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UN officials visit Bedouin village slated for demolition, call situation 'unacceptable'

Feb. 23, 2017 1:20 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 23, 2017 10:15 P.M.)
(AFP/File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- UN officials visited the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar in the central occupied West Bank district of Jerusalem on Wednesday, which is under threat of forcible relocation by Israeli authorities who delivered demolition notices to every single house in the village on Sunday, and called the situation “unacceptable.”

Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and UN Development Activities for the occupied Palestinian territory Robert Piper and Director of UNRWA Operations in the West Bank Scott Anderson visited the small village located in Area C -- the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli control and the site of frequent Israeli demolitions.

“Khan al-Ahmar is one of the most vulnerable communities in the West Bank, struggling to maintain a minimum standard of living in the face of intense pressure from the Israeli authorities to move to a planned relocation site,” Piper said in a statement, adding that “this is unacceptable and it must stop.”

Over the past week, Israeli authorities delivered demolition notices to the village's 40 homes and elementary school, including stop-work orders targeting various structures in the village. Locals told Ma’an at the time that Israeli forces imposed a military closure on the area before delivering the demolition warrants, as faculty and students of the school were prevented from accessing the building.

Despite the fact that the community, and the school in particular, has been threatened with demolition by the Israeli government for years, locals said the issuing of demolition warrants to every single house was an unprecedented blow.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that Israeli authorities confirmed the widespread issuance of demolition orders was unprecedented in the area, and that the raid was "a declaration of intention in advance of an attempt to evacuate the entire village."

The demolition notices were issued on the basis of the community lacking almost impossible to obtain Israeli building permits, which the UN has said results from the discriminatory zoning and planning regimes implemented in Area C.

According to the statement released by the UN, the enforcement of these orders in Khan al-Ahmar would “directly impact the homes and livelihoods of over 140 Palestinian refugees, more than half of them children.”

The statement also highlighted that the orders have also targeted the village’s primary school, built out of tires and mud. The school was built with the help of international donors, and according to the UN serves some 170 Bedouin children in the area.

“The developments in Khan al Ahmar are not unique,” Piper said. “Thousands of families live in fear of demolitions at any moment, and entire communities exist in chronic instability.”

“When schools are demolished, the right to education of Palestinian children is also threatened. This creates a coercive environment that forces certain Palestinian communities to move elsewhere, ” he noted.

He added that the international community should work together to support and protect vulnerable communities like the Bedouin, while “insisting that international law is respected.”

Khan al-Ahmar, like other Bedouin communities in the region, is under threat of relocation by Israel for being located in the contentious “E1 corridor” set up by the Israeli government to link annexed East Jerusalem with the mega settlement of Maale Adumim.

Israeli authorities plan to build thousands of homes for Jewish-only settlements in E1, which would effectively divide the West Bank and make the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state -- as envisaged by the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict -- almost impossible.

Rights groups and Bedouin community members have sharply criticized Israel's relocation plans for the Bedouin residing near the illegal Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, claiming that the removal would displace indigenous Palestinians for the sake of expanding Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank in violation of international law.

The statement reiterated the UN’s longstanding condemnation of the forcible transfer of Bedouin communities without their free, prior, and informed consent.

“The entire existence of this community, the homes, animal sheds and school that we visited today, is under threat. I am gravely concerned about Israel’s continued pressures to force these Bedouin from their homes, destroying their livelihoods and their distinct culture,”Anderson said in the statement, adding that “many of these Palestine refugee families have already had their homes demolished several times within the last couple of years.”

“I urge the Israeli authorities to halt all plans and practices that will directly or indirectly lead refugees to be displaced once again,” he said.

The village is one of 46 villages comprising of a population of 7,000 -- 70 percent of whom are Palestinian refugees -- in the central West Bank that are considered by the UN as being at risk of forcible transfer by Israeli authorities to alternative sites, in violation of international law, the statement highlighted.

The demolition raids this past week were the latest in a years-long legal battle waged by the Israeli government and residents of illegal Israeli settlements surrounding Khan al-Ahmar to demolish and relocate the school, which was built in 2009 with the assistance of Italian NGO Vento Di Terra using ecological methods.

In August last year, after reports emerged that the Israeli prime minister's office ordered the school to be closed down, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the state of Israel provide a formal opinion on the school the following week.

Now, four months later, the status of case remained unclear. A spokesperson for the Israeli Justice Ministry did not immediately respond to Ma’an on a request for comment on the case.

On Wednesday, the European Union (EU) Missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah also released a statement condemning Israeli demolition policies in Area C of the West Bank, saying that since the start of 2017, 218 Palestinians had already been displaced due to Israeli-imposed demolitions, confiscations, and evictions in Area C. More than half of those displaced were children, the statement added.

The statement went on to highlight the record-high amount of Israeli-enforced demolitions of Palestinian structures in 2016, saying that “6,088 Palestinians were affected by 872 demolitions in Area C, among whom 1,663 were children.”
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