The root cause of home demolitions and displacement in Area C is inadequate plans or the absence of plans altogether and is therefore, a major source of friction and conflict between the Israeli authorities and the Palestinian population in the West Bank. The territorial fragmentation of the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C, following the Oslo Interim Agreement (1995), was based on demographic considerations, without any geographic or planning logic. Thus Areas A and B (40% of the West Bank) were drawn around the main Palestinian urban and rural population centers where the majority of its population reside, whereas Area C (60% of the West Bank) encompasses most of the agricultural land and natural resources. About 170,000 Palestinians live in villages in Areas C or in villages that straddle Area C and either A or B of the West Bank.
In Area C, the planning authority rests exclusively with the Civil Administration (CA). This means the CA has total authority over plans which regulate the construction and rehabilitation of infrastructure (e.g. water cisterns, wells, sewage and water treatment/purification plants, waste disposal sites, electricity utilities and roads), public buildings (e.g. schools, medical clinics), as well as houses and other structures (e.g. agricultural sheds, greenhouses). Given the lack of appropriate plans, thousands of Palestinian residents cannot apply for building permits and are therefore compelled to build their homes and utilities without a permit.
These installations are subsequently demolished by the CA or remain under threat of demolition. As a consequence, most of the Palestinian residents of Area C have no regular access to water, electricity, sewage and roads, and there is a distinct lack of public services such as schools, health clinics or employment zones. Even the construction of agricultural infrastructure is prohibited in most cases by the CA.
In 1967, approximately 69,000 Palestinians lived in East Jerusalem. Today, the estimated Palestinian population is 268,000 (the Israeli population of Jerusalem is approximately 495,000, of which 190,000 live in East Jerusalem). Despite the fact that the Palestinian population has quadrupled, underlying planning policies in Jerusalem seek to maintain a demographic ratio of 70/30 in favor of the Jewish population, while the actual ratio today is more like 64/36. The existing statutory plans prepared for Palestinian neighborhoods and villages, which were approved during the end of the 1980s to early 2000, were drawn up in line with this policy. This affected the outline plans prepared for these neighborhoods, which provide extremely limited land for their natural growth as well as truncated building rights. In many cases plans were practically irrelevant to the needs of the local population by the time they became statutory.
It is estimated that of the 39,000 existing housing units in East Jerusalem, about 20,000 have been built without permits. More than 10,000 housing units are required to meet the needs of Palestinian residents and the shortage continues to grow by about 1,500 each year.Further, there is a tremendous shortage of schools/classrooms, health clinics, public gardens, playgrounds and sports facilities. Very few areas are zoned for business activity, and none of the neighborhoods dispose of areas for light industry and commerce.
Since it is almost impossible for residents to obtain building permits on the basis of existing plans, a large number of residents in search of housing solutions have left the municipal area of Jerusalem (despite the fact that they lose their right to residence in Jerusalem and other social rights ). The vast majority of residents who have remained in Jerusalem are forced to contend with plans that do not allow for development and do not address their residential and other basic needs.
Bimkom strives promote appropriate plans that meet to the residents’ needs, now and in the future by:
(i) Providing planning assistance to individual communities: Bimkom actively responds to requests of local residents who turn to us for planning assistance and/or for advancing construction of infrastructure and services, in East Jerusalem and in Area C of the West Bank. In Area C we are preparing a detailed plan for a village and we provide assistance to communities that decide to prepare plans on their own. In East Jerusalem we work in individual neighborhoods with residents to identify specific planning-related problems such as lack of sufficient classroom space and formulate possible solutions.
(ii) Working directly vis-à-vis the planning authorities and decision makers, both through dialogue and advocacy and, when needed, through planning objections: Bimkom advocates for changes to existing plans, or for new plans altogether. In East Jerusalem, along with residents, we advocate for the advancement of solutions formulated with the residents, to address their pressing planning and development problems.
(iii) Conducting surveys of needs and formulating planning recommendations: Bimkom conducts planning needs surveys and submits them along with documents of planning principles to the authorities which regulate planning in Area C to ensure the plans they prepare take into account the needs of the community. We also analyze existing plans in East Jerusalem and study and prepare land status maps of Palestinian villages so that residents understand the delineation and status of their land.