Israeli Lawmakers Debate 'Construction Terror' by Palestinians in West Bank

Moti Yogev of the right-wing Habayit Hayehudi party has praised the implementation of demolition orders against Palestinian structures built without permits

MK Moti Yogev, right, speaking at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in 2014.
Michal Fattal

MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) has called Palestinian construction in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank “construction terror,” echoing settler activists who say the area must be defended against a “takeover” by Palestinians.

“Our goal is to protect state lands, consistent with decisions by the state not letting their status be determined by construction terror guided by the Palestinian Authority with the intervention of international elements such as the European Union,” Yogev said.

He was speaking to the subcommittee of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that deals with civilian and security matters in the West Bank. Yogev, a member of Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party, heads the panel.

Some of the construction in question is funded by the European Union and is carried out without the approval of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank. Yogev called for a “legislative solution” that would block Palestinians’ recourse to petitioning the High Court of Justice against demolition orders. A summary of the subcommittee’s discussion has been published on the Knesset website.

At the meeting, Yogev praised both the Civil Administration and Meir Deutsch, a representative of the pro-settler group Regavim, for ensuring that the law would be enforced, namely the implementation of demolition orders against Palestinian structures built without permits.

The head of the Civil Administration’s enforcement unit, Marco Ben-Shabat, said that as a result of increased enforcement the number of internationally-funded projects in Area C had dropped by more than half, especially in the area around the city Ma’aleh Adumim east of Jerusalem. There has also been an increase in the confiscation of property such as prefab structures and toilets belonging to settlers as well as Palestinians, in order to curb illegal construction.

Ben-Shabbat said that in 2017 the number of seizures was the highest ever, 720. He did detail how much of this was Palestinian property and how much was settler property.

Stalled Oslo Accords

Israel does not permit construction, development or the hooking up of buildings to power and water lines in dozens of Palestinian communities in Area C, where Israel has both administrative and security control.

The Oslo Accords' division of the West Bank into areas A, B and C was meant to gradually transfer territory to the Palestinian Authority. This division was supposed to end in 1999 with the beginning of the accords’ final stage.

The division was maintained, however, and Israel retained control over 60 percent of the West Bank, continuing to impose construction bans on the Palestinians who, from lack of choice, built simple structures without obtaining permits.

In recent years, Yogev and Regavim have reproached the Civil Administration and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories for not enforcing demolition orders in Palestinian towns and villages, particularly Bedouin ones.

They have also criticized what they called incompetence in the face of European aid to these communities, which has included prefab homes to replace tents and shacks that were torn down. This aid has also included structures for schools, clinics and toilets.

The European Union and the United Nations say that this is humanitarian aid. European officials have said their goal is to establish a Palestinian state, with Area C an integral part of it.

“We’ve made clear [to the Europeans] each time that we’re dealing with illegal construction that is slated for demolition, not for humanitarian aid,” Jonathan Miller, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of European Organizations, said at the subcommittee meeting.

In reply to Yogev, who asked if action was being taken against the Europeans, Miller said: “We simply tell them not to come to us with complaints, and definitely not to seek our help when a structure is demolished.”

Much of the discussion was devoted again to Bedouin communities in Khan al-Ahmar east of Jerusalem near Ma’aleh Adumim. Ben-Shabat said these villages could not be evacuated without a thought-out solution. The one being crafted by the Civil Administration involves transferring the community, in which a school made of discarded tires was built, to East Jerusalem’s Abu Dis area by the end of June as part of a move called “the Western plan.”

Blocking the Bedouin

Kobi Eliraz, an assistant to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, said at the meeting that Lieberman was involved in the plans regarding illegal construction by the Bedouin. “No head of a [settler] regional council will accept permanent communities by Bedouin in his jurisdiction, even if it’s regulated,” Eliraz said.

“Obviously, we have a problem. Regarding the Khan al-Ahmar area, we thought that it was strategically correct not to let this group become a Bedouin town, which is why we decided to give this issue top priority.”

But attorney Shlomo Lecker, who is representing 20 Bedouin communities, told Haaretz that the transfer of the Khan al-Ahmar community to Abu Dis was now before the High Court of Justice. The community opposes its transfer to a smaller and urban area, a move that does not take into account the community’s lifestyle and main source of livelihood, its flocks of sheep.

“The court has not heard the petition yet but has issued a temporary injunction against the demolition of the school and other structures,” Lecker said. “Still, the subcommittee was discussing dates of transfer as if the High Court were in its pocket.”

Guy Ifrah, acting mayor of Ma’aleh Adumim, joined in the praise of the Civil Administration for increasing law enforcement, but had reservations about the transfer of the Jahalin Bedouin to the Abu Dis area.

“The decision to allocate an area designated for permanent dwellings for the Bedouin is a wrong one,” he said. “It could give the clan a sense that the state was resigned to their presence in the area.”

In earlier sessions of the subcommittee, Ma’aleh Adumim officials complained that the city could not expand due to the Bedouin communities in the area. After the signing of the Oslo Accords a quarter-century ago, the city expanded into areas from which hundreds of Jahalin Bedouin had been evicted; they were forced to move next to a garbage dump in Abu Dis.