The Taba Agreement of 1995 stipulated that the West Bank would be divided into three areas of control: A, B, and C. Their size and civil and security status were defined as a merely temporary phase, but they were fixed as the political negotiations ground to a halt. On the other hand, security coordination with the Palestinian Authority has continued, and became a factor of lessened and even prevented acts of terrorism:
- Area A spreads over about 18% of the West Bank and includes all the main Palestinian cities. Most of the region’s population lives inside this area, and it is subject to both civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority. Still, the Israeli army is entitled to enter Area A when security requires this, and the State of Israel has absolute control over the water supply to Area A (and the entire West Bank).
- Area B comprises about 22% of the West Bank and includes larger and smaller rural areas. In the Palestinian communities of Area B, which constitute enclaves in Area C, the PA has civil control and may issue construction permits.
- Area C is spread over about 60% of the West Bank and contains the enclaves of Areas A and B. Area C is under full civil and military Israeli control.
According to the Oslo Accords, control of large parts of Area C was supposed to pass over incrementally and in agreement within 5 years to the Palestinians. This area contains Palestinian communities and their lands, next to which more and more settler-colonies and outposts have been founded, for the most part on Palestinian lands.
Over the years Area C has become the settlers’ rulership.
The control areas A, B, C and the
Seam Zone behind the separation fence
There are about 240,000 Palestinians ("Bimkom"'s estimate, 2020) living in Area C, and it is controlled by the State of Israel through the army and its Civil Administration. The Palestinian inhabitants of this area are subject to prohibitions and restrictions that are not valid for its Jewish settler inhabitants:
Movement Restrictions: 169 areas of Palestinian villages and small communities are surrounded by Area C. Thus, Palestinian villages have been separated from their region towns in area A, as well as from other regions in the West Bank. Movement from place to place involves passing through Area C - parts of which are out of bounds for residents of areas A, B, and even C itself. . Since 1995, about 500 checkpoints and various barriers have been placed inside the West Bank – army posts, metal-arm barriers, concrete blocks, dirt dykes, and ditches. All of these are internal barriers within the West Bank that contribute nothing to the prevention of terrorists from entering the State of Israel. On the contrary: these internal barriers disrupt the lives of all Palestinians in the West Bank and arouse anger and resistance. The Israeli settlers, on the other hand, enjoy total freedom of movement in almost all of the West Bank (also open to both Israelis and foreign tourists).
Restrictions of construction and development Construction permits are issued to Palestinians in Area C by the Israeli Civil Administration. Only about 1% of their applications are met affirmatively! Any application for a permit to build a private house or expand it, to put up a storehouse, a pergola, a porch, toilets, a classroom, install a water pipe, a road sign and so forth is not answered at all. Anything put up without permission is immediately demolished by the State of Israel, or is threatened by a pending demolition order. This means young couples cannot build their own home, not even add a story to the existing family home; one cannot open a business, be it small or large; one cannot create a plant, nor promote civil initiatives for the welfare of the inhabitants.
Although Area C contains most of the West Bank’s natural resources, 99% of them are out-of-bounds if Palestinian initiatives are at hand. This affects all Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and naturally, the Palestinian economy. The boundaries of the villages, even those defined as Area B, but always surrounded by Area C, are limited in the regional plans, and the Palestinians have no representation in the planning institutions. Area C actually creates enclaves of dense Palestinian localities, whose agricultural lands and building land reserves have been annexed to Area C, and therefore cannot develop.
Area C suffocates virtually all the development of Palestinian habitats in the West Bank and this adversely affects all residents and the Palestinian economy.
Unlike Palestinians, the Israeli settlers receive large budgets from the State of Israel and from organizations whose declared purpose is to appropriate the entire area without considering any Palestinian rights. They have the nearly unlimited ability to found industry and farming in Area C.
Limitation of work and livelihood without construction permits, no industrial and civil development, strict movement restrictions, and after having lost or been practically disconnected from the farmlands that served as their source of livelihood in the past – what is left for Palestinians? Work permits in Israel are hard to come by because of the strict bureaucracy of the permit regime and prevention of entry. Many Palestinians remain without any source of livelihood, no property, no civil development and no horizon.
What is left open? Work in the settler-colonies. Indeed, of all the Palestinians living in Area C., about 30,000 (according to Civil Administration data) are employed by the settler-colonies in construction and maintenance. Note that work permits in the settler-colonies are not valid for working inside Israel.
Relations between Palestinians and Israeli settlers over the years of occupation - the more settlements and outposts were built around Palestinian communities, the new neighbors’ harassment of Palestinians has become more severe. Such harassment means closing off access, wounding people, cutting down olive trees and burning them, preventing olive harvesting, stealing crops, threatening and chasing away shepherds from their grazing fields, running havoc inside Palestinian villages, stopping up water wells and so on.
Area C (dark gray), wrecked by severe restrictions
Landgrab – the settlers and (‘legal’ and illegal) outposts have been built contrary to international law upon lands occupied by Israel in 1967. The main means to take over land was to declare it as ‘state land’. Other indirect means have been, and still are: confiscation for military purposes; declaring land as absentee property; confiscating land for public (settlements) use.
Landgrab is also ongoing by declaring Palestinian lands as firing zones or nature reserves, where Palestinians may not reside, spend time or graze their livestock. The settlers hold on to such prohibitions as justification for chasing Palestinians out of their lands, their grazing grounds, their homes, and practically legitimize annexation.
Water shortage is a severe and destructive issue, experienced solely by the Palestinian residents of the West Bank. It is a direct result of the State of Israel’s intended policy: deny Palestinians of the Occupied Territories their water.
Mekorot, Israel’s state water company is the official owner of all the water reserves in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1982. Mekorot provides the Israeli settlers 80% of the water allocated along the West Bank Hill Range and central region, and only 20% goes to the Palestinian population, at rates higher by 1.4. In the Palestinian Jordan Valley, the provision of water allotted its Palestinian inhabitants is close to 0, although here too they are by far the majority of the human population.
But the story does not end here. Numerous villages throughout Area C of the West Bank are not connected, or only partially connected to the water supply grid.
Every pipe that is installed, every rainwater reservoir are demolished by the Civil Administration and the Israeli army time and again. Thus, the Palestinian inhabitants, mainly in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hillsare, are forced to purchase water at an exorbitant price – and deliver it over winding, potholed roads, to bypass barriers and areas that are out-of-bounds. Consequently, they live in constant deprivation of drinking water as well as water for cooking and washing, for irrigation, and watering their livestock. Thus, their ability to meet livelihood needs, their poverty and suffering grow enormously.
All this in sight of evergreen settlements, resplendent with watering systems working even in the scathing noon hours, magnificent swimming pools, lawns, and flowering gardens.
We focus our attention especially on Area C and the area B enclaves, where triple friction arises between the Palestinians, the Israeli army, and the settlers. We visit checkpoints and Palestinian villages in the central West Bank, the shepherd communities of the Palestinian Jordan Valley, barriers and villages in the South Hebron Hills, and in divided cities such as Hebron and greater Jerusalem.