Peace Talks in the Shadow of Demolitions

While President Barack Obama pressures Palestinians to re-engage in direct peace talks, and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu loftily counsels President Mahmoud Abbas not to miss the opportunity, recent demolitions within the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel continue unabated and unaddressed.

According to OCHA, July and August have marked the highest number of demolitions this year. As of the end of July, OCHA reports Israeli forces have destroyed over 230 structures effectively displacing and/or affecting over 1100 Palestinians, including 400 children since the beginning of 2010. Over 50% of said destruction has taken place in July alone. OCHA further comments that the Israeli Civil Administration will be stepping up demolitions in the West Bank per orders by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

In the Jordan Valley, Israeli forces have demolished the village of al Farisyia twice within the span of 10 days; first on July 19th and again on August 5th. These have resulted in the destruction of 116 structures and the displacement of 129 people, 63 of whom are children. In the second round of demolitions, 10 structures not previously harmed were demolished along with 27 structures and materials provided by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Israel has flagrantly disavowed its peace rhetoric by issuing additional demolition orders to be meted out on August 15th & 16th.

Moreover, Israeli authorities are proving complicit in vigilante activity among Jewish settlers in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. In the early morning hours of July 29th Jewish settlers stormed the Kirrech house, home to 9 Palestinian families, without sanction. Of these families, only one has been allowed restitution to their home by court order. The other eight families continue to be displaced while waiting for their case to be tried in court.

While UN bodies have condemned these demolitions, absent actionable measures, the condemnations alone fall short of the United Nations' obligations to maintain peace and security and to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Under international law the State is obliged to prevent, investigate, and provide remedy, and when it fails to do so the international community becomes responsible for providing victims with effective protection. Violence by non-state actors (settlers) should not be seen merely as provocative actions; but as part of an overarching policy backed by State authority. By stopping at rhetoric, the United Nations, States, and international organizations fail to adequately respond to Israel’s human rights abuses that both fuel the humanitarian crisis and undermine the peace process.

In fact, even if Netanyahu’s recent statements were to be considered sincere, Israel's actions are a flagrant rejection of the peace process and its underlying documents including the Oslo Accords which reserve settlements as a final status issue and the Road Map which outright prohibits settlement expansion.

Under the cover of its calls for the resumption for peace talks, Israel is also infringing on the rights of its own Palestinian citizens. Israeli forces have demolished Al Araqib, a Bedouin village in the Negev, 4 times from July 27th to August 17th, displacing 300 Palestinian citizens of Israel at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan forcing them to endure a recent heat wave living in the open air atop their cemetery. According to MK Talab al-Sana, "This is a test for democracy in Israel; and democracy is failing. Al Araqib is a test of how much Israelis can live in peace with their own Palestinian citizens; so, how can [Israel] live in peace with Palestinians [within Palestine]."

Demolitions and the denial of basic human rights, such as shelter, are features of Israel’s apartheid regime and are indicative of the root causes of the ongoing humanitarian crises in the OPT. At best, Israel's recent demolitions can be considered attempts at colonization, at worst they can be interpreted as ethnic cleansing.

Taking these actions into account, one cannot help but be confused by the good faith underpinning the most recent calls for peace' talks. We call upon States, UN bodies, international organizations, and the international community at large to reconcile peace talks with humanitarian and human rights law in an effort to create an environment where peace may actually be sought instead of paying lip service to peace in the shadow of demolitions and displacement.