On April 17, 2018, Israeli colonial authorities in the West Bank issued Military Order No. 1797, regarding the removal of new buildings and construction in the territory, specifically Area C. Area C makes up 61% of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military control. There are over 400,000 Israeli settlers and up to 300,000 Palestinians in Area C, according to the United Nations.
Military Order No. 1797 repeals Jordanian planning and construction laws enforced since before the Israeli occupation began in June 1967, and expands the arbitrary powers of the Civil Administration (CA), the territory’s governing Israeli military body, to enforce demolition orders. According to veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass:
Order 1797, which deals with demolishing new construction, allows a Civil Administrator inspector to issue demolition orders against any building that hasn’t yet been completed, any building that was completed less than six months earlier or any building that has been inhabited for less than 30 days. It authorizes the inspector to carry out the demolition within four days, unless either the builder can produce a construction permit, or the building is located within a detailed “planning program” or territory expropriated for military use.
While the CA already has authority over zoning, infrastructure, and construction in Area C, the order increases its power to enforce demolition orders by denying Palestinians the right to a hearing and appeal. Indeed, according to Israeli rights group B’Tselem, the order essentially removes “any option to challenge demolition orders” by effectively annulling legal proceedings sanctioned by the planning and building laws that used to be enforced. For example, according to The Society of St. Yves, a Catholic human rights center based in East Jerusalem, the Jordanian Planning and Construction Law (1966), in effect in the West Bank, made demolition a last resort. It also gave West Bank residents a right to appeal and demand judicial review of demolition orders, and request a court, retroactively, to validate construction.
Historically, the CA’s land confiscation and demolition orders issued have been based, in part, on Ottoman, British, and Jordanian laws that applied to the West Bank before the Israeli occupation. This is because, as an occupying force, Israel is obliged under international law to respect already existing local laws, unless “absolutely prevented from doing so.”
To be sure, these laws have typically been amended by Israeli military orders and selectively applied to further Israel’s colonial objectives, namely land confiscation. Still, because these older laws remained in force over the past few decades, Palestinians have had legal recourse, however limited, to challenge demolition orders.
Military Order No. 1797 does away with these processes by removing judicial review all together. Instead, a civilian can only challenge a demolition order by presenting the CA with an approved permit application or zoning plan. Both are notoriously difficult, if not impossible, for Palestinians to obtain under Israel’s planning regime in Area C, which is designed to limit Palestinian growth and development.
Military Order No. 1797 was scheduled to go into effect on June 17. A coalition of rights groups, including Haqel, the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, and The Society of St. Yves, succeeded, however, in temporarily freezing the order on the basis that it violates international and local law. In the meantime, the CA is enjoined from implementing the order until the Israeli military courts have ruled on the legal challenge.
The order, which is expected to pass muster, is part of a larger Israeli project to push Palestinians out from Area C and formally annex the territory. To facilitate this process, Israeli ministers from the Jewish Home party sponsored and backed a bill in February 2018 that would deny “the High Court of Justice the authority to hear some petitions filed by Palestinians in the West Bank.” Experts have described the law as part of an annexation bid by the far-right, to expand the purview of Israeli district courts further into the occupied West Bank. The bill, which is currently in the process of being pushed into law, would strip the High Court of jurisdiction in matters dealing with building and planning, land ownership claims, entry and exit permits, and information requests in the West Bank. Instead, these matters would be handled through the (Israeli) Jerusalem District Court.
The UN and human rights groups have described Israel’s planning regime in Area C as a mechanism to systematically dispossess Palestinians and ethnically cleanse the area. Military Order No. 1797 aims to strengthen this regime and accelerate the process.