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Panning razing of Palestinian hamlet, Omar accuses Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’

Fresh off election win, progressive Democrat says demolition of West Bank village violated international law along with US law, if IDF used US-funded equipment

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Congressional Progressive Caucus member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Congressional Progressive Caucus member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

NEW YORK — US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Thursday accused Israel of violating international law and carrying out “ethnic cleansing” in response to the demolition of a wildcat Palestinian village in the West Bank earlier this week.

“This a grave crime — in direct violation of international law. If they used any US equipment it also violates US law,” tweeted Omar, pointing out that federal law prevents American-funded military equipment from being used to perpetrate war crimes.

Omar is one of the most vocal Israel critics in Congress and has expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

She has also called for the US to condition aid to Israel based on the country’s behavior and policies toward the Palestinians.

The Israeli government denied Omar — along with the Palestinian-American Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib — entry into the country last year for supporting BDS.

She is fresh off a landslide victory in Tuesday’s election that secured her a second term in the House as a representative of Minnesota’s 5th district.

With her Thursday tweet, Omar became the first Congress member to criticize the demolition, which has been panned by the UN and the EU.

“An entire community is now homeless and will likely experience lifelong trauma,” Omar wrote. “The United States of America should not be bankrolling ethnic cleansing. Anywhere.”

The Tuesday demolition of Khirbet Humsa rendered around 73 Palestinians, including 41 children, homeless.

Palestinian Bedouin stand next to their belongings after Israeli soldiers demolished their tents in an area east of the village of Tubas, in the West Bank, on November 3, 2020. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said the army had destroyed structures erected illegally in a military live-fire zone. Khirbet Humsa is one of 38 Bedouin communities on land the Israeli military has designated for training, according to the UN.

Israel declared the area to be a live-fire zone in 1972, according to court filings. Humsa’s Bedouin residents had 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.

Khirbet Humsa residents, however, rejected the court’s decision, telling The Times of Israel that they have lived in the area their entire lives.

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.

A Palestinian Bedouin leads his donkey past the remains of his tents after Israeli soldiers demolished the tents in an area east of the village of Tubas, in the occupied West Bank, on November 3, 2020. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Palestinians counter that Israel does not provide them with any legal avenues to build. According to the human rights group Bimkom, 98.6 percent of requests by West Bank Palestinians for construction permits between 2016 and 2018 were rejected.

According to B’Tselem, another 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 on the matter in 2016.

The demolition in Khirbet Humsa was condemned by both the UN and EU, which said such moves are an “an impediment to the two-state solution.”

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report. 

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