The European Union is considering demanding reimbursement from Israel for the demolition of unauthorized buildings donated by the EU to Bedouin and Palestinians in the West Bank as part of its humanitarian aid.
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“We know that the EU is considering demanding compensation from Israel for the destruction of projects with European funding, and everything related to accusing Israel of violating humanitarian law on the matter,” the head of the Foreign Ministry’s European Organizations department, Avivit Bar Ilan, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Bar Ilan refused to elaborate on the dialogue between the EU and the Foreign Ministry on the matter, because the committee meeting was not confidential.
MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi,) who chaired the meeting, noted that the committee had been told in a previous session that EU nations were spending 110 million euros on such projects. The committee was shown a film shot from the air of mobile homes and portable toilets outside of Ma’aleh Adumim, in the E-1 corridor linking the settlement and Jerusalem, purportedly built with EU funds.
Bar Ilan presented the official Israeli position on the matter. “Illegal construction must be demolished," she said. "Israel does not accept the EU’s interpretation concerning humanitarian aid. Israel is the sovereign and we expect coordination. Israel has asked for a list of projects and has not received it.”
“We have decided to institute an informal technical dialogue to discuss the issue," she added. "We have agreed that the contents of this dialogue will not be released publically. Representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the Coordinator of Government activities in the territories [of the Israel Defense Foreces] and the National Security Council participate in this forum, and it is held with the European Union ambassador in [Israel],” she said.
The committee session dealt with the expansion of illegal construction by Bedouin in the controversial E-1 area. Some 12,000 people live in the area today, most of whom are Bedouin who migrated there in recent years, the MKs were told.
The deputy head of the IDF’s Civil Administration, Col. Uri Mendes, told the committee that 974 structures were built in the E-1 are during 2014, of which 408 were demolished.
“Last August, 13 buildings were demolished in Mishor Adumim. Last week five more [were demolished]. The next day when tents were donated to them, we confiscated them too,” said Mendes. “Everywhere, when the possibility exists, demolitions are carried out.”
Mendes discussed the Civil Administration’s plans to establish complexes for the Bedouin in the area and spoke of the problems involved.
“Why do you need to deal with a group if we know they are Palestinians and were not there?" asked MK Nurit Koren (Likud.) "It is not occupied territory.”
Brig. Gen. (res.) Dov Sedaka, who heads the project of legalizing the situation of the Bedouin for the Civil Administration, told the committee that even if the illegal construction was legalized, it would provide a solution for only 45 percent of the Bedouin. The remaining 55 percent are Arab residents who spilled over into Area C from Area A and B, he said.
For that 55 percent of the Bedouin, the solution is not regularizing their status but demolition and returning them to the Palestinian Authority, said Sedaka.
Yogev responded: “I am asking the Civil Administration to carry out a survey of the Palestinian population in Area C, in order to know who is living amongst us. We need to take care of them and also in order to know who arrived in Area C from Area A and B.”
MK Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) said the Civil Administration was avoiding demolishing buildings belonging to Bedouin and Palestinians for invalid reasons and proposed transferring the responsibility for demolitions to the heads of the local and regional councils where the construction is being carried out, for example, in the city of Ma’ale Adumim. Smotrich proposed blocking the transportation of the raw materials needed for the construction even before the materials arrive at the factory built for the purpose near Haifa.
The EU and international aid organizations have dedicated a large amount of their activities to humanitarian and diplomatic efforts in Area C in recent years. They say that Israeli restrictions on connecting Palestinian settlements to water, electricity and transportation infrastructures are contradictiory to Israel’s responsibility as an occupying power.
The Israeli plan to remove Bedouin from the area and settle them in permanent communities, as well as to destroy various communities in the southern West Bank and in firing ranges, is described by the EU as a “transfer of populations and forced expulsion,” which are banned under international law.
A confrontation broke out during the session between Yogev and Mendes. Yogev attacked the officer for presenting the figures: “I am asking you not to speak. I have not received answers from you. Sit quietly, there is anarchy here,” he said.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) was furious at Yogev for attacking the officer, and told him to direct his criticism towards Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who determines policy on the matter. Yogev retracted his comments.