The Civil Administration in the West Bank demolished 18 tents and shacks on Tuesday in the Palestinian village of Khirbet Humsa in the Jordan Valley which housed 74 people, including 41 minors, in what a United Nations official described as the biggest demolition in a decade.
The village is located in an area that Israel has designated a firing zone. Petitions filed by residents against the intention to evict them to the High Court of Justice over the years have been denied.
Structures that served as sheep pens, toilets and water tanks were also demolished, and three vehicles were confiscated.
“This is a great injustice,” Harb Abu al-Kabash, a resident, told Haaretz. “We didn’t know they were coming and we didn’t prepare, and now we are facing rain.” The Red Crescent supplied the community with a number of temporary buildings, which were put up in the village alongside those that were demolished, he said.
The Israel Defense Forces periodically evicts the residents of Khirbet Humsa when training exercises are held in the area. In 2019, exercises were conducted during the month of Ramadan and the residents were forced to evacuate in the middle of the fast. Abu al-Kabash, a father of eight, said that “they came in the past to demolish a few structures, but this was the largest demolition so far, it’s the entire village.” He added that the community has been living at the site since 1967 and most of them make their living from herding flocks of sheep.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of timing the demolition for election day in the United States, when the world was distracted.
He wrote on Twitter: "As the attention is focused on #USElection2020, Israel chose this evening to commit another crime/ cover it up: to demolish 70 Palestinian structures, incl. homes."
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On Friday, the United Kingdom's Minister for the Middle East James Cleverly said that he's "seriously concerned" that the demolition "caused unnecessary suffering to many vulnerable Palestinians... and may impact the community’s ability to withstand COVID-19. It is also detrimental to prospects for peace." Cleverly also highlighted that "2020 has seen the highest levels of demolitions of Palestinian homes and structures since 2016." Adding that he calls "on the Government of Israel to cease this policy, and provide Palestinians with a clear, transparent route to construction in Area C of the West Bank."
Belgium also condemned the demolition of structures which were "built with Belgian funding," according to a statement. As well as asking "Israel for compensation or restitution for these destructions," the statement went on to urge Israel to respect "international humanitarian law."
Ireland's Minister Coveney said in statement that he's "deeply dismayed," and called the demolition of Palestinian homes "a brutal and violent act." He said that he calls "on Israel to cease this practice and live up to its responsibility to protect local communities."
Yvonne Helle, a humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in the Palestinian territories, said that relief agencies had visited Khirbet Humsah and recorded 76 demolished structures, "more than in any other single demolition in the past decade."
In a statement, the European Union said that "developments constitute an impediment towards the two-state solution. The EU reiterates its call on Israel to halt all such demolitions, including of EU-funded structures, in particular in light of the humanitarian impact of the current coronavirus pandemic."
On Twitter, U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar described the demolition as "a grave crime—in direct violation of international law." She went on to say that "The United States of America should not be bankrolling ethnic cleansing. Anywhere."
Earlier on Tuesday, the Civil Administration confiscated nine tractors, five water tanks and two cars in the village of Izbik in the Jordan Valley. Like Khirbet Humsa, Izbik is located in an area Israel has designated a firing zone.
Human rights group B’Tselem said that Israel has evicted 798 Palestinians, including 404 minors, from their homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far this year. This is the largest number of removals since 2016. The data doesn’t include the evictions at Khirbet Humsa.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that the Civil Administration’s supervision unit carried out enforcement activities in a firing range in the Jordan Valley on Tuesday against seven tents and eight sheep pens that were built illegally. “The enforcement was conducted according to the authority and regulations, and according to operational considerations,” it said.