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Israeli Group Maps Palestinian Removals

Ovad Arad, sitting before one of Regavim's aerial photography maps. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

Ovad Arad, sitting before one of Regavim's aerial photography maps. Credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/IPS.

ROAD 60, OCCUPIED WEST BANK, Jul 30 2012 (IPS) - Sitting in an airconditioned car along Road 60 in the heart of the occupied West Bank, Ovad Arad explained how he goes about his job: driving unannounced into Palestinian towns and villages, taking photographs, having coffee with families, and leaving almost as quickly as he arrived.

“I don’t lie. When they ask me what I’m doing there, I say I’m doing research into the area. I try not to go into deep conversation. I do the work and go,” Arad told IPS. But he adds that he doesn’t reveal who he works for, or the real reason he takes photos.

A resident of the Israeli settlement Mero Horon, Arad is head of the Judea and Samaria (West Bank) division of Regavim, a right-wing Israeli organisation whose work focuses primarily on using legal channels to have demolition orders on Palestinian homes and other structures carried out.

Asked whether he feels bad when a Palestinian family has their home destroyed as a result of his work, Arad responded: “No. Really, no.” And what about Israeli settler homes being destroyed? “I don’t feel good. It actually hurts me when I see Jews being thrown out of their house. But I’ve never seen Palestinians thrown out of their house; I’ve seen Jews being thrown out of their house.”

Regavim works mainly in the Negev desert in southern Israel and Area C of the occupied West Bank, which covers approximately 60 percent of the territory and, according to the 1995 Oslo Accords, is under complete Israeli military and administrative control.

Approximately 150,000 Palestinians and 300,000 Israeli settlers currently live in Area C. Israeli settlements are illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and settlement outposts are illegal under Israel’s own laws. Under international law, Israel – as the occupying power in the area – is also responsible for providing for the needs of the population living under its control, namely the Palestinians.

For Regavim, however, the applicability of international law to Israel’s control of the West Bank is up for debate. “The position of Regavim (is that) there is no (Israeli) occupation,” said Ari Briggs, director of Regavim’s International Department.

Regavim relies on the legal framework of the Oslo Accords in carrying out its work in the West Bank, Briggs explained. He said that Regavim gets most of its information through freedom of information requests submitted to the civil administration.

Using geographic information systems (GIS) software and detailed aerial photography, Briggs said Regavim can map out virtually every inch of Israel – which, he said, encompasses both Israel proper and Area C.

“Hundred percent of Jewish illegal building will get a demolition order; only a third of illegal Arab building will get a demolition order,” Briggs, a native of Australia who has lived in Israel for 18 years, said. He added that the Civil Administration often retroactively legalises Palestinian construction, something that, he said, isn’t done for Jewish building.

“There are too many lies flying around that actually there’s discrimination against Arabs, and (that) the government and the civil administration is fully pro-Jewish. And we’re saying actually it’s the opposite.”

On its website, Regavim describes itself as “a social movement established to promote a Jewish Zionist agenda for the State of Israel” that “protect Israel’s lands and national properties.” Despite this mission statement, Briggs told IPS that Regavim’s work isn’t politically motivated, but rather guided by “moral and ethical” considerations.

“Regavim is not using the law for political purposes. We’re using the law to try and bring a rule of law and put a rule of law in place. Our opponents are using the law courts to make political gains and political points to an ideological point of view that they have,” he said.

Not everyone is convinced.

“We are concerned about Regavim’s involvement because we see them as a very, very political organisation,” said attorney Tamar Feldman, director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) department of human rights in the occupied territories.

“They are not concerned about human rights. They’re not concerned about international law. They’re just out to promote their political agenda and of course this is very worrying when one is trying to promote human rights within the territory.”

Feldman explained that Regavim petitions have sped up legal processes and awakened cases dealing with Palestinian building and planning in Area C, in particular in the South Hebron hills, one of the poorest and most disadvantaged regions in the area.

While Briggs was unable to provide exact data about the number of demolitions executed as a result of Regavim’s work, the organisation recently appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to carry out 162 interim orders on Palestinian constructions, which have been frozen since 2008.

One of the most prominent cases of Regavim’s influence has been in Susiya, a Palestinian village in the South Hebron hills, which, after Regavim appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to carry out demolition orders, now faces the prospect of being completely razed to the ground.

“They portray the situation in Area C as if Palestinians don’t have any rights there, they are just stealing the land, it belongs to Israel and the Jewish people and (the Palestinians) are outlaws. This has very little to do with reality,” Feldman said.

“The Palestinians in those areas, (like the) South Hebron Hills and Jordan Valley, have been sitting there for many decades, and for generations on.”

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) in the occupied territories, the Israeli Civil Administration rejected 94 percent of Palestinians’ building permit applications in Area C between 2000 and 2007.

 
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  • Guest

    Great work! Keep it up, Ovad! The double-standard vis-a-vis Israeli vs. Arab construction in Judea and Samaria must end!

  • Alanis Reech

    This story is like a terror tale. How this awful things can happen

  • Guest

    Jillian

    I think you have been too ready to swallow what Tamar Feldman told you.

    With due respect to Tamar Feldman – it is ACRI and organizations like it – that are engaged in pursuing a political agenda dressed up under the guise of  humanitarian concerns when it comes to illegal Arab building activity in Area C.Susiya – which you mention in your article – is a classic example of such a political agenda being pursued.Rabbis for Human Rights – which has taken on the role of defending Susiya residents involved in illegal building has made that very clear when stating:

    ““At first blush, it may seem that this is “only” about the threat to demolish the entire village of Susya, the homes of these simple cave dwellers of the South Hebron Hills. However, the truth is that the results will affect the fate of hundreds of Palestinian homes throughout the Occupied Territories, perhaps thousands. The outcome may well have an effect on our major appeal to return planning authority for Palestinian communities in Area C to Palestinian hands.”

    Call illegal Arab building activity in Area C for what it is – part of a blatant attempt to subvert Oslo by removing Israel and substituting the Palestinian Authority  as  the planning authority in Area C .

  • Ben

    What a disgusting example of a person deluded and indoctrinated into actually participating in the systematic theft of Palestinian land and the brutal systemic oppression and ethnic cleansing of Palestine by apartheid Israel. This morally bankrupt man does not represent my country Australia: he is an embarrassment; every country has it’s racists and apologists for evil.; sadly this bloke in one of ours. A large proportion of Aussies understand the facts well enough to realise Israel is a brutal, belligerent and aggressively expansionist regime largely underserving of too much sympathy; like Iran or North Korea.

  • Ben

    “illegal Arab”? You’re as bad as those who say wipe Israel off he map; you wont even recognise the Palestinian identity or their historical ties to that land going back to the original indigenous people long before the Bible religions were invented.

  • Diosiswatching

    I like the answer *it will hurt and offend the poor Arabs and many thousands”. What BS ! So removing and hurting 700 000 Jews is Ok but when it comes to poor Arabs it is the worst offense ! Hahaha, who do you want to fool !
    What is good medicine for the one is excellent as well to the other.
    Arabs propaganda is so unsohisticated. What they claims on Israel is exactly what they are doing. Need examples ? Israel is the Apartheid ? Arab are the specialists of that, do not allow Xtians to live in their countries, not allowed to be in their faith, unneeded torture, rape and children killers.
    Cruals ? Look exactly what is happening to those that do not want to fast during Ramadan in the streets ? Remember in Gaza, Arabs throwing each other from the roofs. This is supposedly called A moderne and democratic Pal state. Arab modernity and democraty are words that do not come along. Arabs specialty ? After Spring immediately Winter, I mean siberian winter. Hahaha,
    Inch Allah, but don’t you seen that Allah does not want !

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