The BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights condemns, in the strongest possible terms, Israel’s demolition on January 6 of five homes in the Palestinian Bedouin community of Abu Nwar, located on the Jerusalem periphery in Area C of the West Bank. To this end, BADIL joins the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)1 in highlighting that such actions are consistent with legal definitions of forcible transfer, which is recognized as a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, as well as being prosecutable as both a war crime and, if conducted as part of a widespread or systemic attack directed against a civilian population, a crime against humanity.
These demolitions - which have left 26 Palestinian refugees, including 17 children, homeless in the middle of winter - are far from being an isolated incident, but instead represent merely the latest effort by the Israeli government to forcibly remove Palestinian presence from Area C.
BADIL welcomes UNRWA’s recognition that forcible transfer can be underpinned by the creation of a ‘coercive environment’ which, in-turn, forces individuals and families to leave their homes and communities, and BADIL supports UNRWA’s assessment that the execution of demolitions against Palestinian homes and other structures by Israeli forces “exacerbates an already coercive environment, driving Bedouin communities off the land they have inhabited for decades”.
To this end, BADIL highlights that demolitions – as well as the prior issuing of demolition orders - represents just one coercive factor operating within what Israeli policy has rendered an almost impossible living environment. For instance, few Palestinian Bedouin communities located within the Jerusalem periphery have been connected to the public water network, whilst none have been connected to the public electricity network. Access to crucial grazing land is made increasingly problematic by the route of the Annexation Wall and the expanding boundaries of settlements, and this expansion also brings with it harassment and threats of violence from Jewish-Israeli settlers.
This recent spate of demolitions appears to be directly related to a wider Israeli plan to forcibly transfer thousands of Palestinian Bedouin to specified urban townships, and which would represent an economic, social and cultural catastrophe for those individuals, families and clans affected, as well as serving as a precursor for massive settlement/colony expansion and the effective severing of the West Bank.
However, BADIL notes that the presence of a formal plan is not a prerequisite for a finding of forcible transfer, and any forced displacement of Palestinians resulting from any demonstrably coercive environment operating inside the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) may serve as a material act upon which a prima facie case for forcible transfer may be based.
Moreover, forcible transfer is a crime which confers legal obligations on third party states, with Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulating:
“The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances”
The International Committee of the Red Cross commentary develops this provision further, concluding that Common Article 1 is “generally interpreted as enunciating a responsibility on third States not involved […] to ensure respect for international humanitarian law by the parties to an armed conflict by means of positive action. Third States have a responsibility, therefore, to take appropriate steps — unilaterally or collectively — against parties to a conflict who are violating international humanitarian law, in particular to intervene with states or armed groups over which they might have some influence to stop the violations.
Furthermore, as a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and thus one of the most heinous classifications of war crime, High Contracting Parties are obligated to search for individuals alleged to have committed – or to have ordered to be committed – forcible transfer, and to bring such persons before a domestic court or, alternatively, to hand such persons over to another High Contracting Party so that they may be brought before a court of law.
Accordingly, the BADIL Resource Center:
- Calls upon third party states, regional bodies, and international non-governmental organizations to join UNRWA in applying appropriate legal terminology to the present day reality in the oPt; particularly, identifying that Israel’s ongoing demolitions of Palestinian structures in Area C, and the resulting displacement, constitutes forcible transfer;
- Calls upon High Contracting Parties, as a matter of great urgency, to honor their obligation under Common Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to take all available measures to halt Israel’s perpetration of forcible transfer of Palestinians inside the oPt;
- Calls upon High Contracting Parties to honor their obligation under Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to search for individuals present on their respective territory who have materially participated in the forcible transfer of Palestinians, and to either bring proceedings against such persons in their national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction, or to hand over such persons to a fellow High Contracting Party so that they may be brought before a court of law;
- Draws to the attention of the International Criminal Court Israel’s continuing practices of forcible transfer inside the oPt, and highlights the prima facie evidence that such practices not only satisfy the required elements of war crimes under the Rome Statute, but also those of a crime against humanity.
 UNRWA, 7th January 2016. UN agency condemns demolition of homes of Palestinian Bedouin in West Bank. Available at: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=52956#.Vo-rwvl95D9