control) were constructed on private Arab-owned land, an internal report by the Civil Administration found.

According to the report, only 0.5 percent of the illegal structures were constructed on land registered to Jewish owners.

The data also indicate that Israel is practicing a discriminatory policy: It is more lenient on illegal construction by Jews than by Palestinians.

Although the Jewish population in the area is four times bigger than the Arab population, the authorities have demolished triple the number of Palestinian structures compared to Jewish structures.

The data, published here for the first time, appear in a comprehensive report prepared by the Civil Administration, a government body entrusted with administering all nonmilitary issues in the territories.

The report, compiled late last year, determines that approximately one-third (900 structures) of illegal buildings in the territories were constructed within existing settlements.

The veteran settlement of Ofra, for example, has 179 illegal buildings out of 600 homes. Most of these illegal structures were built on privately-owned Palestinian lands registered to West Bank residents.

The administration has located 2,764 illegal structures, of which more than 650 were built on private-owned Palestinian lands. Another 900 were built on territory whose legal status has not yet been determined.

Some 1,200 were built on land owned by the state. Only 15 were built on land registered to Jewish owners.

The Civil Administration is responsible for locating illegal construction, issuing demolition orders and carrying them out. It has 270,000 settlers under its jurisdiction, as well as 70,000 Palestinians.

The data reveal that from 1997 to 2006, the administration located twice as many illegal Palestinian structures - approximately 6,000 - as Jewish ones. Of these, approximately 2,000 buildings were demolished - 1,500 by the administration, and the rest by the Palestinians themselves at the administration's orders.

The number of Jewish structures demolished by the administration totaled 150, with another 500 demolished by the settlers themselves.

Dror Etkes, who coordinates the Peace Now movement's Settlement Watch project, reacted to the data by accusing the government of "criminally employing its agencies in order to minimize the number of Palestinians residing in Area C and push the Palestinian population into enclaves so as to allow Israel to maintain its control over most of the West Bank."

The Civil Administration's spokesman, Zidki Maman, responded that "the number of structures that have been demolished reflect the number of structures that have been located."

The Civil Administration was formed in 1981 "to manage the local population's civil affairs for its welfare." It was set up to free the army from attending to the needs of Palestinian residents of the territories, though its actions are subject to the approval of the Israel Defense Forces.

Essentially, it is supposed to play the role of the Interior Ministry in the territories, and among other tasks, it is responsible for issuing entry permits into Israel.

However, civil rights activists have long argued that the administration was more concerned with promoting the government's interests than with the welfare of the population under its jurisdiction.