Two United Nations humanitarian officials with responsibilities in the occupied Palestinian territory have today expressed their grave concern over the Government of Israel’s “rapidly advancing plans” to transfer Palestinian Bedouins in the central West Bank from their current communities.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, James W. Rawley, and the Director of Operations in the West Bank for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) , Felipe Sanchez, released a joint statement that recalled a report of the UN Secretary-General from March this year, drawing a link between the proposed transfers and illegal settlement expansion and warning that the move would breach the Fourth Geneva Convention and violate human rights.
“History has shown us that these transfers have not proven to be in the interests of the Bedouin communities,” said Mr. Sanchez. “This would represent a continuation of developments that commenced in 1997 when Palestine refugees were loaded on trucks and taken to the same urban site in Eizariya, after which an illegal settlement was constructed on their former land.”
On 28 April, residents of Abu Nwar, in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel retains control over security, planning and building, were informed that some families would have to move to the Al Jabal area outside of East Jerusalem. Area C accounts for over 60 per cent of land in the West Bank and is home to an estimated 300,000 Palestinians.
According to the joint statement, the plan to move the families comes amid a discriminatory zoning and planning regime that facilitates the development of illegal Israeli settlements at the expense of Palestinians, for whom it is almost impossible to obtain permits for construction. A total of 70 per cent of the land is off-limits to Palestinian construction, with heavy restrictions on 29 per cent and just one per cent zoned for Palestinian development by the Israeli Civil Administration.
“Israeli practices in Area C, including a marked increase of demolitions and confiscations of donor-funded structures in the first quarter of 2015, have compounded an already untenable situation for Bedouin communities,” said Mr. Rawley.
The Bedouins currently living in Abu Nwar are one of 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities – most of whom are refugees – who are slated for transfer to three proposed “relocation” sites, with the Israeli authorities claiming that Bedouin communities lack title over the land and that “relocation” will improve their living conditions.
The communities are subject to eviction and home demolitions as the area in which they live has been allocated for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement – the so-called “E1 Plan” – and the joint statement warns that the forced urbanization of Bedouin communities in the three relocation sites would destroy their culture and livelihoods.
“There is also concern over the strategic implications of these plans,” said Mr. Rawley. “Many of the communities are located in areas slated for further Israeli settlement, including the E1 plan, which has long been viewed as an obstacle to the realization of a two-state solution.”
Mr. Sanchez stressed the obligations held by Israel as occupying power to ensure the wellbeing of such communities and to respect international law.
“We are fast approaching the point of irreparable damage,” he said. “I strongly urge the Israeli authorities to halt all plans and practices that will directly or indirectly lead to the forcible transfer of the Bedouin and call on the international community to support the Bedouins’ wish to remain where they are, pending their return to the Negev, and prevent this transfer from occurring.”