The Foreign Ministry lambasted the European Union on Tuesday for protesting a planned demolition of Palestinian buildings in the West Bank, saying Europe spends more time and energy on such demolitions than on genuine humanitarian crises worldwide.
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The ministry summoned the EU’s deputy ambassador to Israel, Mark Gallagher, to demand an official explanation for its letter of protest. As first reported by Haaretz on Tuesday, EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen delivered the letter to Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem last week.
At the meeting with Gallagher, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s EU department, Avivit Bar-Ilan, said that Israel views the buildings in the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar – most of which are financed by the EU – as illegal. “In Israel, illegal construction is dealt with according to the law,” she said, according to ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.
Bar-Ilan also said Israel was astounded at the EU’s obsession with demolitions in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control. “There are 32 humanitarian crises around the world, but the European Union opts to deal disproportionately only with what happens in Area C, which undoubtedly isn’t in a humanitarian crisis,” Nahshon quoted her as saying.
The EU and its member states have long voiced concern over Israel’s policies in Area C. But the latest protest was specifically sparked by the issuance of 42 demolition orders against buildings in Khan al-Ahmar a month ago. The village is located in the strategic corridor known as E1, which links the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem. The EU fears the village’s demolition is a prelude to construction of a new settlement there.
Faaborg-Andersen’s letter to Rotem was delivered on behalf of all 28 EU countries. It demanded that Israel stop demolishing Palestinian homes in Area C, and especially in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, charging that demolition would amount to the forcible transfer of village residents - a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
“The practice of enforcement measures such as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions and confiscations of homes and humanitarian assets (including EU-funded) and the obstruction of delivery of humanitarian assistance are contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law, including in particular provisions of the 4th Geneva Convention and cause suffering to ordinary Palestinians,” said the document, which Faaborg-Andersen read out loud at his meeting with Rotem.
“We therefore call on Israel, as the occupying power, to meet its obligations vis-à-vis the Palestinian population in Area C, completely stop these demolitions and confiscations and allow full access of humanitarian assistance. We urge Israel to accelerate approvals of Palestinian master plans, halt forced transfers of population and demolitions of Palestinian housing and infrastructure; simplify administrative procedures to obtain building permits, ensure access to water and address humanitarian needs.”
Khan al-Ahmar is home to a few hundred people living in temporary structures. It has no infrastructure and its residents are among the poorest in the West Bank. Though its buildings were built illegally, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank refrained from demolishing them for a long time.
One of the village’s illegal buildings is a school built of used tires that serves hundreds of students from several illegal Bedouin villages in the area. The school, whose construction was financed by Italy, is considered a symbol of the Bedouin struggle to preserve the village and a source of tension between Israel and Italy.
Two weeks ago, when Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano was in Israel, he asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider the planned demolitions in Khan al-Ahmar, but Netanyahu refused. “Just as we didn’t approve illegal building by Jews in Amona, I won’t allow illegal building by Palestinians,” Netanyahu said, referring to the illegal West Bank outpost razed in February.