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Home > Issue 24: Democratic Formation in Palestine Periodic Reports (10) & (11 ) >

Structural Planning and Building Permits in Palestine

by Abas Abdel Haq

The Oslo agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the state of Israel, as well as the ensuing steps that divided the Palestinian territories which were occupied in 1967, in addition to the Israeli acts and measures all put the Palestinians both citizens and authority, face to face with changes on the ground. These changes aimed to create facts that would lead to far reaching damages if no decisive intervention is taken to deal with them. These facts may also undermine the economic, environmental and health objectives of Palestinian society and individuals. This can be seen clearly in the regional and structural planning practiced by Israel according to the above mentioned agreement which left the land, specially areas C under its control. This is also embodied in the PA s approval in constructing a network of roads known as by-pass roads that are tearing up the homeland, and deferring the discussion of the Jewish settlement issue which is violating international laws and resolutions to the final status negotiations which are not looming in the horizon.

The symposium held on May 22, 2001 discussed several historical, architectural, legal, and organizational topics dealing with the land and people, in Palestine. The following is a synopsis of the symposium:

Historical background

For at least a century, it is obvious that the Palestinians were actually absent from every thing that dealt with regional and structural planning in their own country. The weakness of the central authority of the Ottoman Turkish rule produced disorder in the implementation of laws in the cities. Changes were introduced on public properties and roads by influential people in their communities, a thing that clearly distorted the planning in some cities like Nablus, Hebron, Nazareth, Jerusalem, etc.

Transfer of authority from the Ottoman Turkish sovereignty to the Mandate authority, whose main aim according to the Sykes-Picot agreement was to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, led to opening the door wide before the international Zionist movement to make plans on a regional level for the whole area of Palestine as well as structural plans for Jewish colonies. The opinion, interests and requisites of the Arab population were totally ignored in these plans. The consequences of these activities were soon felt. In 1926, an Austrian German language magazine published regional and structural plans which included scores of locations. Most important among these plans was the regional one for the whole area (see the picture). Structural plans were also published for locations such as Talpiot, Ein Karem, Al-Karmel, the northern Jordan valley area, Tel Al-Adas, Kufr Nehlal, Kufr Khaitem, and others.

The mandate authority also made some city structural plans with the aim of restricting the construction. Such plans lacked a future vision to develop the Palestinian Arab society and were void of industrial areas or any arrangements related to sewage and other necessities. The influence of municipalities existing at the time on such plans was totally absent.

Regional planning started later in 1942. It mainly aimed to restrict and besiege Arab cities and to open the way for the already prepared Zionist plans and to give the implementation of such plans a legal status. The implementation actually started after clearing the country of its owners and demolishing 430 Arab villages, the existence of which were in contradiction with these plans. The sudden departure of the British authority, and the taking over by the Zionist organization which was already prepared for that, led to the deportation of about 90% of the Arab population from the areas, which came later under Israeli Jewish control, and from the most developed areas in Palestine, at the time namely the coastal area and cities. The deported population had to move to other countries and to the remaining Palestinian territories, which were under Arab control. This situation left a great negative impact on the structural plans of the Palestinian Arab cities. Most prominent among the negative aspects of that era was the proliferation of refugee camps in the Palestinian cities and their outskirts. This has led to a random and detrimental depletion of the structural reserves for planning. This was clearly manifested in the depletion of land, water, and energy resources as well as roads. The structural planning of cities in general collapsed as a result of that. Solving the daily problems of hundreds of thousands of the indigenous people and protecting their lives became the top priority that superceded any planning related to urban development based on sound architectural and social foundations.

The first ten years of the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948) were characterized with political and social instability in all Palestine, whether in the Gaza Strip, which was occupied for a short time in 1956, or the West Bank which was annexed to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1951. Due to lack of resources, prevailing bureaucracy and tribal rule, the structural planning after the annexation to Jordan remained ignored until the mid 1960 s, when the Israeli occupation in 1967 destroyed any modest structural planning that had been achieved, giving priority to the policy of settlement already prepared half a century before. This policy is based on the destruction of Palestinian life including its social, political and physical manifestations, and led to a yet further and more dangerous deterioration in structural planning. While the cities were restricted within their old structural plans under the excuse of sticking to the Jordanian and Egyptian regulations that existed before the occupation, Israel, in cooperation with the Jordanian government started in the middle of the 1980 s to make what was called structural plans for villages. Political shortsightedness, and the activity of some engineering firms, which were established for that purpose, produced scores of village structural plans which practically transformed the villages into something like prisons. This seems now as if it was aimed at paving the way for the situation we are actually living now, where Palestinian cities and villages are under siege. The occupation authorities also activated the policy of demolition, whereby thousands of houses, which violated this imposed criminal structural planning, were demolished. Unfortunately, most of this criminal structural planning was designed by Palestinians.

Structural planning after Oslo

The Oslo Agreement and its consequent division of the West Bank into A, B and C areas led to the following:

  1. Besieging the Palestinian cities and reducing their boundaries to less than their actual existing boundaries. This has pushed these cities to expand vertically leading to an almost collapse in the infrastructure, including roads, sewerage, and water provision. Life in the liberated cities has become a life of structural crisis.
  2. Putting the Palestinians under the illusion of regional and structural planning for all the regions, like the Norwegian project and many other projects with strange tasks implemented by the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.
  3. The illusionary planning contributed to imposing an atmosphere of relaxation pertaining to the defense of land against expropriation, both on the level of the authority and citizens. The result was that the occupation authorities started to construct the by-pass roads, which are actually the roads of Sharon s project in the 1970 s. That project aimed to impose segregation on the West Bank, with Palestinian consent.
  4. Settlement expansion and land expropriation continued at a very high rate, which meant striking off any Palestinian planning effort on the ground.
  5. No real effort was exerted to solve the problems of regional and structural planning. Staffing the ministries and engineering offices with scores of superfluous employees led to wasting an opportunity at the time to solve the immediate tasks of planning. In addition, we suffer the problem of weak staff, and lack of a political and national sense on the importance of planning, whether among those responsible for the decision-making or those authorized to carry out the tasks. Even the average citizen continuously seeks to achieve his/her individual interest regardless of whether or not that fits with the general national interest in the field of planning and construction.

The symposium on structural planning was attended by a good number of municipal and local council representatives. Many shortcomings and failures in the field of regional and structural planning were highlighted in the symposium, which provided the opportunity for the municipal officials and average citizens to voice their opinions, a thing which is normally difficult to take place in official and semi-official departments.

Among the most prominent ideas expressed in the symposium were the following:

    1. There is no unified body that can meet the basic needs related to regional and structural planning.
    2. There is no advisory department, especially in the Ministry of Local Government, that can cover the needs of scores of new municipal councils, which were established without planning and without appropriate human and financial resources.
    3. Several local and municipal councils have no urban or other influence on the areas they are supposed to serve.
    4. The difficulties and complications pertaining to the mechanism of granting construction permits, as well as supervising the construction work, its safety, and compatibility with sound engineering requisites.
    5. The lack of infrastructure even in the new cities and villages, which obstructs the possibility of benefiting from the existing plans even with the shortcomings and failures.
    6. The limited foreign funding linked to different international policies, did not help in finding adequate solutions that meet the Palestinian national interest especially in Jerusalem and around the settlement areas.

The following recommendations were made:

  1. The need to establish one unified body responsible for regional and structural planning, so that it would be possible to achieve the Palestinian national interest.
  2. A proposal to reconsider an increase in the number of municipalities basically remained no more than ink on paper, without having an actual possibility for development, or carrying developments in their field of specialization.
  3. Unifying the policies pertaining to infrastructure and basic services in each of the governorates, to guarantee executing the basic tasks like establishing and maintaining roads, and solving the problems of water provision, sewerage and disposal of solid waste, all of which has proven difficult to solve.
  4. The need for the Engineers Union to have regulations and laws that take into consideration the needs and capabilities especially of the new municipalities, including the provision of free consultancy. The cost of such consultation can be covered through a special fund. This is necessary to overcome random construction and building violations.
  5. Clearing ministries and official bodies of the superfluous numbers of employees and officials, and adopting scientific and real qualifications as the basis for appointments in various positions, and ending the appointment of employees according to a party quota .


((((Regional planning for the area between Haifa and Acko, 1926 (Richard Kaufman Planning Office, Jerusalem, commissioned by the Zionist movement))).



Source: ATF Shu‘un Tanmawyyeh Issue 24

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