Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians, European diplomats and foreign activists trying to erect an encampment in the West Bank on Friday.
The diplomats said the Israel Defense Forces manhandled them and stopped them from bringing aid and supplies to Palestinians whose homes in the hamlet of Khirbet Makhoul were demolished on Monday. Meanwhile, the IDF said the attempt to erect the tents was a “provocation,” and that Palestinians attacked the soldiers at the scene.
The army said dozens of Palestinians, foreign activists and diplomats gathered near the settlement of Hemdat and the base of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade in the northern Jordan Valley on Friday afternoon, and tried to set up tents at the site where the homes were razed.
Some of those present started throwing stones toward the security forces and hitting soldiers, the IDF said, adding that it used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. Three Palestinians were detained for attacking the security forces and transferred to police, the IDF said. The area was declared a closed military zone, and the army stopped a truck bringing supplies to the site, the IDF said.
Reuters reported that the soldiers manhandled European diplomats at the site, and seized the truck, which was full of tents and emergency aid they had been trying to deliver to Palestinians whose homes were demolished.
Khirbet Makhoul was home to about 120 people. The army razed their ramshackle houses, stables and a kindergarten on Monday after Israel’s High Court ruled that they did not have proper building permits. Despite losing their property, the inhabitants have refused to leave the land, where, they say, their families have lived for generations along with their flocks of sheep.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers throw stun grenades at a group of diplomats, aid workers and locals, and yank a French diplomat out of the truck before driving away with its contents.
“They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity,” French diplomat Marion Castaing told Reuters. “This is how international law is being respected here,” she said, covered with dust.
’Shocking and outrageous’
Israeli soldiers stopped the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivering emergency aid on Tuesday and on Wednesday IRCS staff managed to put up some tents but the army forced them to take the shelters down.
Diplomats from France, Britain, Spain, Ireland, Australia and the European Union’s political office, turned up on Friday with more supplies. As soon as they arrived, about a dozen Israeli army jeeps converged on them, and soldiers told them not to unload their truck.
“It’s shocking and outrageous. We will report these actions to our governments,” said one EU diplomat, who declined to be named because he did not have authorization to talk to the media.
“(Our presence here) is a clear matter of international humanitarian law. By the Geneva Convention, an occupying power needs to see to the needs of people under occupation. These people aren’t being protected,” he said.
In the scuffles between soldiers and locals, an elderly Palestinian man also fainted and was taken for medical treatment to a nearby ambulance.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement that Makhoul was the third Bedouin community to be demolished by the Israelis in the West Bank and adjacent Jerusalem municipality since August.
Palestinians have accused the Israeli authorities of progressively taking their historical grazing lands, either earmarking it for military use or handing it over to the Israelis whose settlements dot the West Bank.
Israelis and Palestinians resumed direct peace talks last month after a three-year hiatus. Palestinian officials have expressed serious doubts about the prospects of a breakthrough.
“What the Israelis are doing is not helpful to the negotiations. Under any circumstances, talks or not, they’re obligated to respect international law,” the unnamed EU diplomat said.
A spokesman at the British Consulate General in Jerusalem said London was “seriously concerned” by the Makhoul demolitions and by the subsequent refusal to let villagers receive aid
“We have repeatedly made clear to the Israeli authorities our concerns over such demolitions, which we view as causing unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, as harmful to the peace process, and as contrary to international humanitarian law,” he said.