Israeli police bar European envoys' visit to school in threatened Palestinian village

Israeli police bar European envoys' visit to school in threatened Palestinian village
Israel is preparing to raze a Bedouin village in a strategic part of the occupied West Bank, ignoring international calls for a reprieve.
3 min read
05 July, 2018
Diplomats are blocked by Israeli police at the Palestinian village of Khan al-Ahmar [Getty]

European diplomats on Thursday tried to pay a solidarity visit to a West Bank village under threat of demolition by Israel but police barred them from reaching a school there.

Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the European Union sought to visit the school in the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.

Police at the scene said the area had been declared a closed military zone. 

"We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school," the Irish representative office to the West Bank wrote on its official Twitter feed. 

"We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law," the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene.

He said that demolishing the village of 173 residents, east of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, would be a violation of the Geneva convention laying out the obligations of an occupier toward those under its control.

It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Israeli authorities say the village and its school were built illegally, and in May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.

But activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs. 

On Tuesday, activists said, Israel issued orders authorising the seizure of access roads to the village.

Heavy equipment has since been seen there, feeding speculation a road was being prepared to facilitate its evacuation and demolition and sparking scuffles between Israeli police and protesters.

According to residents and activists, 35 people were injured and 10 arrested by Israeli troops on Wednesday.

Israel authorities say they have offered villagers an alternative site.

It is not known when the demolition will take place, but on Thursday bulldozers could be seen widening the access road to the village.

Activists expect the demolition to happen within the next few days.

Dozens of journalists and activists stood at the edge of the village on Thursday, which is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.

"What the Israeli authorities are doing is a population transfer contrary to the Rome and Geneva conventions," Palestinian lawyer Munji Abdallah, 50, told AFP.

Khan al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.

Activists are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.

UK-based social justice charity War on Want said British construction companies such as CAT and JCB were "directly supporting" the destruction of Palestinian homes and schools from illegal settlement activity.

Ryvka Barnard, senior campaigner, said: "The likes of CAT and JCB are already facing protests over their criminal liability in the expulsion of people from their lands to make way for illegal settlements.

"If they continue to do business with Israel's military, they are likely to face economic sanctions as well," she added, citing a UN Human Rights Council warning.