A routine meeting between the Foreign Ministry’s director and the EU envoys last week turned into a protest by the European states against Israel’s plan to demolish a Bedouin village.
The European Union is demanding that Israel stop demolishing Palestinian homes in Area C of the West Bank, and particularly in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim, since this would entail forced transfer of the residents and be a violation of the Geneva Convention.
According to Israeli and European diplomats, the sharp message in the name of all EU members was delivered last week by EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen to new Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem.
The Israeli and European diplomats said that last week Rotem held his first meeting with the ambassadors of all the EU member states in Israel. The meeting, held in the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, was meant to be a routine briefing for the envoys, but it turned, at least at first, into a confrontation regarding government policies in Area C, where Israel has full civilian and security control.
Immediately after the meeting began, Faaborg-Andersen announced that he was taking advantage of the meeting to deliver a message that had been approved by the EU’s security and diplomacy commission, on which all 28 member states are represented. The document, obtained by Haaretz, is very strongly worded and describes Israel as an “occupying power.”
“The practice of enforcement measures such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes and humanitarian assets (including EU-funded) and the obstruction of delivery of humanitarian assistance are contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law, including in particular provisions of the 4th Geneva Convention … and cause suffering to ordinary Palestinians,” says the document, which was read out loud by Faaborg-Andersen at the meeting.
“We therefore call on Israel, as the occupying power, to meet its obligations vis-à-vis the Palestinian population in Area C, completely stop these demolitions and confiscations and allow full access of humanitarian assistance. We urge Israel to accelerate approvals of Palestinian master plans, halt forced transfers of population and demolitions of Palestinian housing and infrastructure; simplify administrative procedures to obtain building permits, ensure access to water and address humanitarian needs.”
Diplomats: Very tense atmosphere
According to diplomats who were present, Rotem was taken aback by the message. The atmosphere was very tense and Rotem cynically remarked, “That’s a great way to start a first meeting with the Foreign Ministry director-general.” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon confirmed the delivery of the protest and the document by the European ambassadors, but said that the meeting itself was conducted in a businesslike fashion.
The EU and its member states have been expressing concern about Israeli policies in Area C for some time. Nevertheless, the background to this protest was the delivery of demolition notices to all 42 homes in Khan al-Ahmar, located in the strategic area known as E1, which links Ma’aleh Adumin to Jerusalem. The EU fears that demolition of the village portends the construction of a new settlement at the site.
Khan al-Amar’s residents live in temporary structures with no utilities. The Bedouin there and in the surrounding areas are among the poorest groups in the West Bank. Although all the structures in the village were erected illegally, the Civil Administration looked away for years. The village is the site of the “tire school,” a structure made of old tires that educates hundreds of pupils from several unrecognized Bedouin villages in the area. The school, built with Italian funding, has become a symbol of the Bedouin struggle against the village’s demolition.
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano, who visited Israel two weeks ago, raised the issue of the village’s demolition during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Alfano asked the premier to reconsider the demolition but his request was categorically rejected. “Just as we did not approve illegal building by Jews in Amona, so we will not allow illegal construction by Palestinians,” Netanyahu said.
The letter read by Faaborg-Andersen at the meeting with Rotem mentioned Khan al-Ahmar specifically, not least because Italy and some other countries helped fund the structures slated for demolition.
“Approximately 140 Palestine refugees who have been living in the community since the 1950s would face the risk of forced transfer,” Faaborg-Andersen read from the text. “In addition, 170 pupils at the school in Khan al-Ahmar, which also serves surrounding communities, would be left without access to education. We urge Israel not to undertake any demolitions in the community. The EU and EU member states are united in the view that Area C is of critical importance for the viability of a future Palestinian state.”