Israel destroys Irish aid to Palestinian village community

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The labels read “Humanitarian support for Palestinians at risk of forcible transfer to the West Bank” and they lie in the rubble of a destroyed community that is home to more than 60 people, more than half of whom are children.

The Irish Aid – Government of Ireland logos are clearly visible among the debris of shattered solar panels, children’s belongings and destroyed tents, marking items donated to Palestinian families by a European Union coordination group that includes Ireland among its donors.

As the pandemic raged this winter, the village of Khirbet Humsah was repeatedly razed by Israeli forces in a struggle for territory in a remote part of the Palestinian West Bank which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967.

In the past three months, nearly 70 structures provided to the community as part of EU aid have been destroyed or seized, according to the European Commission.

And this week, undeterred by condemnatory statements from the EU and Ireland, Israel destroyed EU-funded shelters to rebuild the community in front of a group of visiting European diplomats, according to reports. aid workers present.

The Israeli government has designated the area as a military firing range and insists its soldiers repeatedly demolish and seize donated tents and animal shelters because the village is illegal and Palestinians must leave for their own safety. .

But EU officials and aid groups see the demolitions as a transparent attempt to grab land that violates international law in an area in which Israeli settlements have developed in a way that erodes prospects for a viable Palestinian state. .

The initial destruction of Khirbet Humsah took place on November 3, the same day American voters went to the polls, when Cogat, the Israeli military body that handles civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, stepped in to demolish the shelters. for animals, solar panels, latrines and tents that housed a dozen families who earn their living by raising sheep and goats.

The United Nations described it as the biggest single demolition in a decade, adding to the toll of the destruction of some 689 structures by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2020 which, according to the UN, made 869 Palestinians homeless.

Army bulldozers

The people of Khirbet Humsah have returned and rebuilt, planting tents and animal shelters funded by EU donors to protect themselves and their livestock from the harsh winter conditions. But on February 3, bulldozers accompanied by Israeli troops returned, overturning steel and wooden structures in a demolition captured by Reuters TV.

Then, on Tuesday February 16, Israeli forces returned again. This time it happened as a group of diplomats representing countries that have donated aid were visiting the community. The IDF dismantled shelters that had been funded by Ireland and other EU countries under the watch of diplomats, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council and the West Bank Consortium, the partnership umbrella of the EU including Ireland working to stop the forced transfer of Palestinians.

“There were diplomats there from Poland, the UK and France,” said Chris Holt, a representative of the West Bank Protection Consortium who witnessed the incident. “The diplomats were talking to members of the community and the IDF came and seized the structures. They dismantled and took five animal shelters that had been funded by Britain, Ireland and nine other EU member states, he said.

A man gathers materials to build a temporary shelter after Israeli forces raze the Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsah. Photography: Emmanuel Dunand

This came a week after the EU’s foreign service issued a statement condemning the demolition of the village, noting that the aid it had given had been destroyed and calling such demolitions “illegal in view. international law and … an obstacle to a viable two-state solution. ”Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also condemned the demolitions as“ flagrant acts against a vulnerable population ”.

NGOs say the incident shows that more needs to be done to protect the inhabitants of the Palestinian territories. “We strongly recommend that Ireland and other donors take concrete steps to hold Israel accountable for the destruction of humanitarian aid,” Holt said.

Geneva convention

Tents set up to shelter families after the demolitions have been confiscated four times, according to a statement from Cogat. The Israeli agency told The Irish Times it was done because they had been “settled illegally and without the required permits and approvals” and the residents refused to move.

“Over the past few weeks, civil administration personnel have met with Palestinian residents of Khirbat Humsa and explained to them the dangers of staying in the firing range and offering them an alternative space outside.” , indicates the press release.

The United Nations has said that it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits due to a “restrictive and discriminatory planning regime”, that such demolitions are “designed to force Palestinians out of their homes”, and that demolitions and forcible transfers of persons are a “grave breach” of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Aid workers say repeated confiscations and demolitions have left already poor families in desperate conditions made worse by the harsh winter, with their livestock at risk of perishing without shelter.

Labels of European and Irish origin on aid destroyed by Israeli troops at Khirbet Humsah.  Photography: Sarit Michaeli / Btselem

Labels of European and Irish origin on aid destroyed by Israeli troops at Khirbet Humsah. Photography: Sarit Michaeli / Btselem

Israeli expansionism appears to have been encouraged by the administration of former US President Donald Trump, and Khirbet Humsah was among the land to be allotted to Israel under proposals jointly unveiled at the White House with the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last year.

The election of Joe Biden and Ireland’s accession to a seat on the United Nations Security Council have raised prospects of renewed pressure on Israel on the issue.

EU priorities

But at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, the issue is not on their agenda, which is littered with issues ranging from relations with Russia to the coup in Myanmar. , violence in Ethiopia, Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong, Iran, Belarus. and a reset of the EU’s relations with the United States.

Officials privately admit that other pressing foreign policy priorities have crowded out concerns about the Palestinians, and that Israel is clearly indifferent to repeated European declarations of condemnation – all the while realizing that attempts to agree on common action stronger EU are likely to be thwarted by member states such as Hungary which usually block the required unanimous vote.

Conor O’Neill, a researcher at Christian Aid, who works with local partners in the occupied territories, said events have underscored Irish politics must evolve beyond aid and the issuance of condemnation statements.

“This sort of thing is happening in a context of near total impunity, in which really, really serious violations of international law are faced with strongly worded statements, but nothing more,” O’Neill said.

“The question is what is the long term strategy? Are we going to continue to fund homes and schools, see how they get destroyed, and then fund them to be rebuilt? “


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