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Senior officials call on Israel to halt West Bank demolitions and respect international law

After their meeting with the Palestinian Bedouins from Humsa al Bqai’a on Thursday, Sarah Muscroft, head of the UN’s humanitarian agency in the occupied territory, James Heenan, head of the UN Human Rights Office (OCHA) there and Lucia Elmi, UNICEF Special Representative in Palestine, issued a statement calling for demolitions to be halted, and international law respected. 

“Sixty people, including 35 children, were displaced from their homes and their belongings seized or destroyed by Israeli forces”, according to the UN representatives. 

Among items seized were tents provided as humanitarian assistance following an earlier demolition in November of 83 other structures; the largest single demolition since 2009. 

“The demolitions and confiscations were carried out after the families were verbally ordered to leave the area, although the community has made it clear they want to remain”, the statement said.  

As the community had already rejected relocation proposals and even appealed to the courts for help, the UN officials observed that they are being pressured to move – raising “a real risk” of forcible transfer, which is a breach of international law. 

Children under threat 

“The humanitarian community has also consistently expressed concerns over other impending demolitions, including of schools”, they said in the statement.  

One school in Um Qussa, in the southern West Bank, is currently under imminent threat of demolition, which would impact 50 children, they added.  

And Bedouin children, especially girls, are “amongst the most vulnerable to human rights violations”.  

Moreover, limiting access to education and other basic services during a pandemic only exacerbates the students’ vulnerability.  

Currently 53 schools, which are attended by 5,200 pupils, have demolition orders placed against them.  

“The rights of children to protection, safety, and well-being must be upheld at all times”, the statement underscored. 

The UN representatives upheld that the humanitarian community would continue to assist those impacted by the demolition and ensure that their humanity is recognized and dignity upheld, while advocating for respect for international law. 

‘Firing zones’ 

In the 1970s, Israel declared some 18 per cent of the West Bank, “firing zones” for military training. Humsa al Bqai’a is one of 38 Bedouin and herding communities located within these zones. 

Since 2009, an estimated 7,400 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, have been destroyed, leaving more than 11,000 people displaced, some more than once.  

And since the beginning of this year alone, at least 152 structures, of which 37 were donated, have been destroyed, rendering at least 184 Palestinians homeless, according to the UN.

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