MPs call for urgent action not words to stop impending demolition and forcible transfer of Khan al Ahmar

Posted by Caabu on 04 Jul 2018

In both an Urgent Question on the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar and in International Development Questions, British MPs called for urgent action not words to stop its impending demolition and forcible transfer, and other such communities in Area C of the West Bank. 18 British MPs who had been on Caabu delegations to Palestine (including Caabu's three Parliamentary board members, Chair Rt Hon David Jones MP and other board members Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP and Paula Sherriff MP) spoke about the demolition and forcible transfer of Khan al Ahmar which was taking place on 4 July 2018 as they spoke. Earlier in the day, 8 homes at the nearby Palestinian Bedouin community of Abu Nuwar had been demolished. Reports suggest that 11 people were arrested (including B'Tselem's head of field research) and dozens were injured when residents of Khan al Ahmar and other activists protested against the evicitons and the bulldozers and other heavy machinery that had entered the community. Demolition preparations by Israeli authorites began early on the morning of 4 July 2018, including ensuring easy access to the community to carry out demolitions with ease and in a co-ordinated manner.

In an Urgent Question on the demolition of Khan al Ahmar, secured by Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group, many MPs spoke of the forcible transfer of the Bedouin community amounting to a war crime, called for economic sanctions and an end to trade with illegal Israeli settlements, called for those responsible for the demolitions and forcible transfer of such communities (amounting to a war crime) and warned of the end of the two state solution. There was cross-party consensus on the need for the UK Government to do more, and to not just respond to the demolition and forcible transfer of Khan al Ahmar simply with words. The whole debate can be read here and watched here from 12:45.

100 UK parliamentarians were signatories to a letter on Khan al Ahmar to the Israeli ambassador Mark Regev sent on 12 June 2018. The letter was sent by Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group. The Israeli Ambassador responded on 4 July 2018. 25 UK Parliamentarians also signed an open letter published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz calling the forcible transfer of Khan al Ahmar a war crime.

Richard Burden opened the debate, reiterating that forcible transfer is a war crime, and asking what the UK Government proposes to hold those to account who are responsible for this war crime. He said:

"As we speak, bulldozers are flattening the village of Khan al-Ahmar and destroying its school, which was built with international donor support, and which provides education for about 170 Bedouin children from five different communities. The village of Abu Nuwar is also being destroyed today.

People who live in these villages threaten no one. Their crime is to have homes on land that Israel wants, in order to expand the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim. To speak plainly, this is state-sponsored theft: a theft that will cut the west bank in two, making a contiguous Palestinian state near-impossible and the prospects of a two-state solution still more remote. More importantly, as the Minister said, the forcible transfer of the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Nuwar contravenes international humanitarian law. It is a war crime.

As the Minister also said, he—along with over 100 Members of this House and peers, and about 300 international public figures—has repeatedly urged the Government of Israel not to go ahead with the demolitions. Now that they have ignored those calls, the question is whether the commission of this war crime will have any consequence. If not, why will Mr Netanyahu believe other than that war crimes can continue with impunity? What practical action do the UK Government propose to take to hold those responsible for this war crime to account, and is it not time finally to outlaw commercial dealings by UK firms with illegal settlements in the West Bank?"

Foreign Office and DFID Minister Alistair Burt said that the UK Government is "already in conversation with like-minded European partners about what should be done next." His remarks and the debate itself have been reported in Haaretz

Caabu Chair Rt Hon David Jones MP asked if Minister Alistair Burt agreed with his assessment that this is a war crime. He said: 

"Article 53 of the Geneva convention expressly prohibits the destruction of property in occupied territory other than for military purposes. Given that there can be no possible military purpose in destroying the residential community of Khan al-Ahmar, does my right hon. Friend agree with my assessment that, even as we speak, the state of Israel is committing a war crime?"

Previously, Caabu board member Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael had raised Khan al Ahmar at International Development Questions, and asked whether the UK Government, also calling for those responsible for breaches in international law to be held accountable. He said:

"Ministers will be aware that as we speak the bulldozers are moving into the Palestinian settlement of Khan al-Ahmar. That will lead to the forced displacement of the residents there, in a clear breach of international law. Will the Minister assure me that we are on the ground now, gathering evidence of these breaches of law, so that those who are responsible will later be legally accountable?"

Caabu board member Paula Sherriff MP got an assurance from Minister Alistair Burt that he would investigate JCB's involvement in Israel's demolition and forcible transfer of Khan al Ahmar. She said: 

"I have just heard that 35 people have been injured so far today as a direct result of the demolition. I know the Minister to be a very decent man, so will he pledge specifically to investigate why JCB bulldozers were used in the demolition of homes, given that it is certainly a serious breach of international law, if not a war crime?"

Many MPs that had been part of Caabu's parliamentary delegations to the West Bank spoke in the debate. Labour MPs Julie Elliott, Chris Elmore and Lilian Greenwood were part of a delegation together with Medical Aid for Palestinians in September 2017

Julie Elliott reiterated calls for those responsible to be held to account, Lilian Greenwood asked what the UK Government was doing to support the humanitarian needs of those who had be forcibly transferred, and Chris Elmore said that the UK Government and the EU must be stricter in asking for reparations from Israel for donor funded structures that have been demolished, with a particular focus on the school at Khan al Ahmar.

More calls to hold Israel to account were made by SNP MP Alan Brown, who was part of a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation in September 2016

Matthew Pennycook MP who was part of the same delegation said that now it was time for "a fundamental fundamental reappraisal of the Government’s approach" and that "the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population represents a step change in the nature of the occupation."

SNP MP Tommy Sheppard, part of a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinian delegation in February 2017, accused the UK Government of being unable to offer "a single practical action...in response to this atrocity". He said:

"We have now been discussing this for 50 minutes, and I have yet to hear the Minister state a single practical action that the Government propose in response to this atrocity. Like others in this House, I do not doubt his sincerity, but I am alarmed by his reticence to do something about it.

The Minister has hinted that the Government are considering further measures, and he has alluded to discussions with international partners. If the Government themselves are not prepared to take action in the field of economic sanctions to try to put pressure on Israel, will he give a commitment that this Government will not oppose such measures if they are proposed by other Governments in international forums?"

Wes Streeting MP and Andy Slaughter MP who were both part of a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation in February 2016, called for targeted economic sanctions on illegal Israeli settlements and an end to trade with them. Wes Streeting said: 

"I too am a friend of Israel, which is why I will not pretend that what is taking place today is happening out of some concern for the welfare of the Bedouin community in Khan al-Ahmar or is the result of some planning dispute. What is happening is a deliberate policy intention of the present Israeli Government, who have no regard or concern for a two-state solution and simply want to expand illegal settlements, which will ultimately undermine the security and legitimacy of the Israelis and grossly infringe the human rights of Palestinians. Having been to Khan al-Ahmar and knowing what lies ahead if the demolition happens without a serious international response, I have to say that if Israel is going to demolish Palestinian villages on the grounds that they are illegal settlements, is it not time for this country and our European partners to take targeted economic sanctions against illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank?"

Stephen Kinnock MP who was part of a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinians delegation in August 2014 also said the UK should impose sanctions on and cease trade with illegal Israeli settlements.

Labour MP and Shadow Minister for International Development Dan Carden, who visited Khan al Ahmar on a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinains delegation in February 2018 described the demolitions and forcible transfer as "truly heartbreaking" and asked of Alistair Burt:

"how far away must the peace process be from realisation and how bad does the atrocity have to be before he is genuinely willing to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us what actions and what sanctions his Department and this Government are at least debating?

 

SNP MP Joanna Cherry QC, who was part of a Caabu delegation in October 2016, also said that the UK Government should tell "UK businesses that they should not collude with illegality in their commercial dealings with the settlements any more than they should collude with illegality in the UK"

 

Andy Slaughter also talked of the "strategic step" of Khan al Ahmar's demolition, and warned of the splitting of the West Bank. He said:

"I have visited Khan al-Ahmar twice and have met many of the families there. This is a personal violation for them, as well as a war crime, but it is also a strategic step. There are 46 Bedouin villages and their future may well hang on whether the Israeli authorities get away with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. This allows for the splitting of the West Bank and for the annexation, which is now openly talked about, of the West Bank by Israel to take place. If not now, when are the Government going to act? When are they going to act against illegal settlements and end trade? When are they going to recognise Palestine and when are they are going to recognise their historical obligations and take a lead internationally, rather than wringing their hands?"

Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine who was part of a Caabu/Medical Aid for Palestinains delegation in June 2018, said she was "perplexed and dismayed that Israel appears not to comprehend or to be prepared to take note of the outrage and the damage done to its reputation by this forcible transfer of communities, which is regarded as a breach of international law."

Former International Development Secretary and former Shadow Foreign Secretary Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP warned of Israel "severely damaging their international reputation" and asked why Israel felt it could get away with doing what it wants.

Former Caabu Chair and board member Crispin Blunt MP said that "these cruel and illegal actions form part of an unshakeable Palestinian perception of Israeli policy over five decades in the occupied territories that breeds anger and despair".

There were also speeches from Conservative MPs Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Soames MP (a former Caabu board member and current Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC) President) who described the plans to demolish Khan al Ahmar as "barbaric" and wicked", former DFID Minister Rt Hon Sir Desmond Swayne MP who accused the UK Government of being complicit in these forcible transfers by refusing to act, and CMEC Chair Rt Hon Sir Hugo Swire who asked the UK Government to provide more leadership on this issue rather than commenntary.