Israel blocks EU envoys’ visit to school in threatened Bedouin village

Diplomats turned back at entrance to Khan al-Ahmar, which police say is now a closed military zone as bulldozers move in

European General Consuls of France (L), Sweden, Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Switzerland, Findand, Denmark and European Union are blocked by Israeli police as they try to visit the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank east of Jerusalem on July 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

AFP — European diplomats on Thursday tried to pay a solidarity visit to a West Bank village under threat of demolition by Israel, but police barred them from reaching a school there.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Switzerland sought to visit the school in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

Police at the scene said the area had been declared a closed military zone.

“We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school,” the Irish representative office to the West Bank wrote on its official Twitter feed.

“We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law,” the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene.

Residents of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, wait under a tree as Israeli police claimed the village closed military area on July 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

He said that demolishing the village of 173 residents, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, would be a violation of the Geneva convention, laying out the obligations of an occupier toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

After a years-long legal battle, the Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in May. The state says the structures were built without the relevant building permits and pose a threat to residents because of their proximity to a highway.

But activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.

On Tuesday, activists said, Israel issued orders authorizing the seizure of access roads to the village.

Israeli forces guard the access to the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, as Israeli police claimed the village is a closed military area on July 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

Heavy equipment has since been seen there, feeding speculation that a road was being prepared to facilitate its evacuation and demolition, and sparking scuffles between Israeli police and protesters.

Israel says it has offered the residents an alternative location, near a garbage dump belonging to the Palestinian town of Abu Dis. Bedouin villagers say the location is unsuitable for their way of life, and have asserted that residents of Abu Dis have warned them not to come there.

The village is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.

It is not known when the demolition will take place, but on Thursday bulldozers could be seen widening the access road to the village.

Activists expect the demolition to happen within the next few days.

Dozens of journalists and activists stood at the edge of the village on Thursday.

“What the Israeli authorities are doing is a population transfer contrary to the Rome and Geneva conventions,” Palestinian lawyer Munji Abdallah, 50, told AFP.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

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