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Article 212: The Israeli Planning and Building Law of 1965

March 13, 2010 4:15 P.M. (Updated: March 21, 2010 1:34 P.M.)
Article 212 of the Israeli Planning and Building Law of 1965 is a statute that allows the state to demolish homes deemed “a public nuisance.” Since the law was enacted, it has been used primarily against the Palestinian population of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Beginning in 1967 when Israel illegally annexed East Jerusalem and occupied the West Bank, article 212 has been the legal basis for hundreds, if not thousands of demolitions throughout the Jerusalem, including the razing of the Mughrabi neighborhood of the Old City, where the Western Wall prayer compound now stands.

The demolition of houses has been a regular feature of the Israeli occupation of internationally recognized Palestinian lands. According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), house demolitions are illegal under international law as article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that occupying powers are prohibited from destroying property or employing collective punishment.

The UN estimates that approximately 60,000 Palestinians currently living in East Jerusalem reside in buildings considered illegal by the Israeli government and thus under threat of demolition.

The law

According to Human Rights Watch the legal purpose of any demolition order based on article 212 is to maintain civil order and prevent any nuisance caused to the public by the existence of an illegal structure.

Article 212 states:

“Where an offence under this Chapter has been committed in respect of any building and, if any person had been convicted thereof, the Court would have been competent to order as provided in section 205, the Court may so order even without any person having been convicted as aforesaid.”

While article 205 addresses private properties owned by individuals, article 212 takes the building, and not its owner, into account. As a result, the authorities can claim a failure to identify or locate the building’s owner while still obtaining a judicial demolition order.

Although it is sufficient, according to article 205, to convict an individual of unauthorized construction, article 212 demands that the local authority must prove that the public interest outweighs the personal interest in order to enact demolition. The court must allow the owner of the building to prove that his or her personal interest outweighs the public interest. This stipulation is, however, void if the local authority is unable to identify the building owner.

Article 212 is invariably used when the state fails to provide enough evidence to convict the building owner for construction without a license, or in cases where it is not able to order a fine or a demolition order under article 205.

Uses and abuses

The demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem is a major part of what Palestinians have called the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. According to the UN, the homes of more than 600 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem were demolished in 2009 alone, many under article 212. From 1967 to 2009, ICAHD estimates that some 24,145 Palestinian homes have been demolished.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied since 1967, Richard Falk, suggested that while Israel defends house demolition as a normal feature of city planning, “both law and fact” suggest that houses are in fact demolished in a “discriminatory manner to demonstrate the power of the occupier over the occupied.”

Israeli authorities justify demolitions on the grounds that many houses are illegal and built without permits. However, the same UN report points out that “the bureaucratic procedures for obtaining permits are cumbersome and in practice permits are rarely granted. As a result, Palestinians are frequently compelled to build homes without permits.”

The human rights group Civic Coalition expressed concern that the Israeli government uses article 212 “as a tool to promote the ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem” and that over the years, Israel has used its town planning regime “to impose measures designed to change the legal, geographic and demographic state of East Jerusalem.”

Lawyers form Adalah, The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, claim that the Israeli government has abused article 212 to secure demolition orders. In January 2007, Adalah filed a motion with the Beer Sheva Magistrate’s Court in which it was argued that in the village of Um al-Hieran, just South of the West Bank, the Israeli authorities had secured a judicial demolition order against “owners unknown” when, in fact, they were fully aware of the identities of all the inhabitants.

The “Jerusalem 2000” plan

In June 1967, immediately after Israel seized East Jerusalem, Israeli contractors demolished 135 homes in the Mughrabi Quarter of the ancient city, paving the way for an expanded plaza and worship area for people visiting and praying at the Western Wall. In the ensuing years, another 100 homes in the district were demolished, completely destroying the neighborhood. The Israeli government cited article 212 as its legal basis.

Since the 1990s, the largest number of demolitions has taken place in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem. In the 1990s, the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality destroyed only four homes in Silwan. However, on 13 September 2004, the Israeli Mayor of Jerusalem, then Uri Lupolianski, announced the “Jerusalem 2000” plan. The plan laid out a framework for the continued and increased Judaization of the city. The plan designated the Bustan area of Silwan a public zone and called for the removal of all existing buildings and homes.

The primary aim of the plan is to reinforce the status of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and to increase the proportion of the Jewish population to 70% by the year 2020.

In the execution of this plan, the Municipality announced in February 2009 its intention to demolish 88 homes in Bustan, affecting some 1,500 people. Article 212 was cited as the legal justification for many of these demolitions. On 18 June 2009, a further 33 house owners were handed demolition orders.

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