Caabu delegates speak in Parliamentary debate on the effects of Israeli demolitions on Palestinian communities, warn of forcible transfer constituting a war crime

Posted by on 07 Dec 2017

On 6 December 2017, thirteen Caabu delegates spoke in a Parliamentary debate on the effects of Israeli demolitions on Palestinian communities. The debate, moved by Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who visited the West Bank on a Caabu delegation in September 2014, can be watched in full here, and read here.

Palestinian communities in Area C of the West Bank under imminent threat of demolition, such as Jabal al Baba, Khan al Ahmar and Susiya, were frequently mentioned in the debate, and are communities which many Caabu delegations have visited. The concern for such communities in the UK Parliament is extensive, with many British politicians fighting to save them from demolition and forcible transfer which would constitute a war crime under interntational law - something which some in the debate spoke of. See Caabu's most recent statement on Susiya here, and a letter calling on the UK Government to do all it can to stop the demolition of Khan al Ahmar here.

In the debate, Kinnock spoke about visiting the Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar:

"I visited one of the communities during my last visit to the region with Caabu. The residents of Khan al-Ahmar told us how they lived under constant fear and threat of forcible transfer, not knowing when the bulldozers might arrive and raze their homes and school to the ground. A huge campaign is under way in the occupied territories right now to protect the school—the only one for miles—from demolition. While we were there, we were told how the children’s swings in the playground were uprooted because they violated Israeli planning laws. According to reports, there are at present more than 50 schools in the west bank with demolition or stop-work orders.

In August, on the eve of the new school year, the Israeli authorities requisitioned nine education-related structures in Area C and demolished a newly established kindergarten in the Bedouin community of Jabal al-Baba."

Labour MP Holly Lynch, also spoke of Khan al Ahmar and Susiya in her speech, two communities which she visited on a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation to the West Bank in September 2017. She spoke about the "double standards" surrounding permits for Palestinian structures:

"The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs cites forced displacement as one of the key humanitarian concerns in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It states that the justification for the demolitions is that those buildings and structures were erected without building permits—I use the term “buildings” loosely because no serious construction is involved at all. In its Global Humanitarian Overview 2016, published this year, the UN states that a restrictive and discriminatory planning regime makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain the requisite Israeli building permits. To contrast that against the backdrop of the expansion of Israeli settlements and outposts across the west bank is an outrageous demonstration of the double standards that characterised what I saw during my time in the region. I urge the Government to do all they can to ensure that planning and building programmes in Palestine are undertaken on the basis of fairness, basic human rights, and the urgent requirement on the ground."

Another recent Caabu delegate, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, who visited the West Bank with Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians in February 2017, gave a response for the SNP, which included a letter from the community of Susiya. He spoke about the E1 plan and asked the Minister if the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities in Area C would constitute a war crime. He said: 

"We are discussing these demolitions now because there is a new dimension to it—this is not the same thing that has been happening over many years. Consider the situation to the east of Jerusalem in the segment of the central west bank. The demolition orders now in place on those villages are part of a strategic plan in that area to depopulate it of Palestinian villages so that Israeli settlements can be created. There is the distinct purpose of extending Jerusalem to the east and the Ma’ale Adumim area, and creating a residential corridor that will effectively bisect the west bank as it is today. That that is part of a strategic plan and involves the forcible displacement and relocation of people who are living under occupation is, according to many legal authorities, a violation of international law and, as colleagues have described, a war crime. When the Minister responds to the debate, will he say whether that is also his assessment? Does he believe that what is happening with the forcible displacement of civilians within a militarily occupied area constitutes a war crime? If that is not his view, why not? If it is his view, what on earth will we do about it?"

Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, Richard Burden MP, who last visited the West Bank with Caabu and Medical Aid for Palestinians in April 2016, also spoke of the forcible transfer of Palestinian communities constituting a war crime: 

"Let us be clear: what we are discussing is the forcible transfer of a civilian population protected under the fourth Geneva convention; and under the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court that is a war crime. The issue for us today is what we are going to do about it. The first thing to say is that international pressure has an impact. It is no accident that the postponement that the state of Israel requested for the demolition and evacuation of Susiya came after a joint EU demarche, to which I am pleased to say the UK was a party, on that issue. The Obama Administration’s opposition to the El plan and, in particular, to the destruction of Khan al-Ahmar school, is one of the reasons it is still standing today, despite continued threats. However, if we had any doubts about the current US Administration stepping in to warn Israel off egregious breaches of international law, the announcement by Donald Trump today will dispel them. That means that we have an even greater responsibility ourselves.

I want, if I have time, to put four suggestions to the Minister. The first is to use precise terminology referring to forcible transfer in public statements about demolitions, and to state the UK Government’s expectation that any individual responsible for the commission of that war crime will be held legally accountable under the Geneva conventions. The second is to instigate and support the establishment of an expert observation and investigation team to document apparent criminal offences linked to demolitions. The third is to seek compensation for the destruction or damage of any structure, whether funded in whole or in part, and whether directly or indirectly, by the UK Government, including through the EU. The fourth is to call for Israel to end its discriminatory and unlawful planning policies and laws by amending its planning legislation and processes clearly to ensure planning and construction rights for Palestinian residents in area C of the occupied west bank."

Conservative MP Colonel Bob Stewart, who visited the West Bank with Caabu in June 2012, urged Israel to stop some of its actions, including demolishing Palestinian and Bedouin communities.He said:

"My position is that I fully support Israel’s right to exist. It is a thriving democracy and I want it to continue, but I also support the right of Palestinians to have their own state. I am very surprised at the way in which Israel sometimes deals with Palestinians, particularly in the west bank. Removing people from their homes in the middle of the night—often, and by force—is utterly unacceptable, and so is the immediate bulldozing of their homes and giving them no place to live. I very much support Israel as a sovereign, independent and democratic state, but its actions in demolishing Palestinian and Bedouin communities, particularly in Area C, comes perilously close to some of the stuff I witnessed in the Balkans in the early 1990s. Israel must stop those actions, because I want fully to support Israel. Please, Israel, consider what you are doing and stop the process happening."