The European Union and the United Nations have condemned the Israeli demolition of a Palestinian community in the Jordan Valley on Tuesday, which rendered around 73 Palestinians — including 41 children — homeless.
Such demolitions constitute “an impediment to the two-state solution,” the EU spokesperson said in a statement Thursday.
“The EU reiterates its call on Israel to halt all such demolitions, including of EU-funded structures, in particular in light of the humanitarian impact of the current coronavirus pandemic,” the spokesperson said.
Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said the army had destroyed structures erected illegally in a military live-fire zone. The site in question, Khirbet Husma, is one of 38 Bedouin communities on land the Israeli military has designated for training, the UN said.
“An enforcement activity was carried out by the Supervision Unit of the Civil Administration against 7 tents and 8 pens which were illegally constructed in a firing range located in the Jordan Valley,” the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement.
Israel declared the area to be a live-fire zone in 1972, according to court filings. Humsa’s Bedouin residents appealed to the Israeli High Court to cancel their campsite’s impending demolition. In 2019, the court rejected the petition and ruled the herders had no right to stay in the area.
While Israeli military law forbids the expulsion of permanent residents from a firing zone, the High Court ruled that Khirbet Humsa’s residents did not meet that standard.
“The petitioners have no recognized property rights in these areas. These are intruders who use these areas for grazing,” the High Court said.
Khirbet Humsa’s Palestinian residents, however, rejected the court’s claim, telling The Times of Israel that they have lived in the area their entire lives.
“We’re going to start over. We cannot leave this place — I was raised here, and my children were raised here, and now my grandchildren. This is my home, and there’s nowhere else for me to go,” said Khirbet Humsa resident Yasir Abu al-Kabbash.
The Jordan Valley is in Area C, under Israeli security and civilian control according to the 1995 Oslo Accords. According to the agreements, Israel is responsible for planning and construction in the area. Israeli authorities regularly demolish Palestinian structures in Area C which they deem to have been built illegally.
Palestinians counter that Israel does not provide them with any legal avenues to build. According to the human rights group Bimkom, 98.6% of requests by West Bank Palestinians for construction permits between 2016 and 2018 were rejected.
Some 52 Palestinian schools in Area C have outstanding demolition orders, according to the EU. Some of those schools, such as a school in the small Bedouin village of Ras al-Tin in the south Hebron hills, were built with EU funding.
“As reiterated in previous EU Council Conclusions, the EU calls for the protection of children, including ensuring their right to education in a safe and secure school environment,” the EU said.
The United Nations also condemned the demolition of Khirbet Humsa as a violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.
“I remind all parties that the extensive destruction of property and the forcible transfer of protected people in an occupied territory are grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” senior UN official Yvonne Helle said on Wednesday.
“While assuring that the humanitarian community stands ready to support all those who have been displaced or otherwise affected, I strongly reiterate our call to Israel to immediately halt unlawful demolitions,” Helle said.
According to B’Tselem, a human rights group, 798 Palestinians in the West Bank have been left homeless by Israeli demolitions so far this year, the highest number since the organization began collecting data in 2016.
“The wiping off of a whole community at once is extremely rare,” said Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for B’Tselem. “It seems like Israel was making use of the fact that everyone’s attention is currently set elsewhere to move forward with this inhumane act.”