Israeli rights group BâTselem slammed the Israeli governmentâs plans to forcibly expel two Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank, in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that such a move would constitute a âwar crime.â
The letter, made public on Monday, describes in detail how the expulsions would constitute a violation of international law. Â According to Ma’an News Agency, Bâtselem strongly noted that the evacuation of the Susiya and Khan al-Ahmar villages would âconstitute a war crime carried out at your instruction and under your personal responsibility.â
Last week, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had stated that âwork was being done to implement plansâ for the full expulsion of Susiya, located in the South Hebron Hills, and Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village located near Israelâs illegal mega settlement Maale Adumim.
He added that the expulsions would occur âwithin a few months.â
The villages are considered âillegalâ by the Israeli state, and have been embroiled in legal battles with the Israeli state for years. Both villages are located in Area C — the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli military control, where Israel refuses to permit Palestinian construction. Rights groups have pointed out that this policy lines up with Israelâs goals of expanding Israeli settlements throughout Area C, while depopulating Palestinian villages there.
Israelâs planning policy in Area C âdenies Palestinian residents virtually any possibility of construction for residential purposes, prohibits connections to infrastructure and precludes public construction to match residentsâ needs, such as schools, medical clinics and playgrounds,â BâTselem said in the letter.
BâTselem noted that Israeli policies have forced Palestinians to âsubsist on minimal means,â and âdenies them any possibility of developing their communities to suit their current and future needs.â
âIn the absence of any other option, residents are forced to build without receiving permits from the authorities, subsequently living in constant uncertainty and fear of demolition,â the group added.
In the case of Susiya, many of the villageâs 200 residents have ties to the land that predate the creation of the state of Israel, and Ottoman-era land documents to prove it. However, the village lies between an Israeli settlement and Israel-controlled archaeological site, making them a target for Israeli demolitions.
Meanwhile, Khan al-Ahmar, like other Bedouin communities in the region, is under threat of relocation by Israel for being located in the contentious âE1 corridorâ set up by the Israeli government to link annexed East Jerusalem with Maale Adumim.
Citing legal precedent made by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), BâTselem said that Israelâs potential demolition of entire Palestinian communities — which would mark the first time such an extreme demolition was carried out in 50 years — would line up with the the courtâs definition of forcible transfers.
âWhile the official Israeli guise for demolishing these Palestinian communities is âbuildingwithout the necessary permitsâ, Israelâs permit and planning policy in the West Bank renders this claim disingenuous, to say the least, and cannot be accepted,â BâTselem said.
On top of violating past rulings made by the International Criminal Court (ICC), BâTselem also cited the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the forcible transfer of âprotected personsâ in or outside occupied territory.
âWe call on you to refrain from the human rights violations that will result from demolishing these communities. We caution, yet again, that these actions would constitute a war crime committed at your instruction and under your responsibility, and for which you would bear personal liability,â the group concluded.
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Chris Carlson is a student of religion at Mount Mercy University, United States, and has been a regular volunteer with the IMEMC since 2013. He assisted in providing extensive coverage of the 2014 Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip and continues, into the present day, with the issues at hand. He can be reached via email at c h r i s @ i m e m c . o r g.