60 Palestinians left homeless after Israel destroys West Bank Bedouin village for second time
Israeli bulldozers knocked down tents and portable toilets owned by Bedouin families in Homsa al-Baqia, a makeshift village near Tubas in the West Bank that Israeli forces had previously demolished in November, an AFP videographer said.
According to Israeli rights group B'Tselem, 61 people, over half of them children, were left homeless following Wednesday's demolitions.
The European Union's mission in the Palestinian Territories announced it would visit the site on Thursday.
COGAT, the Israeli army branch responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, said in a statement that the structures had been illegally built in a military training zone and that "the residents had agreed to take down the tents".
However, COGAT said the families changed their minds, and so on Wednesday the "last remaining tents at the site were confiscated".
Moataz Bisharat, a Palestinian activist who works to oppose Israel's occupation of the West Bank, said the action was akin to "carrying out the death sentence on all Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley".
The Jordan Valley falls within the West Bank's "Area C", which is fully controlled by Israel's army.
Under Israeli military law, Palestinians cannot build structures in the area without permits, which are typically refused, and demolitions are common.
Bisharat said the number of Palestinian families in the Homsa al-Baqia area had dropped from more than 186 in 1990 to just 21 today "because of the occupation's (Israel's) measures".
Read also: Palestinians replant trees after Israel uproots thousands
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six Day war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the past has said he intended to annex parts of the West Bank and Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territory, including the Jordan Valley.
Former US president Donald Trump gave that plan the green light in January last year.
But a surprise normalisation accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates later in the year appeared to put annexation on ice.
Wednesday’s demolition came as Save the Children said more than 500 Palestinian children were displaced from their homes in the occupied West Bank last year, amid a rising number of demolitions by Israeli forces.
Demolitions have impacted at least 2,600 children, the NGO said, noting that at least 218 children and their families had been displaced.
Last year was the worst for displaced Palestinian children since 2016, Save the Children said.
More than 5,000 children are also at risk of their schools being demolished, the NGO added.
Some 53 schools are currently at risk of demolition in the West Bank and occupied east Jerusalem.
"Children are paying the highest price. Tearing down a house, a school or other vital infrastructure, especially during a pandemic, destroys their right to an education, to have a home. It targets their future, their health, their safety and well-being," said Jason Lee, the organisation's country director for Palestine.
"As an occupying power, Israel has the duty to protect the rights of children. We urge the Government of Israel to tear up all existing demolition orders for schools, homes and vital infrastructure, in line with its international obligations. Failing to do so will leave more children without a home or an education, adding to the impact the pandemic is already having on their lives," Lee said in a statement on Wednesday.
The United Nations reprimanded Israel last year for continuing to demolish Palestinian homes and infrastructure amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Demolitions were ongoing at the highest rate in four years between March and August 2020, the UN said in September.
Agencies contributed to this report.