Group of eight countries seeks up to $35,000 in damages
Eight European countries are demanding that Israel pay them compensation of up to $35,000 for confiscating and demolishing structures they financed in the West Bank to benefit Bedouin living there. The structures are all built in Area C of the West Bank—as designated by the 1993 Oslo Accords and over which Israel retains full administrative and military control—where all Jewish communities across the so-called 1967 borders have been built.
According to reports in the Israeli Haaretz daily and French newspaper Le Monde, representatives of the eight countries will deliver a letter to this effect to the Israeli government in the coming days. It marks the first time that such an official communique has been devised and further raises tensions between Israel and the EU over Jerusalem’s policies in the Palestinian territories.
“The destruction and confiscation of humanitarian equipment, including infrastructure for schools, and disrupting the transfer of humanitarian aid contradict Israel’s commitments under international law and cause suffering for the Palestinian residents” of the area, the letter says, according to a Hebrew-language translation by Haaretz.
A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the government will not comment until it receives the letter. But according to the reports, if Israel does not unconditionally return the seized equipment, the EU member states will demand reimbursement.
For its part, Jerusalem contends that the structures were built illegally and therefore it is simply following the law by destroying them. While Israeli officials say that all illegal building, whether by Jews or by Arabs, warrants immediate demolition, Palestinian advocates argue that it is almost impossible for them to receive construction permits as there is no overall master plan for the area.
Between 150,000 and 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, in about 180 semi-nomadic villages most of which are not recognized by Israel. Accordingly, they often lack basic infrastructure such as electricity and access to fresh drinking water.
Alon Cohen-Lifshitz, an architect at the dovish NGO Bimkom that supports Palestinian building rights, told The Media Line that the EU move is a positive development. “Israel needs to understand that this is not the right way to deal with these communities,” Cohen-Lifshitz asserted.
“Israel is trying to pretend that they are only enforcing the law, but it is ignoring international humanitarian law. Israel is making the lives of the Palestinians who live [in Area C] miserable and doing everything possible to transfer them to Areas A and B.”
Area A comprises some 18 percent of the West Bank which is under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority and includes Palestinian cities such as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, and most of Hebron. Area B, about 22 percent of the West Bank, is under joint Israeli and Palestinian control.
Cohen-Lifshitz said that since the Oslo peace accord, Israel has issued 17,000 demolition orders primarily against Palestinian-owned structures in Area C, of which about 25 percent were carried out.
“These are mostly small communities based on grazing and herding and they are most vulnerable communities in the West Bank,” he said. “They cannot maintain a normal life and they are suffering daily.”
Some of the right-wing parties in Israel have called for the annexation of Area C and its hundreds of thousands of Jewish inhabitants. While Israel annexed the eastern part of Jerusalem following the 1967 war, it maintains that the rest of the West Bank’s status should be determined in the context of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, claim all of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem for a future state.
The tensions with the EU come a day after Israel advanced plans to build 2,000 new Jewish homes in the West Bank, prompting a harsh EU response.
“This week, Israeli authorities further promoted plans, tenders and permits for thousands of settlement units across the West Bank, including for the first time since 2002 in the heart of Hebron,” EU spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told The Media Line.
“The EU’s position on Israeli settlement construction and related activities…is clear and has not changed: All settlement activity is illegal under international law and undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace.”