JLAC, St. Yves file motion against new Israeli military order

  • Date: 2018-06-04

The Society of St. Yves and the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC) demanded Israeli authorities immediately revoke the new military order that paves the way for mass demolition of Palestinian-owned structures in areas C of the occupied West Bank. In a formal letter submitted to the Israeli Minister of Defense and the legal advisor for the West Bank, the two organizations stressed that the military order blatantly violates customary international law and contravenes existing local legislation.

Signed by the Israeli military commander on 17 April, 2018, the military order expands the arbitrary powers of the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) to remove or demolish new structures built without permits in Area C. Area C constitutes more than 60% of the West Bank territory and falls under the complete Israeli military and administrative jurisdiction. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, the ICA has rejected the vast majority of Palestinian applications for building permits in Area C, placing the Palestinian population under the constant threat of forced displacement.

The new military order will heighten the risk even further, authorizing the civil administration's inspectors and officers to carry out demolitions a mere 96 hours after the issuance of the demolition order. The military order virtually strips the affected residents of the right to due process and the capacity to challenge the demolition orders through legal avenues, by requiring that objections to the demolition order be accompanied with a valid building permit. Such a permit is unattainable for Palestinians due to Israel’s discriminatory planning and zoning policies.

According to the new military order, the threat of immediate demolition can be averted if the owner of the house proves that six months had passed since the completion of the structure's construction and/or the building had been inhabited for at least thirty days (before the order was issued.) Additionally, affected residents can avoid immediate demolition if they present, within 96 hours of the issuance of the demolition order, an approved master plan covering the structure.

Despite the aforementioned exceptions, the military order, which will come into force on 17 June, constitutes yet another major step in Israel's escalating annexation of Area C and the forced transfer of Palestinians.

In their letter, JLAC and St. Yves argue that the military order violates Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which requires the occupying power to respect "unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country." The Hague Regulations form a pillar of customary international humanitarian law. By issuing this military order, not only does the occupying power violate IHL's requirement to respect the existing laws in the country, it does so to serve its objective of fast-tracking the forced transfer of the occupied population. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines forcible transfer as a crime against humanity.

Additionally, the new military order flagrantly contravenes with the Jordanian Planning and Construction Law, whose mechanisms have been part of the planning and construction regime in the occupied West Bank for decades. According to Article 38 of the Jordanian Planning and Construction Law, residents are entitled to submit an application for a building permit even after the issuance of a demolition order. Since the Jordanian Law considers demolition a dangerous last resort, it allows residents to retroactively legalize construction. The military order, however, effectively deems null and void the mechanism. This can only be interpreted as a blatant attempt by the occupying power to transform and supplant the legal landscape in the area.

Moreover, the military order jeopardizes access to effective legal remedy and violates the right to due process. Submitting an objection to the demolition order does not freeze the demolition or removal order, meaning that demolition can take place even if an objection is presented. What's more, the 96-hour deadline to challenge the demolition order does not constitute a reasonable time frame for those affected. To make matters worse, the military order does not require that the demolition order be handed out to the owner of the house directly. It is sufficient to place the demolition notice next to the structure in order to authorize the ICA inspector to destroy it after 96 hours. Thus, the house can be demolished before the owner learns about the existence of a demolition notice, let alone have enough time to challenge the demolition order.

While there are exceptions mentioned in the military order, some of the exceptions have been tailor-made to exclusively serve Israeli settlers. One such exception is the submission of an approved master plan covering the structure. Palestinians have submitted more than 120 proposals for creating or expanding master plans and only three of those have been approved by the ICA. Meanwhile, hundreds of master plans for Israeli settlements have been approved by the ICA and demolition orders against settlement outposts have been frozen under the pretext of the existence of a master plan.

This military order should be viewed in the context of a larger, more concerted process undertaken by the Israeli government to fully impose the Israeli administrative legal regime in Area C. Led by the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, this process seeks to complete the de facto annexation of Area C and strip it of any unique status as an occupied territory.

To implement this objective, the Israeli Supreme Court has worked in tandem with the Israeli government by issuing rulings that legitimize the settlement enterprise and the seizure of private Palestinian land while simultaneously green-lighting the expulsion and forced displacement of Palestinians. The recent Supreme Court ruling endorsing the Israeli army's decision to displace the Bedouin residents of Khan al-Ahmar offers but one example of this trend. It illustrates how the Israeli judiciary has continued to abet the government and military to annex area C and forcibly transfer Palestinians by adding a legal stamp on their illegal policies and laws.