Friday

17th Sep 2021

Opinion

New Israeli government's land seizure - where's the EU?

  • Last Wednesday (7 July), Israeli soldiers and civil administration staff arrived at the community of Khirbet Humsah, declared the area a closed military zone and denied journalists, human rights activists and diplomats access (Photo: B'Tselem)

A long convoy of diplomatic vehicles treaded the dirt roads leading to the Palestinian community of Khirbet Humsah twice since last November, when Israeli bulldozers ripped through it - in the first of what has by now became a series of no less than six demolitions.

The visit by the European Union heads of missions to this remote local in the occupied northern Jordan Valley, was heralded as a strong signal by the Union, that it is opposed to – and willing to openly challenge – Israel's declared intention to wipe off the ground the village.

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The diplomats told residents and media that the EU and like-minded countries such as the UK and Norway, view Israel's demolition as a clear violation of its obligations under the laws of occupation, that they reject the Israeli claim that this area is off limits to Palestinians because it was declared a military-training zone, and that they stand shoulder to shoulder with the residents and with all Palestinian communities at risk of forcible transfer.

The EU didn't just send senior diplomats to view the wreckage of Humsah. It also provided humanitarian assistance for the residents - who like virtually all other herding communities in 'Area C' (60 percent of the occupied West Bank which remains under full Israeli control) - face intense Israeli pressure, intended to keep them from developing according the communities' needs.

The restrictions on obtaining legal building permits, home demolitions and confiscations of property and livelihood generating structures, are described by the UN as a "hostile environment" that creates conditions to force people away from the land.

The EU, through the West Bank Protection Consortium, funded solar electricity systems, and mobile toilets, among other forms of assistance, to allow Humsah residents to build resilience against this hostile environment.

European diplomats protested Israel's conduct also vis-à-vis the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, logging a diplomatic demarche in February 2021, which also included the ubiquitous request that Israel return any European donor-funded material that had been confiscated.

That same month, European position was delivered to the UN Security Council, when six current and former members demanded that Israel halt its continuous demolitions of the village.

The flurry of diplomatic activity clearly failed to impress the Israeli occupation authorities.

Last Wednesday (7 July), soldiers and civil administration staff arrived at the community, declared the area a closed military zone and denied journalists, human rights activists and diplomats access.

The forces dismantled and confiscated residential and agricultural structures, belonging to nine families with a total of 61 members, including 34 minors. The forces also destroyed water tanks, fencing and farming equipment.

The residents' belongings were loaded onto trucks that transported them to the 'Ein Shibli community, which lies west of Khirbet Humsah, on the edge of Area C, which Israel has earmarked for their permanent forcible transfer - a war crime.

But the residents of Humsah resisted: community members fled to the mountains with their flocks, remaining on the land with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and some water bottles brought in by Palestinian and Israeli activists. In the days after the operation, Israeli soldiers continue to prevent all access to the ruined community.

EU silence

Astoundingly, this time the EU said nothing, following this Israeli war crime.

On the contrary.

In the days since, several developments concerning the bilateral relationship occurred: the new Israeli minister of foreign affairs, Yair Lapid, participated in an "informal exchange of views" over lunch with the 27 EU ministers at the 12 July Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by the EU high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, who also had a bilateral meeting with Lapid.

The Brussels meeting was the first of its kind in more than a decade and signals a thawing of the fraught EU-Israel relationship under the former Netanyahu governments: "a fresh start", according to the official EU statement.

In the meeting, Lapid was expected to promote an Israeli entry into Creative Europe – a European Commission funding instrument for the creative arts, which includes a territorial clause prohibiting participation of Israeli settlement entities.

Under the proposed formula, Israel will be allowed to join the program while simultaneously rejecting the long-term EU position, grounded in fact, that its settlements are illegal.

In his comments following the meeting, the high representative did not mention whether the ministers raised with Lapid Israel's razing of Khirbet Humsa. In these cases, participants normally report a "frank and honest conversation".

Borrell used a "wide-ranging, honest exchange" and also a "friendly, open and constructive exchange" and was cheered by the fact that Israel now has "that has publicly been advocating in favour of the 'two-state solution'".

Lip service

But Europe's lip service to Palestinian human rights, EU policy and international law will not hide the obvious fact that Israel's utter contempt of the EU's demarches – the most recent, sixth, forcible transfer attempt was perpetrated by the new government under minister of defence, Benny Gantz, from Lapid's "change coalition", not by Netanyahu's government – led to no consequences whatsoever.

This will rightly be seen here in Israel as nothing but acquiescence to our government's policy of destroying Palestinian communities, to further facilitate its takeover of their land.

Why should any rational Israeli politician view this utter lack of commitment to the EU's own foreign policy objectives and its stated human rights principles as anything other than a license to continue sending bulldozers to remove Palestinians from land the EU deems part of a future viable Palestine, and confiscate EU aid?

Since last week's demolitions, the roads leading to the ruins of Humsah have seen few diplomatic vehicles. Clearly, no top-level visit is in the making, and rightly so. After their utter failure to hold Israel accountable for its continued devastation of the community, any European statement of solidary with Palestinian people living under Israel's occupation will be seen as nothing but empty rhetoric.

Author bio

Sarit Michaeli is international advocacy officer at B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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