The Palestinian Authority threatened to cut ties with Israel over its forced demolition Monday of 12 building in Wadi al-Hummus near east Jerusalem, dubbing it a “war crime” and “ethnic cleansing.”
The PA said it will request a special meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the demolitions and lodge a complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court.
“The Palestinian leadership will hold a series of important meetings in the next few days to take fateful decisions regarding our relations and agreements signed with Israel,” said the PA president’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh.
He pointed out that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had repeatedly warned that the Palestinians would not be able to continue their adherence to agreements with Israel as long as Israel insists on its noncommitment to these agreements.
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian leadership “is putting in place mechanisms to cancel all agreements signed between the PA and the Israeli side.”
Israeli security forces demolished the homes, arguing that they were too close to the security barrier. Palestinians worry that hundreds more such homes could be in danger of demolition.
The razing of the structures set off a diplomat storm, with the UN, EU, France, Jordan and the Arab League all condemning the move.
IDF soldiers and Border Police entered the neighborhood in the predawn hours, ordering the 17 residents living inside some of the 12 structures to leave.
While the bulk of Sur Bahir is located within the boundaries of Jerusalem, the land on which the 12 structures were located is in areas A and B of the West Bank, which is under full or partial PA control.
Photos and videos from the anti-occupation NGO All That’s Left showed Border Police surrounding and entering some of the buildings, many of which were under construction. The IDF and the Border Police prevented journalists from getting to the scene.
One Palestinian resident sitting on a plastic chair in his living room told the Border Police that he would rather they destroy the home with him in it than take him out by force.
“I’m not leaving of my own free will,” he said. “Take down the home on top of our heads. This is our life,” he added.
The homeowners received building permits from Bethlehem, which has municipal jurisdiction over that section of Wadi al-Hummus.
But the buildings are located on the Israeli side of the security barrier, which runs through the back of Sur Bahir.
The structures in question are located within 400 m. of the security barrier. A 2011 edict prohibits construction within such a short distance of the barrier. Construction began on the buildings after 2014.
Residents say they did not know of the edict when they began building. The buildings in question are interspersed among other preexisting buildings in Wadi al-Hummus that were built prior to 2011. Those buildings are also less than 400 m. from the barrier.
The High Court of Justice in June rejected an appeal by residents to halt the demolitions. The court is now in the midst of hearing a second appeal. On Sunday, it rejected a request for an injunction against the demolitions until such time as all the legal proceedings were completed.
The Civil Administration said the structures were demolished because they were too close to the security barrier. The buildings were “in an area that falls under an injunction prohibiting building signed by the GOC Central Command on the outskirts of Sur Bahir in close proximity to the security fence,” the Civil Administration said.
The High Court of Justice had ruled that the structures could be demolished because they “constitute a security danger to the area of the security fence,” the Civil Administration said. “Enforcement procedures were carried out in accordance with authority and procedures and subject to operational considerations.”
The Jerusalem Municipality promised to advance within 180 days a new building plan for 5.5 hectares in Sur Bahir, which will house businesses, creating 1,500 jobs.
The United Nations warned that Monday’s demolitions “contributes to the risk of forcible transfer” of Palestinians from the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“The large-scale operation began in the early hours of this morning while it was still dark, forcing families out of their homes, and causing great distress among residents,” the UN said.
It said its humanitarian partners were “poised to provide emergency response” to those who were displaced.
It rejected Israel’s argument that the demolitions were necessary for security reasons, explaining that the International Court of Justice in 2004 found that the barrier in the West Bank was illegal.
“Had there been concrete action to ensure respect for these principles, and for international humanitarian and human rights law, generally, the people of Sur Bahir would not be experiencing the trauma they are today, and violations of their rights,” the UN said.
The EU charged that Israel’s settlement policy undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospect for a lasting peace, and seriously jeopardizes the possibility of Jerusalem serving as the future capital of both states.
The demolition came as US envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner are set to visit the region to discuss US President Donald Trump’s upcoming peace plan.
The PLO’s Erekat condemned Israel’s actions and the US peace efforts.
“We tell those who complained about our position toward the ‘Deal of the Century’ and the Bahrain [economic] workshop: The prosperity the world is witnessing in Sur Bahir is what Trump is talking about” he said. “Dozens of families have been evicted from their homes. This is the prosperity they promised us at the Bahrain workshop.”
Erekat was referring to the US-led economic conference that was held in June in Manama, Bahrain, under the banner “Prosperity to Peace.” At the conference, which was boycotted by the PA, the US administration unveiled the economic portion of its “Deal of the Century.”
Erekat also criticized Arab countries for reportedly normalizing their relations with Israel. “Arab normalization [with Israel] is a stab to the back of the Palestinian people,” he said. “What’s happening in Sur Bahir is the price for this normalization.”
Abbas, he added, has issued instructions to financially compensate the families whose homes were demolished.
PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said during the weekly meeting of his cabinet that the demolitions in Wadi al-Hummus were in violation of international and humanitarian laws. He said most of the buildings that were demolished on Monday were located in Area A and Area B of the West Bank.
The Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993 divide the West Bank into three administrative divisions. Area A is exclusively administered by the PA; Area B is administered by both the PA and Israel; and Area C is administered exclusively by Israel.
Shtayyeh said the demolitions cancel the divisions of the West Bank.
“We will no longer deal with these Israeli divisions of our Palestinian lands,” he said.
The Fatah Central Committee accused Israel of committing “war crimes and ethnic cleansing” against Palestinians. “This crime comes amid absolute American support for Israeli settlement enterprises,” the committee charged. “It is a natural outcome of the illegal American decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the occupation state and move its embassy to Jerusalem [from Tel Aviv].”
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian groups also strongly condemned the demolitions as “war crimes.”
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the Israeli “crimes won’t stop the Palestinian resistance against the Zionist settler enterprise.”
Islamic Jihad official Khader Habib said the “latest Israeli crime was part of an attempt to overcome the Palestinian demographic factor.” He appealed to all Arabs and Muslims to support the Palestinians and work to “thwart the occupation schemes.”
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