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Ha'aretz, AFP, Sydney Herald Articles re: Peace Now Report on Denial of Palestinian Building Permits"

...for each building permit given to Palestinians 55 demolition orders were issued...according to a report by the settler watchdog group Peace Now.

See more coverage of the Peace Now Report from BBC News, Ynet, USA Today, & DPA

2/21/08

Ha'aretz (AP): "Peace Now: Israel denies Area C Palestinians building permits"

By The Assoicated Press

Israel denied 94 percent of the building permit requests submitted by Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank over the past seven years, the Peace Now group reported Thursday.

70,000 Palestinians live in Area C, which according to the Oslo Accord gives Israel full civilian and military control of the area.

In all, 91 of 1,624 requested permits were approved, Peace Now said. By contrast, 18,472 apartments and homes were built between 2000 and September 2007 in Jewish West Bank settlements, the group said, citing Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics.

Military officials in the West Bank responsible for construction said the figures were distorted.

Peace Now also said the army demolished 33 percent of the 4,993 cases of illegal Palestinian construction against which it issued demolition orders. By contrast, 7 percent of the 2,900 cases of illegal settler construction that drew demolition orders were torn down, the group said.

The data demonstrate clear and conspicuous discrimination against the Palestinian population, Peace Now said.

The report applied only to the 60 percent of the West Bank that Israel fully controls.

Peace Now's assertions on the denial of building requests were based on data that Meretz MK Chaim Oron received in response to a query to Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Information on demolitions were drawn from military data Peace Now obtained.

Capt. Zidki Maman, spokesman for the military unit that oversees civil affairs in the West Bank, accused Peace Now of skewing data to fit its political agenda.

The number of building permits was low because Palestinians rarely submit requests, and then, generally after they receive demolition orders, Maman said. If Palestinians would submit request for building permits, there could be thousands more approvals, he said.

He would not speculate on why Palestinians did not submit more requests. Palestinians have long complained that Israeli officials reject their building requests.

Maman said the data on demolitions were distorted because the number of settler demolitions did not include construction the settlers themselves tore down after receiving demolition orders. The data on Palestinian demolitions did include self-demolition, inflating the numbers, Maman said.

A new neighborhood comprising 27 trailers is currently under construction at the settlement of Eli, north of Ramallah, even though Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed publicly after the Annapolis conference that any such building would cease.


2/21/08

AFP: "Israel denies building permits to West Bank Palestinians: report"

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel has issued only 91 construction permits to Palestinians in the West Bank over the past seven years but granted 18,472 to Jewish settlers, Israeli activists said on Thursday.
At the same time, for each building permit given to Palestinians 55 demolition orders were issued and about 18 Palestinian buildings were torn down, according to a report by the settler watchdog group Peace Now.

The number of permit rejections for Palestinians between 2000 and 2007 was 94 percent while virtually all settler requests were granted, it said.

Over the seven years, Israeli authorities ordered the demolition of almost 5,000 Palestinian structures it considered illegal and razed one third of them. At the same time, 2,900 demolition orders were issued against settlers, but just seven percent were implemented.

The main settlers' organisation dismissed the figures.

"This report is biased and partial as it only represents a tiny part of the reality on the ground by forgetting to mention wildcat Palestinian construction over the whole territory, mostly without seeking any authorisation," the Council for Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria (West Bank) said.

All settlements built in the West Bank and east Jerusalem -- which Israel captured in the 1967 war -- are considered illegal under international law, and the Palestinians have repeatedly demanded their removal.

The settlements issue is one of the most divisive in the decades-old Middle East conflict and has been in the spotlight at recently revived peace talks.

Some 283,000 settlers live in the so-called Sector C, which is under Israeli control and covers 60 percent of West Bank. Of the 2.3 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank, 70,000 are in Sector C.

More than a third of the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank were built on private Palestinian land seized for "security purposes," Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported on Sunday, citing an unreleased army report.


February 23, 2008

Sydney Morning Herald: "Demolitions continue on shaky ground"

The farmers of Beit Ula spent two years preparing their new groves of fruit and nut and olive trees, clearing rocks, building stone terraces and digging deep cisterns to catch the scarce rainwater.

It took the Israeli Army less than a day to destroy it.

"We heard they were here at 6.30 in the morning, when it was still dark," said Sami al-Adam, one of eight farmers whose terraces were bulldozed on January 15.

"There must have been dozens of soldiers with jeeps and bulldozers and they brought a lot of Filipino workers, or maybe they were Thai, who pulled up the trees and cut them and buried them so we wouldn't be able to plant them again," he said.

When the soldiers and police withdrew from the site, in the low hills on the West Bank's border with Israel, 6.4 hectares of trees and terraces had been uprooted and bulldozed. The concrete cisterns were broken open and choked with rubble. Two years of labour and a cash investment of more than _100,000 ($160,000) had all gone to waste.

The Israeli military department that controls the occupied West Bank - called the Civil Administration - subsequently said it demolished the terraces because they were built illegally on land belonging to the state of Israel.

This came as a surprise to the West Bank farmers, who brandished documents with Palestinian, Israeli and even Turkish stamps which, they say, prove their title to the land. And it came as an even bigger surprise to the European Union, which had paid for the lion's share of the project, _64,000, as part of a campaign to improve "food security" for the Palestinian population.

"We were pretty distressed, obviously," said a European Commission spokeswoman, Alex de Mauny. "It's a huge concern, not only in terms of the livelihood of the people we were trying to help out - obviously it's a disaster in human terms. These are not rich people, they are living very much on the margins - but there's the broader issue of why it happened, and how we can stop it from happening again."

The hows and whys of the episode are, as usual in this part of the world, subject to widely divergent claims.

A statement from the Civil Administration maintained, contrary to the EU's statement, that the Europeans had not funded the project. An administration spokesman said that the West Bank land in question was state land belonging to Israel, but at the time of writing it had yet to respond to questions about how and when the land had been seized by the army.

The administration also says that the Palestinian farmers were officially informed that they were building illegally on state land in 2006 and given the statutory 45 days to appeal before the demolition notice became final.

One of the eight farmers, Mahmoud al-Adam, shows visitors a military form which he found under a stone on his plot in June 2006, telling him he would be evicted from 2.5 hectares of state land which he was illegally building on, and that he would be charged with the cost of the demolition.

Such forms are indeed the Israeli Army's standard method of notifying its Palestinian subjects of house demolitions or land seizures. But there was apparently no warning to the other seven farmers. And on the day of the operation, 6.4 hectares of terrace and trees were destroyed, not 2.5 hectares.

"It's a routine action. It's nothing special. We do these activities every day in Judea and Samaria," said a spokesman for the Civil Administration, using the biblical terms for the West Bank. "We are very strict about these things. If you let one person do it unauthorised all the others will come after him."

This strictness seems to apply to some people more than others, however. This week the Israeli group Peace Now reported on demolitions carried out in "Area C" - the 60 per cent of the West Bank that officially remains under full Israeli rule.

Figures supplied by the Civil Administration say that in the seven years to September 2007 nearly 5000 demolition orders were issued against unauthorised Palestinian houses, buildings or infrastructure in Area C. Of these, 1663 were executed, or roughly a third.

Yet in the same period 2900 demolition orders were issued against illegal building by Jewish settlers in the same area, but only 199, or 7 per cent, were actually carried out.

And while the Civil Administration issued permits for 18,472 housing units for Jews in those seven years, the indigenous Palestinians were granted 91 building permits.

Peace Now's figures are that 94 per cent of the Palestinian applications were rejected. These included requests to build or extend houses, repair roads, water pipes, wells and other vital infrastructure.

"The numbers speak for themselves," said Hagit Ofran, a settlement monitor with Peace Now. "Settler lands are being supported by government funds and planners and so on, but often the settlers also build without permits, and on state land, and when they do nothing happens to them. There is no enforcement of the law against settlers . but law enforcement against the Palestinians is very efficient."

The Civil Administration accuses Peace Now of distorting the truth. The administration says the reason why so few permits are granted to the 70,000 Palestinians living in Area C, and why so many demolitions are carried out against them, is that most do not apply for permits until their homes or infrastructure have already been condemned by military inspectors and their applications must therefore be refused.

Coincidentally, this week also brought news of the establishment of two new Jewish settlements in the West Bank - one in the Jordan Valley and another purporting to be a new neighbourhood of Eli, an older Jewish settlement near Nablus.

While all Jewish settlements in the West Bank are regarded by the International Court of Justice as in breach of Geneva Conventions banning colonialism, these new ones - like dozens of other so-called settlement outposts - are illegal even under Israeli law.

They also conflict with Israel's promise to freeze settlement activity under the terms of the 2003 "road map for peace" and last year's Annapolis process.

Yet the new illegal Jewish settlements are guarded by the Israeli Defence Force and have already been hooked up to state water, power and road networks. This week the Civil Administration told journalists that any future attempt to evict the settlers or demolish their structures would depend on the political leadership and on Israel's High Court of Justice.

"I don't want to predict how this will end," a spokesman told The Jerusalem Post.