Condemning the demolition by Israeli authorities of the homes of Palestinian Bedouins in the West Bank, a senior United Nations relief official today called on Israel to end such destruction and halt its plans to forcibly relocate Bedouin families.
“The humanitarian consequences of this destruction of property are grave and I am seriously concerned, particularly about the children who are now homeless,” said Felipe Sanchez, the Director of West Bank Operations for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
According to UNRWA, the demolitions were carried out on the morning of 6 January by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in the vulnerable community of Abu Nwar, in Area C – the largest of the administrative jurisdictions under the Oslo Accords – near East Jerusalem. In the midst of the winter, a total of five residential structures were demolished, leaving 26 refugees, including 17 children, displaced and without a home.
With more than 7,000 inhabitants, the majority of them Palestine refugees, Abu Nwar is one of 50 Palestinian Bedouin communities in Area C that have been slated for transfer to three proposed "relocation" sites by the Israeli authorities. The communities have refused to be relocated and have faced the daily threat of their homes being demolished.
In May 2015, the UN warned about the rapidly advancing plans to transfer the Palestinian Bedouins and the risk of demolitions after residents of Abu Nwar were informed by the Israeli authorities that they would have to move to the Al Jabal area outside of East Jerusalem, where the preparation of the ground had been taking place for several months.
Prior to and during the demolitions on 6 January, residents were repeatedly informed by Israeli Civil Administration officials to move to the proposed transfer site of Al Jabal West. UNRWA has been providing urgently needed humanitarian assistance to the displaced communities.
Demolishing residential structures exacerbates an already coercive environment, driving Bedouin communities off the land they have inhabited for decades. UNRWA recalls that Israel has strict obligations under international law regarding the prohibition of the destruction of private property and of forcible transfer, including as a result of policies creating a coercive environment. Forcible transfer is a grave breach under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
“The distress in the community is heartbreaking,” said Mr. Sanchez.
“When children should be enjoying their holidays from school, they are instead picking up the broken pieces of their destroyed homes. How can a child grow up in such an environment? I condemn these demolitions and reiterate my call to respect the Bedouins’ decision to remain where they are,” he continued, adding: “I urge the Israeli authorities to halt all plans and practices that will directly or indirectly lead to the forcible transfer of the Bedouin.”