The European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, broke the rules of protocol last week. During a routine briefing by the Foreign Ministry’s new director general, Yuval Rotem, he read out a forceful document that warned against the Israeli trend toward uprooting Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
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The warning wasn’t new; it has been issued on other occasions, but its urgency was more apparent than ever. The army and Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank, steamrollered by the settlers’ lobby in the Knesset and the cabinet, have upped the pressure on these communities to evacuate over the last two years, with the immoral goal of expanding settlement territory or as a prelude to annexation.
Not by chance, the document mentions one of these Bedouin communities by name: the Khan al-Ahmar encampment east of Jerusalem. This community, which built an ecological school for its children out of used tires, has become the flagship of the struggle by the Bedouin, most of whom are refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, over their right to live in dignity in their current places of residence.
The settlement of Kfar Adumim has been demanding the community’s removal for years, even though its existence in this area predates the settlement itself. In February, the Civil Administration issued demolition orders against most of the community’s buildings. Their implementation would mean the destruction of the entire village. On Wednesday, the state is supposed to respond both to the community’s petition against the orders and construction bans – a petition filed years ago by the community’s attorney, Shlomo Lecker – and to the interim injunction issued by Justice Uri Shoham, which barred the immediate demolition of the buildings.
Yet even if its immediate destruction has been prevented, Khan al-Ahmar isn’t the only threatened community. Another 45 Bedouin communities, comprising some 7,000 people, are facing similar Israeli pressure. They include Arab a-Ramadin in the Qalqilyah region and Dakika in the southern West Bank.
There are also dozens of longstanding non-Bedouin Palestinian communities, living in villages and tents, which Israel is seeking to remove to enclaves in the Palestinian Authority. These include Jinba, Susya and Zanuta in the southern West Bank and al-Hadidiya, Khirbet Tana, Tel al-Hima, Khirbet al-Tawil and Al-Aqaba in the northern West Bank.
Even if total destruction is postponed, life in these communities has become intolerable. The residents have been sentenced to live with the threat of demolition and expulsion constantly hovering over their heads. Meanwhile, they are not allowed to build, connect to the water and electricity grids, graze their flocks or work their lands.
The EU’s concern is justified. This quiet transfer is one of the most shocking aspects of the occupation. Israel must cease this imbecilic practice. It must leave these Palestinian communities in place and enable their natural development. If not, the Europeans are liable to replace their diplomatic warnings with other, more aggressive steps, like a boycott.