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From the field

5 August '08: Civil Administration threatens to demolish most of al-‘Aqabah village

The Civil Administration has issued orders to demolish most of the houses in the village of al-‘Aqabah, which lies in the northern Jordan Valley, and many houses in other villages in the area. Israel's planning policy in the West Bank, which is based on outline plans from British Mandate times, centers on preventing Palestinian construction and promoting expansion of settlements.

Al-'Aqabah village lies in the northern Jordan Valley, east of Tubas. Israel's policy regarding the village illustrates its planning policy in Area C, which constitutes some 60 percent of the West Bank and is under sole Israeli civil and military control. The Civil Administration issued demolition orders for 35 of the 48 structures in the village. Simultaneously, it proposed to village leaders a plan for building in a limited amount of space in the center of the village. The plan fails to meet the villagers' housing and employment needs and completely ignores the village's farmland.

This isolated village was founded about 100 years ago by families of shepherds from Tubas, Tayasir, and Hebron. In 1967, it had some 600 residents. Now it is home to 305 persons, most of whom live in simple stone or tin structures. 


Houses in the village of al-‘Aqabah. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 2006.
Houses in the village of al-‘Aqabah. Photo: Atef Abu a-Rub, B'Tselem, 2006./>

After 1967, Israel began using the land around the village for military exercises. It also, established an army base at the entrance to the village and even conducted xercises within the village itself. According to an affidavit made by the head of the village council in the framework of a petition to the High Court of Justice in 1999, six residents of al-‘Aqabah and two persons from Tubas were killed, and 38 residents of the village have been injured over the years by soldiers' gunfire and by explosions of duds that had been used in exercises. In 1976, the village-council head himself was struck by three bullets while he was harvesting his crops. As a result, he is now wheelchair bound.

In 1998, the village council waged a legal battle, with the help of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, to remove the army base that had been built at the entrance to the village. In the framework of a petition to the High Court on the matter, the army announced it would move the base into sovereign Israeli territory. The camp was removed in 2003.

Since the beginning of 2004, the Civil Administration has issued demolition orders for most of the structures in the village, contending they were built without a permit. Among the structures set to be demolished are the mosque, the nursery school, the medical clinic, the only paved road in the village, and most of the residential dwellings, all of them inhabited. The public structures were built with donations from international organizations, among them the US organization Rebuilding Alliance, and from the governments of Japan, Belgium, and Norway. That year, the Civil Administration demolished two residential dwellings in the village.

Al-‘Aqabah has never had a formal outline plan, as the British mandatory outline plans did not address it specifically. In 2007, village residents petitioned the High Court to nullify the demolition orders and to draw up an outline plan for the village. In response, the Civil Administration proposed that it give building permits for the core built-up area of the village, which contains all the public buildings and some residential dwellings, and leave only those buildings still standing. The proposal ignores the rest of the built-up area in the village, and its outlying farmlands.

The village is situated about 40 kilometers from the closest city, Jenin, the road to which is laden with obstacles, primarily Tayasir Checkpoint. Because of the village's isolation and lack of employment options nearby, the residents depend on farming and grazing to earn a livelihood. Many residents who left the village because they were not allowed to build there wish to return.

Discriminatory planning and building policy

Israel's complete control of Area C means it has sole responsibility for planning and building policy there. According to statistics provided to Peace Now by the Civil Administration, from the beginning of 2000 to September 2007, Israel rejected more than 94 percent of Palestinian requests to build in Area C. During this period, it granted only 91 building permits to Palestinians, while 18,472 housing units were built in settlements. The Civil Administration also indicated that, for every building permit issued to Palestinians, 55 demolition orders were issued, 18 of which were executed. A significant portion of the demolition orders issued in the last two years related to structures in Beduin villages in the Jordan Valley, such as al-Hadidiya, al-Farsiya, al-Jiftlik, and al-‘Aqabah.

Israel's planning policy in Area C, which is based on British mandatory outline plans, centers on preventing Palestinian construction and promoting expansion of settlements. These woefully outdated outline plans, prepared more than 60 years ago, when the population in the West Bank was much smaller than now, classify most of the West Bank as farmland and fail to meet the current needs of the local population. For this reason, Palestinians are left with no option but to build without a permit. The restrictions on building in the Jordan Valley is especially problematic for Palestinians, given that the main land reserves available for both building and farming are located there.

Israel's planning and building policy in the West Bank breaches Israel's responsibility as occupier to “ensure public order and safety” in the occupied territory (article 43 of the Hague Regulations). Also, article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that destruction of personal property or demolition of houses by the occupying power “is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.” The discrimination in planning and building, evident in the expansion of the settlements, is aggravated by the fact that the very existence of the settlements blatantly breaches international law.

B'Tselem calls on Israeli officials to cease threatening the demolition of buildings in al-‘Aqabah, and to draw up an outline plan that complies with the residents' needs.