ICC prosecutor warns: Demolishing Khan al-Ahmar a ‘war crime’

Fatou Bensouda says she won’t ‘hesitate to take appropriate action,’ should the West Bank village be demolished. British Prime Minister Theresa May says demolition will be a ‘major blow to two-state solution.’

Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda issued a stern warning to Israel officials on Wednesday, saying she will not “hesitate to take any appropriate action” should they demolish the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar and forcibly transfer its residents.

Bensouda’s warning comes as Israeli authorities ramp up their attempts to destroy the village and remove its residents, who have lived in Khan al-Ahmar for over 40 years.

The ICC prosecutor also expressed concern about the continued violence at the Gaza-Israel border, several hours after a rocket fired from the Strip struck a home in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva. In response, the Israeli Air Force struck 20 targets it said belonged to Hamas.

Bensouda’s full statement:

“I have been following with concern the planned eviction of the Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar, in the West Bank. Evacuation by force now appears imminent, and with it the prospects for further escalation and violence.

It bears recalling, as a general matter, that extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute.

I am similarly alarmed by the continued violence, perpetrated by actors on both sides, at the Gaza border with Israel.

As Prosecutor seized of the situation in Palestine, I therefore feel compelled to remind all parties that the situation remains under preliminary examination by my Office.

I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action, within the confines of the independent and impartial exercise of my mandate under the Rome Statute, with full respect for the principle of complementarity.”

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament on Wednesday that the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar would constitute a “major blow to the two-state solution,” urging the Israeli government not to follow through with its plans of displacing the village’s residents. May’s comments came in response to a query by MP Alistair Carmichael, in which he implored the prime minister to make it clear to Benjamin Netanyahu that “this is occupied territory, that these are refugees, protected people whose forcible removal…would constitute a war crime.”

Both Bensouda and May’s remarks come as Israeli authorities make preparations to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, following a High Court ruling last month that sealed the village’s fate. Earlier this week, Israeli security forces accompanied by bulldozers entered the outskirts of the village to begin leveling the ground in the run-up to the demolition. At least seven people were injured and four others detained on Monday, after trying to block the bulldozers from carrying out their work.

Israel plans to evict the residents and transfer them to a designated area adjacent to a garbage site near the town of Abu Dis in East Jerusalem.