Israel's Defense Chief Claims 'Security Difficulties' in Bid to Block Palestinian Housing Development

Israel has no planning authority in the West Bank's Area B, which is under Palestinian civil jurisdiction

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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 the Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya (background) and houses under construction in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank, March 2017.
The Palestinian village of Turmus Ayya (background) and houses under construction in the Jewish settlement of Shilo in the occupied West Bank, March 2017. Credit: THOMAS COEX / AFP
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett wants to prevent legal Palestinian construction in the town of Turmus Ayya, which is located in Area B, the part of the West Bank under Palestinian civil jurisdiction.

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Haaretz Weekly Ep. 63Credit: Haaretz

The construction raises security difficulties and “its main purpose is to challenge Israeli security bodies, states the letter sent on Thursday by Bennett’s adviser on settlement affairs, Avi Roeh. The letter was written in preparation for the government’s response to a petition filed by a Palestinian developer who wants to build on the land. The developer’s goal is “to encourage a Palestinian takeover of the land in Judea and Samaria,” says the letter.

Area B is under Palestinian civil administration and under Israeli security authority. The Palestinian Authority has planning responsibility for the area, so for Israel to be able to prevent construction there it needs a security justification. But the letter does not provide details of what these security issues the building would cause are.

“The construction on the border of Area B raises security difficulties that cannot be answered in a reasonable way,” states the letter. “There is no real justification for carrying it out specifically in the present location.

“Because the project represents part of the declared efforts of the developer to encourage Palestinian takeover of the land in Judea and Samaria, the manner of handling security concerning him could well involve widescale security implications in the rest of the area of Judea and Samaria, which exceeds the similar implications if this was private construction,” wrote Roeh.

Bennett’s office declined to answer a question from Haaretz as to the nature of the security implications mentioned in the letter.

The letter was prepared as part of the state’s response to the petition filed by the Palestinian developer Khaled Sabawi, who is preparing the land owned by his company for construction. The land is located northeast of Ramallah, a few kilometers from the Shiloh bloc of settlements in Area C of the northern West Bank. Area C is territory under full Israeli civil and security jurisdiction. Settlers from the region sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a letter in the past asking that the Palestinian construction be stopped because they claimed it was a security threat.

It has been reported that the developer and his workers at the site have suffered from harassment, violence and attempts to stop their work, which was halted in June and has not been restarted. Sabawi, who is represented by attorney Michael Sfard, petitioned the High Court of justice, asking the IDF to guard the work at the site. The government must submit its response to the petition in another 15 days.

Bennett’s position has not yet been approved by legal advisers, so for the time being it has no practical effect. Bennett’s position will be presented in the discussion of the matter to be conducted by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, along with the forum convened by the Military Advocate General.

Sfard said: “The Israeli right seems to think that the Palestinians can build only on the moon, and maybe not even there. This is an area that even according to the shameful Trump plan is supposed to be Palestinian, and the attempt to prevent construction there proves that the leaders of the settlers are aiming not only at an apartheid regime, but, it seems, forced migration as well. In other words, a transfer of Palestinians,” said Sfard.

“The construction project in Turmus Ayya was meant to ease the enormous housing shortage in Palestinian society and if it is blocked, it will have widescale implications of completely preventing construction outside of the built-up Palestinian areas,” Sfard added.

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