GENEVA, May 31, 2018 – UN human rights experts have expressed grave concerns about an Israeli court’s decision on 24 May to uphold a plan by the Government of Israel to demolish the entire Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar Ab al Helu in the West Bank east of Jerusalem.
“This ruling paves the way for the eviction of 181 inhabitants and constitutes an involuntary move that would likely amount to forcible transfer,” said the experts.
The individual or mass forced transfer of protected persons within an occupied territory is a grave breach of Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Forcible transfer also constitutes a war crime under the Rome Statute, that may lead to individual criminal responsibility. The experts also said that forced eviction is a gross violation of international human rights law.
The ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice stated that the houses and structures in Khan al-Ahmar Ab al Helu had been built illegally under Israeli military law, and it would not intervene in the decision of the Minister of Defense to demolish them.
“Despite the arguments made by the Khan al-Ahmar community, the High Court did not appear to give any weight to the strict prohibitions under international humanitarian law against the demolition of property and against forcible transfer belonging to the protected people in its decision,” the experts said.
The residents of Khan al-Ahmar are the descendants of Bedouins who were expelled from the Negev by Israel after 1948, and who were relocated to the West Bank.
In recent years, the residents had petitioned the Israeli military for a master plan and building permits for the lands that they had inhabited for decades. These petitions were denied.
Their lands are in the vicinity of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim, large Israeli settlements just east of Jerusalem. Subject to constant pressure by the Israeli authorities and neighbouring settlers, the Bedouin community has been living in what has been described as an increasing coercive environment.
“We are concerned not only for the future of the residents of Khan al-Ahmar, but also for the fate of dozens of other Palestinian Bedouin and herder communities across Area C who live a traditional lifestyle on the land,” the experts said.
The Israeli Government has denied building permits submitted by many Palestinian communities living in Area C of the West Bank – which is under full Israeli civil and security control. In contrast to the planning approval system for the Israeli settlements, Israel has made it almost impossible for Palestinian communities in Area C to obtain building permits.
Palestinian construction is entirely prohibited in about 70 percent of Area C and heavily restricted in the remaining parts, with less than one percent of Area C planned for Palestinian development. For the period 2007-2016, less than four percent of applications for building permits for Palestinians in Area C were approved.
The UN experts called upon Israel, as the occupying power, to respect the rights of the Khan al-Ahmar residents to remain on their lands and to have their community status regularised.
Mr. Michael Lynk was designated by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The mandate was originally established in 1993 by the then UN Commission on Human Rights. Professor Lynk is Associate Professor of Law at Western University in London, Ontario, where he teaches labour law, constitutional law and human rights law. Before becoming an academic, he practiced labour law and refugee law for a decade in Ottawa and Toronto. He also worked for the United Nations on human rights and refugee issues in Jerusalem.
Ms. Leilani Farha is the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this context. She took up her mandate in June 2014. Ms. Farha is the Executive Director of the NGO Canada without Poverty, based in Ottawa, Canada. A lawyer by training, for the past 20 years Ms. Farha has worked both internationally and domestically on the implementation of the right to adequate housing for the most marginalized groups and on the situation of people living in poverty. Follow the Special Rapporteur on twitter at: @adequatehousing, #Right2Housing #MakeTheShift