A “Stop Work Order” for a Completed House: A Kafkaesque Story

By the Jordan Valley team, 

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Mahmod with the orders given to him. EAPPI / J. Puukki

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Mahmod with the  stop work orders issued to him by the Israeli authorities. Photo EAPPI/J. Puukki

This is Mahmod. He lives in a herding community in the north of the Jordan Valley. Mahmod lives with his family of eight, this includes two sons, two daughters, his daughter-in-law, and two grandchildren. The family earns their livelihood by herding sheep and keeping other animals, such as chickens. They used to live in a concrete house, which provided a living space for the family and a shelter for their animals. In October 2014 the family received a “stop work order” from the Israeli authorities despite having finished their home three years before. Because they failed to “stop the construction” on a home that was already completed, their home was demolished in August 2015 by the Israeli military.

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Remains of the demolished home. EAPPI/ J. Puukki

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Remains of the demolished home. Photo EAPPI/ J. Puukki

Mahmod was given this order because he lives in Area C. Area C makes up 88% of the Jordan Valley and is entirely under Israeli Jurisdiction.  According to UNOCHA only 1% of Area C is available for Palestinian development and in the remaining 99% of Area C Palestinian construction is either prohibited or heavily restricted.

The framework of the various permits and military orders within Area C is very complex. Israeli Military Order 418 removed Palestinian participation in the planning process, which is now entirely dependent on Israeli authorities. Today, in order to build a structure of any kind within Area C, Palestinians need to request a building permit from the Israeli Civil Administration. Even basic structures, such as a tent or a fence, require a building permit (UNOCHA). Land in the West Bank is divided into “state land” (which is often illegally confiscated from the Palestinians) and “private land.” The administrative procedure to initiate the application process for a building permit requires proof of ownership. To prove ownership of private land is very difficult and the Israeli authorities require a single owner with tangible documentation. The single owner requirement is often the first insurmountable hurdle because land has often been divided between several owners through inheritance. In Mahmod’s case, even if he were able to prove ownership of the land, Israeli authorities would likely refuse the request. Since 2013 the success rate of permit applications has been 0%, effectively no permits are given to build on state land.

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Mahmod in front of what remains of his home. Photo EAPPI/ J. Puukki

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Mahmod in front of what remains of his home. Photo EAPPI/ J. Puukki

This policy of not granting building permits within Area C has led to a situation in which the Palestinian inhabitants build without permission and are subsequently issued with a “stop work order” or an actual demolition order by the Israeli authorities. According to a recently published study by UNOCHA only a minority of these orders are executed, however they do not expire and thus pose a permanent threat to the affected families and livelihoods. The same organization states that there are currently 1074 pending demolition orders in the Jordan Valley. This policy is a violation of the fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel as a state has signed. Article 53 of the Convention states that any destruction of private or public property by the Occupying Power is prohibited unless rendered absolutely necessary by military necessity. This concept of “imperative military necessity” can be relied on in three strictly limited cases: demolition of property is justified in the case of protection of either the occupying forces or the local population and to prevent attacks from the occupied territories. In the case of Mahmod, none of these justifications were present. It is only a pretext to make life as hard as possible for Palestinians who live in Area C. This is what UNOCHA describes as “a coercive environment”.

An obvious question might be: Why don’t they just leave the land? The common answer is that this is their land. Their fathers, grandfathers and generations before them have inhabited these lands with their herds of sheep, goats and other animals. Would you move away from your home because someone was trying to force you away?

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Families emergency shelter after demolition. EAPPI /J. Fleischli

12.10.15. Jordan Valley, Humsa. Families emergency shelter after demolition. Photo EAPPI /J. Fleischli

After the demolition an international NGO gave Mahmod a temporary shelter for his livestock. Unfortunately, the shelter is unsuitable for his animals. So Mahmod and his family now live in this temporary shelter, while the animals have been moved into a shack. The family can barely survive under these terrible conditions, and the animals need an adequate shelter for the winter. Therefore both the family and the animals are in dire need of a more durable structure to call home.

UNOCHA definition for coercive environment: Various Israeli practices have created a coercive environment, which functions as a “push factor”. These practices include the restriction of access to grazing land and markets; the denial of access to basic infrastructure; the rejection of applications for building permits; and the demolition and threat of demolition of homes, schools and animal shelters. The authorities have also largely failed to protect the communities from intimidation and attacks by Israeli settlers.


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