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Israel's plan to demolish West Bank village 'could constitute war crime', says ICC

ICC's top prosecutor has warned Israel court will take action if the Palestinian village is destroyed, as Theresa May urges her Israeli counterpart to scrap the controversial move

Bel Trew
Friday 19 October 2018 00:29 BST
Israeli policemen disperse activists in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar that Israel plans to demolish, in the occupied West Bank October 17, 2018.
Israeli policemen disperse activists in the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar that Israel plans to demolish, in the occupied West Bank October 17, 2018. (Reuters)

The International Criminal Court has warned that Israel's planned demolition of a Palestinian Bedouin village in the West Bank could constitute a war crime, while Theresa May has said the action would be a “major blow” to the two-state solution peace plan.

Fatou Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, said on Wednesday she was continuing to “keep a close eye” on developments, as the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar seemed imminent.

A few hours later, during PMQs, Ms May once again urged the Israeli authorities to scrap the idea.

Israel's Supreme Court recently rejected a final appeal against a decision to demolish the village and its famed “tyre school”, which provides education for some 170 children from five different Bedouin communities.

The Israeli authorities gave the nearly 200 residents of the village until 1 October to destroy their own homes or be forcibly evicted. This week bulldozers positioned themselves in the area, according to activists.

The ICC’s Ms Bensouda said on Wednesday: “Extensive destruction of property without military necessity and population transfers in an occupied territory constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute."

She added: “I continue to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and will not hesitate to take any appropriate action.”

The issue was also raised by Michael Carmichael, MP for Orkney and Shetland, during PMQs a few hours later.

He said the Bedouin village had been “swamped” by sewage from nearby Israeli settlement Kafr Adumim, and that on Wednesday morning Israeli forces had Tasered and pepper-sprayed activists there.

He asked Ms May if she would "make it clear" to her Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu this was an occupied territory.

“That these are refugees, protected people whose forcible removal would, as the United Nations have stated, constitute a war crime?” he continued.

A UN rights expert has also warned that the demolition of the village could constitute a war crime.

The prime minister said that Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt met the Israeli ambassador on 11 October and communicated the UK’s “deep concerns” for the village.

“Its demolition would be a major blow for the prospects of a two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital,” she told the floor.

“I once again call on the Israeli government not to go ahead with its plans to demolish the village including its school and [to] displace its residents,” she added.

Scuffles between Palestinians, activists and the Israeli security forces erupted this week when Israeli forces entered the village with heavy equipment and bulldozers.

Several people were injured and four arrested trying to resist the demolition.

An Israeli bulldozer works on a wastewater pond in Khan al-Ahmar on October 16, 2018 (REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)

Despite international uproar, an Israeli court has ruled that Khan al-Ahmar's Bedouin tribe, who were originally displaced from the Negev Desert in the 1950s, had illegally built their homes in an unsafe location near a main road. The Israeli authorities have defended the action saying that they merely want to relocate the villagers to a better location.

But critics say it is impossible for Palestinians to obtain the building permits in the Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank known as Area C. According to Amnesty International, the two chosen relocation options for the village residents are beside a former Jerusalem municipal garbage dump, or in the vicinity of a sewage plant close to the city of Jericho.

United Nations officials believe the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar is part of plans to expand Kafr – two nearby settlements which are deemed illegal under international law.

According to the UN’s humanitarian affairs office OCHA, Khan al-Ahmar is one of 18 communities which will likely be cleared to make way for an Israeli settlement reorganisation proposal that would create a continuous built-up area between Ma’ale Adumim and East Jerusalem.

The UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, issued a joint statement last month saying the demolition could threaten the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.

Peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials collapsed in 2014.

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