The International Committee of the Red Cross has a mandate that countries have learned to respect: It extends humanitarian aid to civilians in regions plagued by violent conflict. When it decides to cease its operations prematurely, one can conclude that it was forced to do so by extreme circumstances, such as access difficulties or the presence of armed militias, that violate international law and accepted human and social conventions.
The Red Cross recently decided to stop supplying emergency tents to Palestinian shepherding communities in the Jordan Valley whose homes have been destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces and Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank (Amira Hass, Haaretz). In 2013, the organization came to the aid of these communities 16 times after their houses — usually tents or shacks — were destroyed. Six times, the IDF confiscated or destroyed the tents it supplied: once in January, twice in June, and again in September, November and December.
The Red Cross did not even try to bring tents to the community of Umm al-Jamal in the northern Jordan Valley, whose shacks were destroyed by the Civil Administration on January 30. That decision was made after confidential meetings with the Israeli security authorities. Presumably, the Red Cross heard from them that Israel doesn’t intend to cease its habit of sabotaging humanitarian activity.
According to data compiled by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Israeli authorities accelerated their destruction of Palestinian buildings in the Jordan Valley in 2013, from 172 demolitions in 2012 to 390 in 2013. Of the 1,103 Palestinians, including 558 children, who lost their homes last year because of Israel’s demolition policy in East Jerusalem and the West Bank’s Area C, more than half, 590, are residents of the Jordan Valley, among them 297 children.
The Israeli authorities claim these buildings were built without a permit, but don’t mention that Israel’s planning and development work is intended primarily for Jewish settlers, not Palestinians. The Red Cross and the European Union, which refer to these demolitions as “forcible transfer,” say that according to international law, the Palestinians are a protected population, and Israel may not violate their rights to housing, water and food.
These repeated demolitions, especially in the Jordan Valley, are the other side of the coin of settlement construction. Both are meant to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state and to make the Palestinians’ lives as hard as possible in order to push them into enclaves in the West Bank’s Areas A and B. The Red Cross, by its despairing decision, is signaling to Israelis that they must rein in their government and its envoys — the Civil Administration and the IDF.
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