When Arabs Raise a Roof, It May Be Knocked Down

Politics of Permits

For every Israeli who says that Palestinians must first do more to fight terrorism before they can expect concessions from Israel, there is a Palestinian who says all settlements, land confiscations, and house demolitions must stop if Palestinians are to believe in peace.

Just across the highway from Efrat is Nahaleen, a Palestinian village tucked between two other Jewish settlements. Here, four homes were demolished in August by the Israeli Civil Administration, and face demolition if construction is not halted.

Among them was the house that young Subhah Fanoun was trying to build so that he could propose to the woman he wants to marry.

In traditional Palestinian society, a man must prove he can provide a home before he proposes. Mr. Fanoun saved $14,000 over the last two years to build his home. It's now an unfinished frame that he comes to check on each day to make sure it's still standing. Next to it, another villager's demolished home is now a powdery jumble of crushed cement and crumpled wires.

"This is land we inherited from my grandfather, and I want to build two houses on it, one for me and one for my brother," Fanoun says. "I watched the bulldozer destroy the [other] house. We all wanted to throw stones at them, but they brought 15 jeeps with soldiers to surround the area, and there was nothing we could do."

From here, there are unavoidable views of the neighboring Jewish settlement of Beitar Illit. There, a large plot of land has been leveled to make way for dozens of new buildings that will be constructed soon.

"Of course I am angry. The settlements are allowed to increase, but we cannot build," says Fanoun, who in the meantime lives with his parents and 11 siblings in a crowded, four-room house.

Israel's Civil Administration, which administers Israeli-held ares of the West Bank, says it has demolished 160 houses so far this year for two reasons: "security," in the case of homes of suicide bombers; and "administrative" reasons, if the home was built without an Israeli permit.

"The Civil Administration at the end of the '80s mapped out all of the villages with a village plan that should provide enough living room until year 2010," says Lt. Peter Lerner, the spokesman for the administration. "But the local authorities in villages didn't fulfill the plan, and people started to build however they wanted to."

The Israeli government says that much of the building Palestinians have done is politically motivated. This, it says, includes a hasty campaign of building in areas under Palestinian control near Jerusalem. Palestinian officials say they are indeed building as much as they can in such areas. "We will give out a permit to anyone who applies for one," says cartographer Khalil Tufakgi at Orient House, the Palestinian political center in East Jerusalem.

"There are many Palestinian leaders who have openly declared that they're building for political purposes," says Moshe Fogel, the Israeli government spokesman. "Many buildings demolished were unsafe, illegal, or outside the realm of city planning. Sometimes it's that Palestinians don't want to pay for permits, so they won't come to us."

But Palestinians say that their applications to build houses, especially in East Jerusalem, are regularly rejected.

Often, buildings are demolished when Palestinians try to build on undeveloped fields they own on the outskirts of their villages, where the land has been demarcated under a separate jurisdiction by the three-tiered maps of the Oslo Accords. While the Palestinian Authority is authorized to give permits to build in Area B - the part of the West Bank under Palestinian Authority control - the map's lines were often drawn so that anything immediately outside of a village's cluster of homes is in Area C, under full Israeli control. Thus a Palestinian house may be in Area B, but the backyard in Area C.

The combination of demolitions and Israeli settlements provokes skepticism among Palestinians. "The Israelis are running as if they are in a race with time," says Yacoub Odeh, director of the Palestine Human Rights Information Center in East Jerusalem.

"I think what Israel is looking for [is that] when they sit down to discuss [land issues], there will be nothing left to discuss."

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