On June 11, the High Court of Justice rejected a suit filed by the residents of the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Bahir that moved to forbid the demolition of 13 buildings located in Wadi Al Hummus, on the southern perimeter of the neighborhood.
The area in question differs from the other sections of Sur Bahir. Unlike the rest of the neighborhood, the buildings are located in the West Bank, beyond Jerusalem municipal boundaries, as defined by Israel, but on the Jerusalem (not West Bank) side of the security barrier. Most notably, the area is located in Areas A and B. According to the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, the PA has authority in both of these areas in all civil affairs, including planning and zoning authorities. In Area A, the PA also has responsibility for public order and security for Palestinians (whereas the IDF has kept overall security responsibility over all the OPT, defined as “responsibility for overall security of Israelis and Settlements, for the purpose of safeguarding their internal security and public order”).
Why are these areas located on the Jerusalem side of the security barrier?
In 2004, when the separation barrier was under construction, the route of the barrier was to leave the area of Wadi Hummus on the West Bank side of the separation barrier. After the residents despaired of stopping the construction of the barrier altogether, they appealed to the IDF to change the route of the barrier so as to include Wadi Hummus on the Jerusalem side of the fence. They had two major considerations: they sought to maintain the geographical integrity of the neighborhood, and to preserve access to one of the few areas of the neighborhood where additional construction could be carried out. Initially, their appeals were rejected by the IDF. It was only after US National Security Adviser Condaleeza Rice intervened on their behalf with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that the route was changed.
On which grounds did the IDF issue the demolition orders?
The demolition orders were handed down by the IDF based on the claim that the buildings are located within 250 meters of the security barrier, in spite of the fact that there are numerous areas (most notably in Abu Dis) in which resident buildings are located only a few meters from it.
Why is this decision so unusual ?
The route of the separation barrier often inflicts inordinate harm on the Palestinians of the West Bank, often oblivious to the rights and needs of the population. For obvious reasons, the Palestinian Authority is more attentive to the needs of the residents under their authority. However, this case is unique: even though formally, the PA has the power in all matters pertaining to planning, construction and licensing in both Areas A and B, it is in reality powerless in this section of Sur Bahir. Conversely, Israel, including the military government of the West Bank, which has no formal authority in these civil matters in this area, is in reality the only one capable of exercising it.
As part of the IDF’s overall security responsibility for the entire West Bank, the only authority which Israel has retained in Areas A is those deriving from military necessity. In the present case, the State therefore argued that the demolition of these homes is not based on “illegal’ construction, but rather a military necessity due to the proximity of these 13 buildings to the barrier. The High Court ruled in favor of the State, and the IDF gave the residents until July 18th to implement the demolition orders.
This one case, unfolding in remote areas of the Jerusalem municipal boundary that few Israelis or Palestinians have ever heard of, illuminates the inherent absurdity of the mythical “undivided capital of Israel” and the lack of correlation between the location of a village, the laws that apply to its residents and the authority that governs them. Hence, the residents of Wadi Hummus live on the Jerusalem side of the barrier, but with no rights in Israel, in an area where governance is vested in those with no formal power to govern, where the only “legitimate” use of governmental power is by an occupier whose authorities are based exclusively on military necessity.