TWO United Nations officials have expressed concern at the recent demolitions by Israel of Palestinian Bedouin homes in the Jordan valley.
The co-ordinator for humanitarian and UN development activities for the occupied Palestinian territory, Robert Piper, and the director of West Bank Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency, Felipe Sanchez, also called for an immediate freeze on such activity.
The two men were responding to action carried out by the Israeli Civil Administration, the government’s West Bank agency, in “vulnerable Palestinian Bedouin refugee communities” near East Jerusalem on Sunday.
The UN said that 22 structures had been demolished in four communities, displacing 78 Palestinians, including 49 children, most of whom were refugees — “the largest number of Palestinians displaced in the West Bank in one day in nearly three years”.
“Many of these refugee families have now been displaced four times in the past four years,” Mr Sanchez said. The four communities are among 46 in the central West Bank which are included in Israeli plans to transfer Palestinian Bedouin communities to three designated sites.
Mr Piper said that the demolitions were occurring “in parallel with [Israeli] settlement expansion. The relocation plan for these communities would effectively remove Palestinian presence in and around the planned E1 settlement project” which envisaged the construction of “thousands of new Israeli housing units”.
Mr Piper said that the project “has long been opposed by the international community as an obstacle to the realisation of the two-state solution and a violation of international law”.
The UN officials also expressed concern about further displacements in the Jordan Valley community of Fasayil al-Wusta. The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that the Civil Administration had demolished 17 structures there, leaving 48 people homeless, including 31 minors, in extreme summer heat.
B’Tselem said that since the beginning of this month 167 people in the Jordan Valley area had lost their homes. The expulsions “run counter to the provisions of international humanitarian law, which prohibit the forcible transfer of protected persons, unless carried out for their own protection or for an imperative military need”.
The Israeli government has denied that it is acting illegally, and insisted that the structures had been built on state land near the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement without the necessary permits. It had destroyed the structures after issuing demolition orders against them.
The mayor of Ma’aleh Adumim, Benny Kashriel, in comments to The Jerusalem Post, welcomed the demolitions: “We have been freezing [settler] construction while allowing the Palestinians to build. The Palestinians are trespassing and slowly taking control of our territory.”
Condemnation of Israeli activity in the West Bank by the UN will be welcomed by Palestinians, but it will not erase the feeling that their plight has been pushed to one side by the international focus on other crises in the Middle East.
More than ever there is anger that, although all Arab governments insist that finding a just solution to the Palestinian crisis is their top priority, in reality they are more concerned with the expansion of the Islamic State group and in countering what they see as Iranian-instigated Shia expansionism in the region.
The shift of global attention, the Palestinians say, is enabling Israel to pursue its settlement plans without attracting significant attention or criticism.