The Israeli military’s department governing civil affairs in the occupied West Bank said Sunday that a UN agency’s humanitarian aid to displaced Palestinians is actually illegal, according to Ma’an news.The role of the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in the West Bank is being reassessed by the department of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) within the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
COGAT spokesman Guy Inbar said that UNOCHA is assisting Palestinians who have had homes demolished by the Israeli government and that this humanitarian work is illegal.
Israeli authorities insist that Palestinians living in Area C, the 62 percent of the West Bank that is still under full Israeli control since the 1993 Oslo Accords, must follow the legal process for building in the West Bank and that NGOs working in the West Bank must follow those same legal procedures.
Human rights workers state that providing temporary tents to displaced families falls under universally accepted international definitions of emergency humanitarian assistance and is not a building project that would require a permit.
Humanitarian agencies and the United Nations argue that the reality is that it is almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits to either build or refurbish their own property. This is in stark contrast to Israeli settlers in the same area that are able to expand communities with impunity that have been repeatedly found to be illegal under international law.
One area of the West Bank facing repeated demolition orders are the hills south of Hebron. After a group of illegal Israeli settlers filed a legal petition calling for the removal of the village of Susiya, the Israeli military announced plans to demolish all 50 structures in the town.
Israeli authorities have so far demolished 330 Palestinian buildings in the West Bank in 2012, displacing 536 people, half of whom are children according to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Richard Falk.
According to International Law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, occupying powers are forbidden from transferring its population into an occupied territory as Israel has been doing in the settlements. Occupying powers are also required to provide for the needs of the occupied population and are forbidden from demolishing any structure with a civilian purpose. The current Israeli military demolitions of Palestinian homes, in addition to being violations of international law, are also reminiscent of the destruction of homes in South Africa during apartheid.
‘It is outrageous that (the Israeli) administration which condones illegal settlement construction is here using an argument against construction that helps some of the most disadvantaged communities, who have the right to protection under international law,’ a diplomatic source told Ma’an news.
COGAT asked the Israeli Foreign Ministry to lodge a formal complaint at the UN and on July 10th, Israel’s UN ambassador wrote to the UN humanitarian affairs chief asking for staff lists. Israeli authorities are purportedly considering limiting visas for foreign UNOCHA employees and stopping work and travel permits for Palestinian staff members, according to Haaretz.
COGAT spokesman Inbar said that the agency is upset that the UNOCHA is over stepping its bounds in Area C, while the UN counters that it is mandated to respond to humanitarian emergencies.