GENEVA (2 March 2021) -- UN human rights experts have called on the Government of Israel to immediately end its efforts to demolish the Palestinian village of Humsa – Al Bqai'a in the northern Jordan Valley, and allow the residents to live undisturbed on their lands and homes.
"The ongoing destruction by the Israeli military of the homes, and the destruction and seizure of property, including humanitarian assistance, in Humsa – Al Bqai'a has been causing great hardship to the approximately 60 villagers, including 35 children," said Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, and Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.
"This is a traditional Bedouin village in occupied territory, which depends upon its traditional homes, its animal herds and its water tanks for shelter, food security and its economic livelihood," said the experts. "Severing the villagers from their lands and their homes is particularly punitive given the harsh winter they are experiencing and the ever-present dangers of a global pandemic."
The wanton destruction of property and the forcible removal of a protected population under occupation can only be justified under international humanitarian law when rendered absolutely necessary by legitimate military operations, and even then only for temporary periods of time until hostilities have ceased. The experts noted that there are no active military hostilities in the occupied West Bank, and have not been for many years. Such evictions also violate international human rights prohibitions against the forced removal of civilians from their homes.
UN member states, primarily from Europe, and various non-governmental organisations have provided emergency tents and other forms of property assistance to the villagers after the initial destruction by the Israeli military. Subsequently, at least 42 of the donated humanitarian relief structures have been seized or destroyed by the Israeli military.
The Government of Israel has justified the attempted destruction of Humsa – Al Bqai'a on the grounds that it lies within an Israeli military firing zone. This same rationale has been relied upon by Israel to attempt to uproot Palestinian villages elsewhere in the West Bank, notably in the region near the city of Hebron.
"These justifications by Israel do not satisfy its strict obligations under international law," the experts stated. "An occupying power cannot use the territory under occupation to conduct military training operations without ample justification. We note that Israel has plentiful grounds for military training within its own borders."
The human rights experts observed that the threat to permanently expel the inhabitants of Humsa – Al Bqai'a is part of a larger worrisome pattern of forcible removals and home demolitions in the occupied West Bank. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Israeli military has demolished almost 200 Palestinian-owned properties in the West Bank during the first seven weeks of 2021, displacing at least 285 people, including 150 children.
"The international community has positive obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure that High Contracting Parties such as Israel fully respect their responsibilities during an occupation," said the experts. "We welcome the support given to the villagers of Humsa Al-Bqai'a by the diplomatic representatives in Palestine and Israel. But much more must be done by their governments to insist upon Israeli accountability, which is the missing key to ending this protracted occupation."
The experts: Mr. S. Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Mr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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