We previously reported here on the worrisome escalation in demolition of Palestinian structures in South Hebron Hills. The body issuing the demolition orders is the deceptively-named “Civil Administration”. Contrary to its name (invented in the 1980’s by Ariel Sharon to mislead the outside world), this “Administration” is in fact a military body (its former name was simply “military government”), and its head is a general serving full-time in the Israeli military. It claims authority to run Palestinian civilian life in the less-densely populated West Bank “Area C”, which accounts for some 60% of the territory and about 150,000 Palestinian residents.
We will continue to shine a light upon the ways in which this “Administration” misgoverns Palestinian life. A future post will discuss the demolition orders on solar-wind energy systems installed at rural Palestinian communities by our friends, the Israeli NGO COMET-ME; systems funded with the help of donors and governments across the world.
Meanwhile, enter another player, stage right. In late February, an Israeli NGO called “Regavim” submitted a High Court appeal, together with the Sussya settlement, against the military – claiming that it should demolish more Palestinian homes in the region, and faster! We kid you not. Here is the original appeal (Hebrew, pdf).
The mysterious-sounding Regavim NGO presents itself in the appeal as “an a-political movement… to prevent illegal takeover of national lands by certain bodies”. However, its own publicized record reveals that its main business is 1. To force the government’s hand to destroy Palestinian structures, whether in the West Bank or in Israel itself, 2. To identify and suggest to the government new opportunities for such demolitions, and 3. To try and stop demolitions and evictions of unauthorized Israeli-settler structures in the West Bank. “A-political”, indeed. To cap the irony, Regavim’s head Rabbi Yehuda Eliyahu himself lives in an unauthorized settlement-outpost in northern West Bank. Their main field worker, Ovadia Arad named as a co-plaintiff, is a settler as well.
Regavim is emblematic of a trend in Israeli far-right circles. Since they recognize the power and appeal of basic human rights and justice, they have been setting up phony and mendacious imitations of respected human-rights organizations working on Palestinian human rights issues. These imitations turn the human-rights terminology on its head, in order to leverage the moral authority associated with it, while confusing and misleading the general public.
In the appeal, Regavim and the Sussya settlers refer to themselves as “residents of the area” and “farmers”. That is, they – who settled in the 1980’s as part of a heavily-subsidized takeover of Palestinian lands – pretend to be the indigenous, original residents. The A-Nawwajeh family of Palestinian Susiya (named as defendants 4 through 34), having lived in the area for generations, suddenly become – in Regavim’s upside-down terminology – the squatters who had set up “illegal outposts” arround the “poor settlers”; trouble-makers who should be evicted to the town of Yatta.
Of course, this is a bald-faced lie, one of dozens of distortions and outright lies in this frivolous Regavim appeal. Even the Israeli authorities have already conceded that the A-Nawwajeh, like other Palestinian South Hebron Hills residents, are the legal owners of their land. Unlike the settlers of Sussya, they have to live on the land with no government assistance, and against the continued restrictions from the military and physical harassment from the settlers. Here are a couple of pictures from our recent visit to the A-Nawwajeh hamlet.
Apparently, truth or justice are not a goal of Regavim, or of the Sussya settlers who have unfortunately joined this appeal, and possibly even pushed Regavim to submit it. As far as these ideological settlers are concerned, all of life in Israel-Palestine is a negative-sum game, in which the overarching goal is to retain exclusive control of the entire country, while squeezing more and more Palestinians into smaller and smaller enclaves – and if possible push them out of the country altogether. It is a sad and immoral world-view, but unfortunately its holders are very close to the corridors of power nowadays.
At other places and times, many settlers at Sussya and elsewhere have extolled their “good neighborly relations” with local Palestinians, and complained that only the media, or human-rights activists, are seeing and brewing trouble where there isn’t any. Many settlers also repeatedly claim that they only wish to live peacefully on these sacred hills, not to lord over others.
However, this court appeal on which the entire settlement of Sussya is signed as a co-plaintiff, reveals a very different perspective. The plaintiffs view their neighbors who have lived in the area long before them, as illegitimate and criminal. They accuse their neighbors of guilt-by-association, in completely unrelated terror attacks that took place at other parts of the West Bank 20-30 km away from Susiya (clause 10), and in thefts of livestock from Sussya settlement, even though these were admittedly carried out by persons from Yatta (clause 11: “…it can be assumed that the thefts were aided and abetted by accurate information… collected by the A-Nawajeh, living in illegal structures and making observations into the settlement”).
What is more disturbing to us, is that the Sussya settlement leadership has no qualms about exploiting the settlers’ structurally privileged citizenship status and the Palestinians’ discriminated status as subjects of a military regime. In this appeal, the settlers explicitly attempt to leverage that regime to punish and evict their neighbors in ways that would have been impossible, had the two population groups enjoyed equal legal and political status.
The future vision of settlers and Palestinians living together as equals, is plausible in principle both for us and for many Palestinians. Unfortunately, the Sussya settlers in submitting this appeal, and in this appeal’s foul language, reject this vision outright.
Frivolous lawsuits like this one can actually help the “Civil Administration”. The differences between the “Administration” and ideological-settler bodies like Regavim are only of style and nuance. Both the settlers and the “Administration” are determined to reduce and, if possible, eradicate Palestinian life in “Area C”, in the apparent hope of making permanent the Israeli control of this vast region. Unlike settlers, the “Administration” is bound by the need to maintain a facade of respectability and legalistic pretexts. Thus, the Regavim appeal can present the “Civil Administration” in the public mind as even-handed or pro-Palestinian, and exaggerate its disagreement with ideological settlers. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But amazingly, the court appeal itself presents concrete evidence that exposes this charade for what it is.
Clauses 40-49 deal with Regavim’s attempts to obtain information about Palestinian structures already destroyed by the “Civil Administration” for “security reasons.” The “Administration” refused to release detailed data, saying laconically that “all demolitions are due to security reasons”. Data were obtained by Regavim indirectly via other government arms. Here’s what they found (translation, emphasis and comments by Assaf):
44. In parallel, the plaintiff has obtained via a separate FOIA request the GIS layer containing all illegal-construction cases in the Palestinian sector. Combining the two sources brings to light the reality of “structures” destroyed by the Civil Administration in 2008-2011, allegedly for being a “security risk.”
[45. Data table ]
….46. These data show, that while the defendants claim all structures destroyed in the Palestinian sector in 2008-2011 were destroyed for being a security risk – out of 195 such structures, only 28 were actual buildings, while 51 “security risk structures” were cisterns, 68 “security risk structures” were sheds, chicken coops and livestock pens, and 12 “security risk structures” were improved agricultural fields.
47. This clearly indicates, that despite clear instructions from the government to focus on security-related demolitions, the Civil Administration avoids destroying such structures, and instead focuses on destroying cisterns, sheds, chicken coops, livestock pens and agricultural fields – in order to present a statistical balance with destruction in the Jewish [settler] sector.
48. It should be noted that from a separate FOIA request by the plaintiff about construction permits awarded in the Palestinian sector it turned out that in 2008, 74 such permits were issued, in 2009 six permits, and in 2010 only 7 permits were approved for the entire Palestinian sector of “Area C”. It is well-known that every year, thousands of structures are built in that sector… the message internalized by the Palestinian public is that there is no need to apply for permits…
It is rare to see far-right settlers, in an open legal document, confirm word-for-word what Palestinians and the human-right community have been arguing for years:
– That “security” is usually a ruse by Occupation authorities, used to mask the true motives,
– That recently Palestinians have been virtually blocked from obtaining building permits,
– and that these policies undermine any remaining semblance of legitimacy that the “Civil Administration” might have had a right to claim.
One might wonder how Regavim still thinks that this is somehow evidence for discrimination against what they call “the Jewish sector” – the state-funded, state-built settlements whose residents wield immense power and occupy several seats in the Israeli cabinet. One might also wonder, whether Regavim thinks that 150,000 Palestinians should be allowed to construct buildings to live in at all (the answer seems to be “no”) – or whether Regavim feels fine with the “Civil Administration” refusing to issue any permits to Palestinians whatsoever (the answer seems to be “yes, as long as they also make sure to destroy all those thousands of unapproved Palestinian structures”). The permit numbers in the appeal also confirm the escalation in anti-Palestinian “Area C” policies since the establishment of Netanyahu’s current government in early 2009. We have reported and analyzed this escalation from the start.
The Regavim appeal is a clumsy attempt to shift the debate towards how stringent or lax “Civil Administration” policies should be. However, the information presented, and the reality of unequal treatment as known to anyone with even a basic knowledge, turn their appeal into valuable supporting evidence for the following conclusions:
1. This outdated Israeli military body, the so-called “Civil Administration”, should not be allowed to run Palestinian life anymore, and
2. The situation of fully-privileged citizens living side-by-side with rightless subjects of military rule, is unacceptable and must stop.
We welcome the sudden interest of settler groups in fairness and government accountability. They should be forewarned, though, that the quest for the truth, fairness, transparency and good governance – if carried out properly to its logical conclusion – will most likely lead to outcomes diametrically opposed to their political goals.
Assaf Oron and Ehud Krinis