British MPs have an opportunity on Thursday to table questions to the British Department of International Development in what will be the last chance to raise Palestinian issues before the new session of Parliament starts on May 18.
The two most burning questions are the demolition of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, which has increased four-fold since last year, and the Paris meeting of foreign ministers on May 30 which could lead to French recognition of Palestine later this year.
The United Nations weekly report on Palestine reports that Israeli occupation forces bulldozers had demolished 586 Palestinian buildings, evicting 800 people, in the first 15 weeks of 2016 – four times the rate of demolitions and evictions last year.
British Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood confirmed in a reply to British Labour MP Richard Burden that the demolitions are “in all but the most exceptional cases contrary to international humanitarian law”.
The four-fold increase in Israeli evictions of Palestinian families since the start of this year is finally prompting Foreign Office ministers to raise two more issues with the Israeli government.
First, they will urge Israeli authorities “to provide a legal route for Palestinians to obtain building permits”.
At the moment Israel controls building permits in three quarters of the occupied West Bank and refuses permits to Palestinians in over 99% of cases.
Second, they are considering an EU-wide approach on how to respond to the demolition and confiscation of buildings financed by the EU.
This was announced by British Middle East minister Tobias Ellwood (below left) in a reply to a question from British Labour MP Richard Burden (below right) belatedly published in a letter after the minister misheard his question in the Commons:
The UK position on demolitions is clear: demolitions cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians; damage chances
of achieving a two-state solution; and are, in all but the most exceptional cases, contrary to international humanitarian law.
We are concerned by the large increase in the rate of demolitions, including of donor-funded structures, since the start of 2016.
We regularly raise this issue with our Israeli counterparts, most recently on 13 April, and urge the Israeli authorities to provide a legal route for Palestinians to obtain building permits.
Within the EU we are also considering how to respond to the demolition and confiscation of EU-funded structures.
We will continue to provide practical assistance to Palestinians in Area C facing demolition or eviction through our support for Rabbis for Human Rights and the Norwegian Refugee Council legal aid programme.
The NRC has successfully suspended demolitions and evictions so that Palestinians can remain in their homes in 97% of the cases they represent.
According to the UN, the Israelis had already demolished 120 donor-funded buildings by the beginning of March, more than in the whole of last year, and a good proportion of these must have been funded by the British taxpayer.
British MPs have been urging the EU for years to demand compensation for the destruction of EU-funded buildings on the basis that presenting Israel with a bill for the damage would be far more effective than simply making ‘representations.
Furthermore, Palestinians suffer from acts of terrorism by illegal Israeli settlers on an almost daily basis, yet there is much less coverage of these acts of terrorism in the UK media than there is about Palestinian acts of terrorism.
In the last ten years the UN has catalogued 2,598 acts of violence by settlers against Palestinians, yet they rarely end up in court even when there is clear video evidence of settlers committing acts of violence, often with soldiers looking on or even joining in.
Palestinians report the attacks to the police, but over 90% of the complaints lead to no charges.
Only when there is an international outcry – as there was in the case of Mohammed Khdair, the 16-year-old boy burned alive, and the Duwabshe family, burned to death in a firebomb attack last year – are the attackers brought to court.