Israel’s Ministry of Defense has announced that preparations are underway to expel two Palestinian communities in the West Bank – an unlawful action that would constitute forcible transfer of protected persons in the Palestinian occupied territories.
In response to the announcement, B’Tselem sent a grave letter to Israel’s prime minister, its defense minister, its military chief of staff and the head of its Civil Administration, cautioning them that demolition of the Palestinian communities of Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar as planned would constitute a war crime for which they would bear personal liability.
B’Tselem made this unusual move after Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the press last week that the defense ministry was “preparing for the evacuation of Palestinian communities built without authorization and that work was being done to implement plans to evacuate the Palestinian villages of Sussia in the South Hebron Hills and Khan al-Ahmar near Ma’aleh Adumim within a few months.”
The demolition of entire communities in the Occupied Territories is virtually unprecedented since 1967. In its letter, B’Tselem warned that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel is obliged to respect in all its actions in the West Bank, forcible transfer of protected persons inside the occupied territory is prohibited and constitutes a war crime. The organization emphasized that the prohibition on forcible transfer of protected persons is not limited to transfer by physical force, but applies also to “departure due to impossible living conditions created by the authorities – through, for instance, demolishing homes or disconnecting them from electricity and running water.” B’Tselem further stressed that “forcible transfer is one of the offenses that come under the purview of the International Criminal Court. All persons responsible for the commission of a forcible transfer bear personal liability for the results. Among those liable for the destruction of Palestinian communities in the West Bank will be the prime minister, the defense minister, the justice minister and their fellow ministers, as well as the chief-of-staff and other high ranking military officers, and the head of the Civil Administration, who operates under instructions by the government.”
B’Tselem rejected the justification provided by Israeli officials that the structures in these communities were built without a permit, stating that “Israel’s permit and planning policy in the West Bank renders this claim disingenuous, to say the least.” Israel’s policy in 60% of the West Bank (Area C) denies Palestinian residents virtually any possibility of construction for residential purposes, prohibits connections to infrastructure and precludes public construction to match residents’ needs. In the absence of any other option, residents are forced to build without receiving permits from the authorities, subsequently living in constant uncertainty and fear of demolition. B’Tselem also notes the demolition cannot be considered lawful even if the planning authorities and the Israeli Supreme Court decide to lend it their stamp of approval: “These decisions do not render unlawful actions legal; rather, they turn the decision-makers into accessories to a crime.”
Khan al-Ahmar, which lies on land that Israel has earmarked for expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem, is home to 21 families numbering 146 persons, including 85 minors. It has a mosque and a local school, which was established in 2009 and serves more than 150 children between the ages of six and fifteen – some of them from neighboring communities.
Susiya, the southern Hebron Hills, is home to 32 families numbering some 200 persons, including 93 minors. It has a council structure, a clinic, a small preschool and a school for grades one through nine, which serves 55 children.