By: Reem Barakat
Israeli planning to Palestinian land usage aims at serving the requirements of colonial settlement expansion
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
Not so long ago, the Palestinian farmer was the master of this land and the evidential rightful owner; as he, over the years, has been planting, developing, and protecting this land. He has done so until their relationship developed to resemble that of a mother and her children. He was kneaded into its details thus becoming a part of it. He plants a seed, attends to it, watering, nurturing, and watching it as it grows and pays him back some of his bounty. The Palestinian has built a relationship with this land, one that is not to be understood by the white-man, who arrived to this land forcing his endless colonial needs to be served—needs that are neither righteous nor charted. The land has always been the focal point of conflict with every colonial existence that has passed over this country. Furthermore, it has been the root of many political conflicts around the world in general.
Land, as an abstract concept, means the adamant surface of the earth, on which most of the humans’ activities take place, and serves for multiple uses. These uses include a series of human operations through which the land’s sources are employed for the purpose of obtaining certain products and benefits. Some of these uses include agricultural, housing, and commercial projects, green areas, transportation routes, and entertaining activities.
Normally, and during the phase of identifying the most suitable land usage in any country, the potential of land and water is usually assessed structurally, in addition to the contextual social and economic conditions of the specific project. Generally, there are two components to be considered when such plans are put. Firstly, is environmental conservation, i.e. conserving environmental sources and their bio-diversity. Secondly is the socioeconomic aspect, which is to maintain the environmental system that serves the community on a specific land.
In the Palestinian context, as it is in most colonial contexts, these issues are ignored, thus rendering the land to become a mere tool to serve mainly the colonial projects and their military bases. Any other considerations become minor in such planning processes.
The aim of this article is to discuss the peculiarity of planning in the colonial context, for which Palestine is a suitable example. Colonialism is the act of erecting a settlement in a location far from the home-land of a certain group of people. As a result, in such a context, there is an invasion on the indigenous culture by a new culture that seeks to establish political control over a land not of its own. Suddenly, the indigenous society finds itself deprived of any political power, and of the right to use its land, that was once its source of power and with which it enjoyed a strong and special bond. Just like that, the indigenous community is stripped of any decisions regarding the usage of its land and for which purposes.
A Glimpse of the Past: Planning in Palestine
In Palestine, due to the many consecutive political regimes, and specifically since the mid nineteenth century, the legislations pertaining to land usage, and policies of urban planning, were subject to the specificities of each political regime that reigned on this land. Those regimes are the Ottoman, followed by the British, then the Jordanian in the West Bank and the Egyptian in Gaza Strip, reaching to the Israeli colonization, whose policies are still to the day shaping the planning processes in Palestine.
During the Ottoman period, in the light of the State’s laws, municipal councils appeared—councils that fostered the state’s central administration. One of such laws in that period endorsed a system for construction permits in cities. Regulations for land ownership were also put to develop the regions and to construct roads. The Ottomans implemented the taxing system on all lots of land through applying a system of property registrar of the lands and the owners. Most of the lands at that time were under the state’s control, as well as large areas of land were used for religion and charity activities; the rest was the responsibility of the regional commander.
The term “urban planning” coincided with the establishment of an urban planning system in Britain, as a result of the emergence of environmental and social problems caused by the industrial revolution of that period. At the time, this system was applied in all British colonies, such as India, Malaysia, Nigeria and Palestine. During the British mandate period, new laws were enacted concerning the Arab municipal councils. These laws influenced the selection of mayors and the implementation of various projects in the Palestinian territories.
In 1948, the Palestinian territories were divided in order to create the State of Israel within the region into three areas: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the so-called Israel. Every region had a different political administration. Accordingly, the areas surrounding the West Bank were annexed to Jordan, and the Gaza Strip was placed under Egyptian administration, but urban planning remained under British rule. Nearly twenty years later, Jordan was given full sovereignty over urban planning in the West Bank, and the regime in Gaza remained the same, following the British regime.
One Land, Systematic Partitioning
That period can be divided into two parts, the period after al-Naksa (1967) until the arrival of the PA in 1994; and the period following the return of the PA until the present time. The urban planning in Palestine was highly affected by the Israeli occupation of several areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, because Israel controlled Palestinian urban growth through military orders, and obtaining permits for construction became extremely complex.
Urban planning became a tool in the hands of the occupation to prevent urban expansion in the Palestinian territories. On the hand, large areas of land around the West Bank and Gaza Strip were reserved for Israeli settlements. At the same time, the Palestinian economy was dependent on the Israeli economy, and there was no Palestinian participation in the decisions taken regarding developmental planning for the Palestinian territories.
It should be noted that all these urban plans and the various regulations that passed on Palestine were basically serving the needs of the countries that issued them and their economic and social conditions, completely ignoring the needs of the Palestinian people.
In 1994, with the arrival of the PA as a result of the Oslo Accords, the responsibilities of urban planning were transferred to Palestinian ministries and institutions in an attempt to create a kind of self-sovereignty in the Palestinian territories. At that time, when the PA was setting the urban plans, it was also trying to balance between taking the needs of the Palestinian people and their future on the one hand and taking the wishes of the donors and their projects on the other hand. In addition, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian territories were divided into three zones: Areas A, Areas B, and Areas C. Areas A are the areas where the PA has political and security control and is responsible of planning and development. Areas B are areas under Israeli political and security control, but the responsibility for planning and development rests with the Palestinian Authority. Area C, which are the areas around the West Bank, is under full Israeli control and Palestinians are prevented from planning or building.
Colonial Ideology: Past and present
Since the start of planning for the establishing of the State of Israel on the lands of historic Palestine, there has been great encouragement to increase the population growth of the settlers by providing a high standard of living with luxury, and all what is needed to achieve this level: from housing units to infrastructure and bypass roads and major services. Israel used several twisted ways to control the land, including declaring it state land based on Ottoman law, which was still valid at the time of the Israeli occupation. Israel also controlled the land by considering it as abandoned property or as military zones necessary for state security.
Settlements in our time are constantly increasing and urban planning systems are making a significant contribution to making this expansion possible. This facilitates the issuance of building permits for new Israeli settlements on the West Bank to expand settlements and create bypass roads. In turn, these measurements obstruct urban development in Palestinian cities and villages. This is something that many Palestinians suffer in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. The process of obtaining permits and licenses for construction has become very difficult and sometimes almost impossible, and requires considerable time, effort, and amounts of money; all aiming at frustrating the Palestinian people and reducing their growth. In addition, Palestinians suffer daily from the systematic demolition of their homes under the pretext that there are no building permits.
Anyone looking at the differences between urban planning in the Palestinian areas and Israeli areas can clearly see the Apartheid regime practiced by Israel against the Palestinian people. One needs only one tour of the West Bank cities to notice the difference in the infrastructure between the roads leading to the Israeli settlements and the roads leading to the Palestinian cities and villages. The same tour will also reveal the difference between the urban nature of the settlements and that of the Palestinian cities and camps. One can imagine the amount of services that reach either sides and the resulting difference in the standard of living between the two peoples living on the same land: an indigenous people rooted in this land despite all the difficulties it faces; and a colonizing people who came to this land by force and established their settlements, overlooking that the price of its sustenance is being paid by a people that will not be deterred by all the desperate attempts to make it abandon the land of their forefathers.
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Translated by: Carol Khoury