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Ha'aretz, Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Ethnic discrimination against Palestinians must end

By Amira Hass


About a month and a half ago, B'tselem organized a tour for foreign diplomats of the settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and the Palestinian villages on top of which this community was built and is being expanded. The diplomats were brought to the site of a Palestinian home that the Israeli Civil Administration (CA) had demolished and viewed the shantytown neighborhood of the Jahalin tribe, which was evacuated by the CA from land they had occupied for years and on which a very impressive-looking Jewish neighborhood has now been built.The diplomats traveled along the broad avenues, surrounded by lush vegetation, of Ma'aleh Adumim, which is a well-planned community, and then they were taken to Abu-Dis and Azariyeh, where they had to navigate their way among a disarray of concrete houses and through crowded alleyways and where they took note of the poorly paved roads.

First-hand observation informed these diplomats - far more than any statistics can - of the existence of a tremendous gap between the limited development that Israel allows the Palestinians to carry out and the accelerated pace of modern development that is permitted only to Jews - and on the very land that Israel captured in June 1967.

One of the diplomats defined the situation in one word: a "disgrace." A second diplomat said that his descriptions reach the highest echelons of his foreign ministry and are included in official reports. However, he notes, by then, the language has been softened and the reality depicted is painted in vague terms.

A new report by Amnesty International, which appears today, does not leave much room for equivocal impressions, although it is written in a pragmatic, succinct manner. The report, entitled "Israel and the Occupied Territories: The demolition and dispossession of Palestinian homes," emphasizes that the demolition of Palestinian homes goes with a the confiscation of Palestinian land throughout most of the West Bank, amounting to a policy of colonization.

Ever since 1995, Amnesty has been protesting the demolition of homes all over the world - actions taken simply because of the inhabitants' political belief or identity, including ethnic identity, in such countries as Burma, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, and in the territories occupied by Israel. According to the present report, Israel's policy of development in the territories it captured in 1967 can be boiled down to ethnic discrimination. Nothing new, of course, yet this international human rights organization expresses shock over this fact. Moreover, the authors of this report are not overly impressed by the promise of a change in the mentality underlying the Israeli occupation, a promise that many Western governments believed would emerge from the Oslo agreements.

Since 1987, Israeli authorities have demolished at least 2,650 Palestinian homes in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem). As a result, 16,700 Palestinians, including 7,300 children, have become homeless. The report points out that the annual number of demolitions has not diminished since the declaration of principles made in 1993 and in fact has even somewhat increased to 226, despite the fact that Israel now has jurisdiction over only one-eighth of the population that was under its civilian control in the past. According to the report, Israel has manipulated, and continues to manipulate, existing procedures, laws and comprehensive construction plans in order to carry out its policy of discrimination.

Ancient Mandatory comprehensive construction plans have been used as a pretext for preventing the erection of structures in Palestinian agricultural zones. Military orders have been issued to enable extensive construction for Jews only. An Ottoman law from 1855 has been distorted in order to permit the confiscation of uncultivated land: The original law spoke of the transfer of land to other inhabitants of the same village so that they could cultivate it, yet Israel has automatically taken hold of these lands for itself, that is, for its Jewish inhabitants.

According to Amnesty International, the Oslo accords have created an "archipelago" of 227 islands (cities and villages) under civilian Palestinian control (areas A and B), within a sea of Israeli control (area C, which includes more than 70 percent of the West Bank). In this archipelago, there are 190 "islands" measuring less than two square kilometers and they comprise, more or less, the built-up area of each village. Only 40,000 Palestinians live within area C; however, all Palestinians live within six or less kilometers of it. One of the lawyers quoted in the report states that, since Oslo, all of the 200 applications for building permits submitted to the CA have been rejected. During that same period, Amnesty learned, 79 building permits were issued for area C. In Amnesty's eyes, this policy is tantamount to paralyzing any possibility of legally authorized expansion. Even if we forget for a moment that area C is an integral part of every Palestinian community on the West Bank, the natural increase alone of the population in area C would necessitate the granting of 1,200 - not 79 - building permits during that four-year period.

There is no connection, the report indicates, between planning considerations and the demolition of homes. On the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, building permits for Palestinians entail bureaucratic mazes that are - deliberately - impossible. In Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities' goal, "since then has been to transform the ethnic character of the annexed area from Arab to Jewish."

Thus, in East Jerusalem - whose annexation by Israel, the report stresses, is not recognized by the international community, the "boundary of the annexed lands (like that of Area C) was drawn to include land rather than people."

Amnesty International recommends that Israel repeal the demolition orders that it has issued and not yet executed and that it end its discriminatory policy in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. However, in order to change this policy, the government and citizens of Israel must conclude that ethnic discrimination is essentially immoral

(c) copyright 1999 Ha'aretz. All Rights Reserved

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