Palestinians Take Israel's Eviction of West Bank Village to The Hague

Palestinians in contact with court over Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and halted aid to UNRWA, Saeb Erekat says ■ Move comes day after U.S. announces closure of PLO mission in D.C.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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The disputed West Bank village of Kham al-Ahmar.
The disputed West Bank village of Kham al-Ahmar.Credit: Lior Mizrahi
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Palestinian leadership has petitioned the International Criminal Court in The Hague, calling on the court to start legal procedures against the State of Israel over Israeli actions at the West Bank Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Tuesday.

Erekat, who serves as the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee, clarified that the petition was not a new complaint but rather an addendum to an entire case against the Israeli settlement enterprise in the West Bank that was filed to the court on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in May.

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Saeb Erekat announces Palestinian petition at ICC over eviction of Khan al-AhmarCredit: Palestine PLO-NAD / Twitter

Erekat, who spoke at a press conference he convened in Ramallah, called on the court's chief prosecutor to open legal procedures against Israel and investigate Israeli conduct, including actions that Israel took against the village of Khan al-Ahmar.

The village was built without construction permits. The state suggested that its residents — dozens of Bedouin families of the Jahalin tribe who were expelled from the Negev in the 1950s and lived in the village ever since — move to a nearby Palestinian village.

The residents did not want to evacuate, and a legal battle then ensued between them and the state, with the Israeli High Court of Justice finally ruling that the residents had to leave and the village ought to be demolished.

PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.Credit: AFP

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Residents are protesting the fact that the site they were offered to move to is situated in a problematic location: between a garbage dump and an auto scrapyard.

Erekat emphasized Tuesday that the Palestinian Authority called on court representatives to meet with the residents of the disputed village and their representatives in order to hear from them directly about the steps Israel is taking against them as well as the repercussions the evacuation will have on their lives.

"We will continue to act at the International Criminal Court and we will rely on the international law, despite all the pressures, the extortion and the aggressiveness being exerted by the administration in Washington against the Palestinian people," Erekat said.

"We are also in contact with the court over several other issues, including Trump's recent discussion to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to halt aid to UNRWA, as well as other moves," the Palestinian negotiator continued.

Meanwhile, Arab foreign ministers meeting in Egypt on Tuesday rallied behind the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, after the United States ended decades of funding for the organization.

The ministers said they regretted Washington's decision to suspend funding and warned of the humanitarian consequences for five million refugees assisted by the agency.

UNRWA was established after the war surrounding Israel's establishment in 1948 to aid the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes. Today, it provides education, health care and social services to some 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The agency is also a major employer in the Palestinian areas.

The U.S. on August 31 cut roughly $300 million in assistance for UNRWA.

According to Erekat, in the first Palestinian petition to the court— which was filed back in June 2015 — the issue of Khan al-Ahmar took center stage and the court started to act on the topic.

Erekat said that it was now evident that U.S. President Donald Trump was attacking the court and punishing the Palestinians by shuttering PLO offices in Washington. All of this, Erekat noted, is happening on the eve of 9/11: "Trump and Friedman [U.S. envoy to Israel] ought to understand that on this day they should lead the struggle against terror and support justice, not war crimes and those who perpetuate them."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will give a speech in which he will speak about all the aforementioned issues on September 27 at the UN General Assembly session, Erekat said.

The Palestinian negotiator blasted the Trump administration, claiming that it acts in the service of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government by threatening the International Court of Justice and the Palestinian people.

Erekat further accused Trump of acting to remove the Palestinian refugee issue off of the negotiations table. "Everything the U.S. administration does is a continuation of its isolation policy and is proof that the U.S. is no longer fit to serve as a fair negotiator for the peace process… it is now a full partner to the policy of occupation."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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