Europe Warns Of “Serious Consequence” For Potential Israeli War Crime Against Khan al-Ahmar Village

An Israeli Supreme Court decision to approve the demolition of the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar has drawn criticism from the EU, European states and international organisations. The village, housing 90 adults and 90 children, was deemed to be illegally constructed in the West Bank. As a result, the inhabitants will be forcibly relocated close to either a garbage dump or a sewage facility. Residents have petitioned to keep the village up several times, insisting that construction permits are near impossible to attain.

News of Khan al-Ahmar’s planned destruction came just a week after the Jerusalem District Court legalised the Israeli settlement of Mitzpe Kramim, a similarly unauthorised outpost in the West Bank.  The court ruled in favour of the Israeli settlers there because they built their community “in good faith.” The rulings over Khan al-Ahmar and Mitzpe Kramim highlight a disparity in the treatment of Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, as one group is assumed to have innocent intentions and the other is deemed a threat. The decision to grant Mitzpe Kramim settlers property rights in the West Bank sets precedent for more rulings legalising the settlement of previously Palestinian land.

Israel Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman commended the decision to demolish Khan al-Ahmar, saying “nobody is above the law, nobody will keep us from acting on our sovereignty and responsibility as a state.” Right-wing Israelis such as Liberman argue that Khan al-Ahmar lies in a strategic location in Area C of the West Bank, and was part of a Palestinian plan to seize control of the region from the IDF. Palestinians and left-wing Israelis such as B’Tselem meanwhile, fear that Khan al-Ahmar’s evacuation clears the area for further Israeli settlement and threaten “the congruity of a future Palestinian state.”

The EU and its member states have taken a strong stand against Israel’s planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini warned of “serious consequences” should the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) go ahead with its plans to relocate inhabitants. She expressed concerns that the demolition would “severely threaten the viability of the two-state solution and undermine prospects for peace.” The UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain followed up with a joint statement opposing the demolition: “the consequences a demolition and displacement would have on the residents of this community, including their children, as well as on the prospects of the two-state solution, would be very serious.”

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem  appealed to the EU to intervene earlier, saying that “the EU has ample leverage to affect a concrete impact, by showing Israel that unacceptable human rights violations will have serious consequences and spelling out exactly what it stands to lose.”

Responding to Palestinian outreach, UN human rights experts Michael Lynk and Leilani Farha issued a joint statement against the demolition. “This appalling decision could trigger the evacuation of 180 inhabitants, including 90 children, putting them at immediate risk of forcible transfer,” they wrote.  Dr. Saeb Erekat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization has also submitted the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying “we hope that an official judicial investigation can be opened as soon as possible.”

The United States has remained silent on the issue, but likely backs Israel’s ruling. Palestine’s appointed governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, claimed “this forced displacement is created in this place under the complete support of the American administration headed by Trump and his staff, who support the settlements and show hate and aggression towards our Palestinian people.”

On Monday National Security Advisor John Bolton called the ICC “unaccountable” and “outright dangerous.” He continued, “”if the court comes after us, Israel or other U.S. allies, we will not sit quietly… The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.” Bolton and the United States have a long and turbulent history with international courts, attempting to avoid culpability for human rights violations and war crimes both on their behalf and on Israel’s.

Forcible transfer of people under occupied territory constitutes a war crime under the Geneva Convention and Rome Statute, and must be opposed by the international community. Emboldened by increased American support under the Trump administration, Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government continues to push the boundaries and make a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine less and less viable. European states and the International Criminal Court must stand their ground and ensure that this does not happen.