Activists draw attention to persistent Israeli construction in the West Bank
Donna Baranski-Walker, founder of Rebuilding Alliance, met at the White House with senior advisor to President Barack Obama, Valerie B. Jarrett, earlier this month to discuss the ongoing destruction of Area C in the West Bank by Israeli forces.
The Palestinians’ right to plan communities for themselves has remained elusive and the lack of recognition by political figures ensures the destruction will continue without any resistance.
According to Baranski-Walker, the most significant action that civilians can do is to make phone calls to their state representatives or congressional staff directly. She explained that when civilians vocalize their concern on behalf of the Palestinian people as well as express the importance of keeping Palestinian villages standing and free of Israeli settlements, Israeli forces are pressured by Congress to cease their operations. This is a proven tactic that has kept the villages of Al Aqaba and Susiya alive.
On May 31, European Union (EU) ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg Andersen firmly stated to Major General Yoav Mordechai—Israel’s coordinator of activities in territories—that the continued Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes will only aggravate relations. The EU has funded the reconstruction of many Palestinian homes,hospitals, water-wells, and schools. In 2015, United Nations statistical analysis estimated that Israel destroyed 75 EU funded buildings totaling the damage to about a minimum of 206,000 euros; also “In the first third of 2016 alone EU projects in Area C sustained damages totaling 210,000 euros as a result of Israeli activity. According to UN figures, 688 Palestinians remained homeless as a result of demolitions in 2015, compared to 808 in the first third of 2016.”
In order to halt imminent Israeli settlement plans on Palestinian land, planning rights must be granted to Palestinians and Palestinians alone Baranski-Walker states. Rebuilding Alliance reached out to Dr. Ahmad El-Atrash, from the city of Ramallah, who emphasized the tremendous amount of work Palestinian communities are currently undertaking in order to file master zoning plans. The members of these communities have prepared for the impending Israeli construction by filing for 108 master zoning plans as well as beginning to implement a new water network in the village of Al Aqaba.
The EU ambassador expressed his confusion about Israel’s vague zoning laws to Mordechai and their treatment of Palestinian planning rights. Israeli forces will destroy all illegally built homes on the territories however, they will not legally approve of any settlement planning presented by the Palestinian people. This is the dilemma that has Andersen unwilling to further negotiate with Israeli officials and threatens an unstable relationship.
The predicament surrounding Area C planning rights can be traced back to the 1995 Oslo II agreement. It placed 62 percent of West Bank Area C under temporary control of the Israeli Army. This was to be transferred following the establishment of a Palestinian Legislative Council, but twenty years later no reallocation of land has materialized.
Reaching out to Rebuilding Alliance for an interview, PiA was directed to the article Baranksi-Walker wrote for Mondoweiss.
Baranksi-Walker argued that the recent rise in demolitions is directly related to U.S. media attention. With little to no U.S. coverage on Palestinians and the current political climate, Israelis are able to freely continue the destruction. Barak Ravid, correspondent for Haartez newspaper, summarizes two reasons why Israeli demolitions are on the rise. There is political pressure from the right-wing Members of Knesset on construction in the occupied territories. Also, Israel’s attempt to stand firmly against EU’s decision to label products from settlements in their markets.
“Demolitions go way up when U.S. news is focused elsewhere and it is perceived that Congress is not watching … this makes the 4th of July a dangerous time, and also the month of August when Congress is out for session. With election news consuming the country’s attention, no one is paying attention,” Baranksi-Walker elaborated.