Hague prosecutor issues war crime warning on Bedouin village demolition

ICC’s Fatou Bensouda says planned razing of Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank could violate Rome Statute; warns she is ‘keeping an eye’ on both sides in Gaza clashes

The Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is seen decorated with Palestinian flags on October 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
The Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, east of Jerusalem in the West Bank, is seen decorated with Palestinian flags on October 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has issued a warning that if Israel goes ahead and destroys a Palestinian Bedouin village in the West Bank it could constitute a war crime.

The Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against plans to demolish the village, Khan al-Ahmar.

In a statement Wednesday, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said “evacuation by force now appears imminent.”

Bensouda added that the “extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes” under the Rome Statute treaty that established the ICC.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, December 18, 2012 (AP Photo/Robin van Lonkhuijsen, Pool)

Israel says Khan al-Ahmar was built illegally and has offered to resettle its residents a few miles away.

Palestinians and other critics say the demolition aims to displace Palestinians in favor of Israeli settlement expansion.

Neither Israel or the United States are members of the ICC, which was set up in 2002 to probe the world’s worst crimes including war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Village warned of demolition

Late last month, the Civil Administration warned residents of Khan al-Ahmar that if they did not pack up their things and demolish all structures by October 1, Israeli authorities would do so for them.

Two weeks have passed since then and Khan al-Ahmar still stands, but residents as well as a number of defense officials have told The Times of Israel that they are expecting the razing to take place this week.

An Israeli bulldozer and sewage truck work to drain a swamp and clear a road in Khan al-Ahmar ahead of the Bedouin village’s demolition on October 15, 2018. (Christine Rinawi)

The relocation site is hooked up to water, electricity and sewage and has a school to replace the current Italian-funded institution, which uses falafel oil and mud-caked tires as construction materials, and which has become a symbol for the village.

But residents of Khan al-Ahmar –180 in number, according to the UN — have vehemently opposed moving there, saying that they were never consulted, the location is unsuitable for their rural way of life and is next to a garbage dump, and residents of Abu Dis have warned them to stay away.

They have similarly been uninterested in a second relocation site proposed to them by the state two months ago adjacent to the nearby settlement of Mitzpe Jericho as well as to a sewage treatment facility.

The villagers — who have lived at the site, then controlled by Jordan, since the 1950s, after the state evicted them from their Negev homes — argue that they had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as such permits are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as where Khan al-Ahmar lies, where Israel exerts full control over civilian affairs.

Opponents of the demolition also argue that it is part of an effort to enable the expansion of the nearby settlement of Kfar Adumim, and to create a region of Israeli control from Jerusalem almost to the Dead Sea, a move critics say will bisect the West Bank, making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.

‘Eye’ on Gaza violence

Bensouda also warned she was keeping a “close eye” on the violence in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian terrorists launched a rocket that hit a home in the southern city of Beersheba, causing serious damage but no injuries.

A second rocket fired from Gaza landed off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area, known in Israel as Gush Dan, which consists of the metropolis itself along with a number of large suburbs.

In response to the early morning rocket attack, the IDF said it bombed some 20 targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including an attack tunnel being dug toward Israel from outside the city of Khan Younis.

An Israeli sapper checks a house after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip at the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on October 17, 2018. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

The entrance to a naval tunnel west of Khan Younis, which would be used by Hamas’s naval commando unit, was also destroyed in the retaliatory airstrikes, the army said.

The prosecutor said she was “alarmed by the continued violence, perpetrated by actors on both sides, at the Gaza border with Israel.”

“I therefore feel compelled to remind all parties that the situation remains under preliminary examination by my office,” she added. “I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action.”

Gaza’s Islamist terrorist rulers Hamas and another terror group, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, issued a joint statement disavowing the latest rocket fire and saying they rejected “all irresponsible attempts” to undermine Egyptian efforts to broker a new long-term truce to end months of border violence.

But Israel, which holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire from the territory regardless of who launches it, struck targets in Gaza, killing one Palestinian, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on October 17, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

“There are only two organizations in Gaza that have this caliber of rocket: Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. “It’s not hard to narrow down who’s behind it.”

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