Online-only West Bank hearing now in person after outrage
A last-minute decision to hold a Zoom-only hearing about controversial Israeli construction plans in the occupied West Bank has been reversed to allow for Palestinians without internet access to participate after outrage.
The Israeli governing body in the West Bank, known as the Civil Administration, planned to hold a virtual hearing on Monday about longstanding plans to build in a 12 sq km area known as E1, which stretches from occupied East Jerusalem to Ma'ale Adumim, a West Bank settlement considered illegal under international law.
The meeting was switched on Sunday from an in-person event to an online hearing, which would prevent hundreds of Palestinians with poor electricity services and internet infrastructure - many of whom face being expelled from their homes due to the construction - from attending.
After complaints from lawyers and an inquiry by Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the decision was reversed just hours before the meeting was due to take place to allow attendance both in person and via video.
Lawyers representing the Palestinians protesting against construction "complained to the Civil Administration that [Zoom-only meetings did] not allow for proper participation of the objectors," reported Haaretz.
Hearings on Zoom, under normal circumstances, must be held with the consent of those objecting to the motion and/or plans discussed, according to an Israeli Planning Administration directive. The invitation must include an option for people to protest a Zoom-only hearing.
Originally, there was no such option at Monday's hearing, said the Israeli newspaper.
This would have resulted in Palestinians, many of whom live in Bedouin villages threatened by Israeli construction, losing out on the opportunity to have their voice heard and protest against further settlements.
Plans to build in E1 have been fiercely criticised over the years because construction will cut off the north of the West Bank from the southern section, dealing a further blow to the possibility of the creation of a viable Palestinian state.
"The implementation of construction plans in E1 will create an urban bloc between Ma'ale Adumim and Jerusalem, exacerbate the isolation of East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and disrupt the territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank," said B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation
B'Tselem also said that construction of settlements in the E1 area will lead to the expulsion of Bedouin communities and "numerous violations of Palestinians’ human rights".