A consortium of diplomatic missions across Europe, led by the Office of the European Union Representative to the West Bank and Gaza, called on Israel to stop all demolitions of schools and other structures that were built with humanitarian help in the West Bank, and allow humanitarian organization workers to operate freely in the territory and in East Jerusalem.
In a press statement Friday, the consulates general of Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom, and the representative offices of Denmark, Finland, Germany and Ireland, as well as the EU office to the West Bank and Gaza, slammed Israel for the recent demolition earlier this month of an EU-funded school in the Palestinian village of Jubbet al-Dhib near Bethlehem, and the “threatened demolition of another 57 schools in the West Bank.”
In early May, Israeli Civil Administration engineers razed the school in Jubbet al-Dhib, which Palestinians constructed in 2017 without a permit in the Herodium national park in the West Bank.
The demolition followed a District Court ruling from March, in which the structure was defined as a safety hazard at risk of imminent collapse.
The EU harshly criticized the move, and one spokesperson said they were “shocked by the news.”
In their communication with Israeli authorities, the diplomatic missions on Friday called to “return or compensate for all humanitarian items funded by the consortium of donors, and estimated the “total value of donor-funded items, which have been demolished, dismantled or confiscated since 2015… at 1,291,000 euros,” or close to $1.4 million.
The missions on Friday also expressed their “grave concern” for more than 1,000 Palestinians who are due for impending expulsion from an arid area of the West Bank known as Masafer Yatta, which the Israeli military has designated as a live-fire training zone.
The expulsion order was upheld last May by Israel’s Supreme Court, after a two-decade legal battle. Most residents of the area have remained in place since the ruling, even as Israeli security forces periodically roll in to demolish structures.
Masafer Yatta is made up of eight hamlets that are in the 60 percent of the West Bank known as Area C, where the IDF exercises full control under interim peace agreements reached with the Palestinians in the 1990s. Palestinian structures built without military permits — which residents say are nearly impossible to obtain — are at risk of demolition.
In 1979, the army expropriated some 30 square kilometers (11.5 square miles) of land and declared it Firing Zone 918. Since then, the Israeli military has sought to evict Palestinians living in the eight villages that lie inside the firing zone, most of them collections of low-slung homes with makeshift roofs.
Local Palestinians argued that their presence predates the firing zone, meaning that they cannot be expelled under Israeli law. Israeli authorities contested the Palestinians’ argument and government attorneys presented satellite photos that they claim show no residential structures on the hilltops before the 1990s.
On Friday, the diplomatic missions also addressed Israel’s “failure to protect Palestinians and prosecute violent settlers,” noting violent recent incidents in the Palestinian towns of Burqa, where extremist settlers attacked villagers and set fire to homes on Wednesday, and Huwara, where Israeli settlers in February rampaged through the town following a terror attack, an incident described by one Israeli general as a “pogrom.”
The missions “underlined their concern about continued and dangerous statements, which can incite further violence, and stressed that partners on the ground consider that settlement expansion has resulted in increased settler violence,” they said, calling on Israel to “cease the policy of settlement expansion and of denying Palestinian development” in the West Bank.
While the international community considers all settlements in the West Bank illegal, Israel differentiates between settlement homes built and permitted by the Defense Ministry on land owned by the state, and illegal outposts built without necessary permits, often on private Palestinian land.
In March, lawmakers okayed a rollback of 2005 legislation that had placed the land of four northern West Bank settlements out of bounds for Israelis to develop.
That vote came a month after the cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the legalization of nine outposts deep in the West Bank in response to a string of Palestinian terror attacks, a move that drew widespread condemnation.
This past week, lawmakers passed a state budget that will invest several billion shekels in West Bank settlements and transportation infrastructure, further entrenching Israel’s presence in the disputed territory.