The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, condemned the demolition by Israel of the homes and property belonging to the Palestinian Bedouin community of Humsa al-Bqai’a, in the northern Jordan Valley of the occupied West Bank.
On 7 July, the Israeli Civil Administration – the arm of the Israeli army which administers the occupation of the West Bank – accompanied by military troops, demolished 27 residential shelters, animal structures, and water tanks, and confiscated the community’s belongings.
According to reports, 11 households – comprising around 70 people, including 35 children – were displaced. Among the sequestered possessions were food, water, and clothing, leaving the community without shelter and sustenance in the summer heat of the Jordan Valley.
The community appears to be at a high risk of forcible transfer, Lynk said. Prior to the demolition, the Israeli Civil Administration had proposed to transfer the community to a different location.
“This demolition is both unlawful and heartless,” said the human rights expert. “As the occupying power, Israel is strictly forbidden from destroying Palestinian property unless it is absolutely required by military necessity during active armed operations.
“The forcible transfer of the inhabitants of Humsa al-Bqai’a is also strictly prohibited as a grave breach and a potential war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention.”
Israeli forces demolished 55 structures in Humsa al-Bqai’a in February 2021. Eleven of the structures demolished this week were provided to the community as an international humanitarian response following the February 2021 demolitions. Humsa had also been razed by the Israeli military in November 2020.
“Humsa al-Bqai’a is one of a number of Palestinian herding communities in the Jordan Valley,” said the expert. “These communities are extremely vulnerable, both because they have limited access to water, sanitation, education, and electrical power, and because the Israeli military has seized large swaths of their traditional lands for military firing zones.
“In contrast, the illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley are left undisturbed by the military. This progressive seizure of Palestinian lands, together with the protection of the settlements, is a further consolidation of Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank.”
So far in 2021, the Israeli authorities have demolished, seized, or forced people to demolish at least 421 Palestinian-owned structures, including 130 donor-funded, displacing 592 people, including some 320 children across the West Bank, the UN Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs says.
“The discriminatory Israeli planning regime in the occupied Palestinian territory results in a coercive atmosphere, where property demolitions, or the threat of demolitions, drives Palestinians away from their homes, lands, and livelihoods,” Lynk said.
“We again call on Israel to immediately halt its property demolitions in the occupied territory, to ensure that its actions are strictly compliant with its international humanitarian and human rights obligations, and to provide protection for, rather than displacement of, the protected population.”
The Special Rapporteur implored the international community to take meaningful accountability measures to ensure that Israel complies with its legal obligations.
“Criticism without consequences has rarely reversed illegal Israeli conduct in the past,” he said. “Accountability has to rise to the top of the international community’s agenda. Only by imposing an escalating cost to Israel’s illegal occupation will there be the prospect that these injustices will end.”