Is­rael is about to de­stroy this Pales­tinian vil­lage. Will Bri­tain step in?

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - David Zon­sheine

Is­rael is intent on de­stroy­ing the homes of the 173 Pales­tini­ans who live in the small shep­herd­ing com­mu­nity of Khan al-Ah­mar, along with the school that serves 150 chil­dren from the area. Last month, Is­rael’s high court of jus­tice re­moved the last ob­sta­cle to this bar­baric act of de­mol­ish­ing an en­tire com­mu­nity in or­der to forcibly trans­fer its res­i­dents and take over their land. Is­rael has an­nounced that the land from which these Pales­tini­ans will be evicted will serve to ex­pand the nearby set­tle­ment of Kfar Adu­mim.

The story of Khan al-Ah­mar ex­em­pli­fies Is­rael’s pol­icy of ex­pelling dozens of Pales­tinian com­mu­ni­ties from ar­eas it plans to for­mally an­nex. To keep in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism to a min­i­mum, Is­rael usu­ally tries to evict res­i­dents slowly by cre­at­ing un­bear­able liv­ing con­di­tions that force them to leave their homes, al­legedly of their own free will. To that end, the au­thor­i­ties refuse to con­nect these com­mu­ni­ties to run­ning wa­ter and power grids, do not au­tho­rise con­struc­tion of homes or other struc­tures and re­strict their pas­ture­land.

Now, em­bold­ened by Don­ald Trump’s overt dis­dain for hu­man rights – or ba­sic hu­man de­cency for that mat­ter – and bol­stered by the Is­raeli idea that the Eu­ro­pean Union is too weak to act de­ci­sively, the au­thor­i­ties have stepped up their ef­forts and is­sued de­mo­li­tion or­ders for all the struc­tures in Khan al-Ah­mar. Jus­tice Noam Sohlberg, who wrote the rul­ing that re­jected the pe­ti­tion against the ex­e­cu­tion of these or­ders, noted the “undis­puted” premise that “con­struc­tion in the Khan al-Ah­mar com­pound, both the school and the dwellings, is un­law­ful”. He went on to ar­gue that the court should not in­ter­fere in the

state’s “law en­force­ment” ac­tions.

How­ever, these res­i­dents are not break­ing the law de­lib­er­ately. Is­raeli pol­icy has pre­vented them from even ap­ply­ing for build­ing per­mits. This has left them no choice but to build with­out per­mits and, as no com­mu­nity re­mains stag­nant, they have had to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing and build­ing that way. The same planning au­thor­i­ties that were so in­ef­fi­cient in draw­ing up a mas­ter plan for the com­mu­nity or con­nect­ing it to wa­ter, power and sewage ser­vices were in­cred­i­bly ef­fec­tive when it came to is­su­ing de­mo­li­tion or­ders. If the com­mu­nity can­not build legally, the court rul­ing that their con­struc­tion is il­le­gal is cyn­i­cal, for­mal­is­tic and ma­nip­u­la­tive.

There is no way to sugar-coat it: our gov­ern­ment in­tends to com­mit an act that could con­sti­tute a war crime. Our high court did not use its power to stop this, and in­stead chose to lend a guise of le­gal­ity to this rep­re­hen­si­ble act. By do­ing so, the court is now com­plicit in the li­a­bil­ity for the de­ci­sions of the main cul­prits: the prime min­is­ter, the min­is­ter of de­fence and top gen­er­als.

If Is­rael is al­lowed to carry through with the forcible trans­fer of this rel­a­tively well es­tab­lished com­mu­nity, it will be that much eas­ier to do the same to dozens of smaller com­mu­ni­ties. More­over, the de­mo­li­tion of Khan al-Ah­mar will have sig­nif­i­cant reper­cus­sions for pos­si­ble so­lu­tions to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict: clearing the area from Pales­tini­ans will ef­fec­tively bi­sect the West Bank from north to south.

On 5 June, we marked 51 years since Is­rael oc­cu­pied the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in the 1967 war. What the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and the United Kingdom in­ter­pret as a tem­po­rary sit­u­a­tion that should end in two states, Is­rael views as an in­terim stage that will end with for­mal an­nex­a­tion of most of the Pales­tinian land.

Bri­tain has all the nec­es­sary means to pre­vent the out­rage of forcible trans­fer: it is an im­por­tant global ac­tor, a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the UN se­cu­rity coun­cil and a mem­ber of Nato. It has ro­bust cul­tural, diplo­matic and com­mer­cial ties with Is­rael, with more than $7bn in an­nual bi­lat­eral trade. These as­sets give the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment enough lever­age to save the peo­ple of Khan al-Ah­mar. Does it pos­sess the po­lit­i­cal will to use them?

• David Zon­sheine is board chair­man of B’Tse­lem, the Is­raeli In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries. He lives in Tel Aviv

Pho­to­graph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Im­ages

The com­mu­nity of Khan Al-Ah­mar.

Pho­to­graph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Im­ages

Chil­dren play in Khan Al-Ah­mar.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.