This week’s illegal Israeli demolition of a Palestinian Bedouin village of Khirbet Humsa for the second time in four months has been met with international condemnation. The United Nations called upon Israel to end these regular, illegal operations in Palestinian villages and towns in the occupied West Bank. The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), along with France, also reaffirmed the need for the international law to respected in the occupied Palestinian Territories (oPT) and urged the Israeli government to ensure that the dignity and human rights of Palestinians under its occupation are upheld.
The village of Khirbet Humsa, in the Northern Jordan Valley, was demolished in an operation by Israeli military and civilian authorities. On Monday, February 1, the Israeli soldiers arrived at the village and started the demolition by dismantling the makeshift tents and livestock pens, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported, adding that the demolition operation seemed “unusually broad.” B’Tselem accused Israel of trying to displace the entire Palestinian Bedouin community of the village and forcibly transfer them to some other area so that it could annex their land. The village community, which had vowed to stay put, has been firm in its resolve, staying in makeshift tents, sleeping on mattresses and plastic tarps on the ground.
On Wednesday, Israeli soldiers, accompanied with bulldozers, uprooted several wooden and steel structures that the village’s approximately 130 residents had built since the last demolition exercise in November 2020. According to B’Tselem, this week’s demolition has affected 74 Palestinians, including 41 children, who were living in the now-demolished structures. The Israeli authorities, which claim that the village has been built illegally on a military firing range, had before carrying out the demolitions also cordoned off the area and later prevented human rights activists and Palestinian civil society leaders from entering the village to help the villagers in rebuilding the tents and other structures, reports said. In total, the Israeli authorities destroyed 40 structures owned by 11 Palestinian families, leaving the villagers to survive the winter without any place to take shelter.
In a similar operation last year in November, the Israeli military demolished a total of 76 structures in the village, leaving more than 80 Palestinians, including 41 children, homeless. At the time, a number of makeshift tents, animal pens and livestock fodder storage sheds were demolished. Vehicles belonging to the villagers had also been confiscated. Many of the structures that were demolished in November had also reportedly received funding from several European Union organizations, both governmental and non-governmental. The United Nations had termed November’s demolition of the village as the “the largest forced displacement incident” of Palestinian homes in over four years” and one of the largest illegal demolitions carried out by Israel in the oPT in the last 10 years.
The head of the OCHA in the oPT, Sarah Muscroft, in a statement condemning this week’s demolition, said, “The humanitarian community has also consistently expressed concerns over other impending demolitions, including of schools. One school in Um Qussa, in the southern West Bank, is currently under imminent threat of demolition, which would impact 50 children. Bedouin children, especially girls, are amongst the most vulnerable to human rights violations.” She also expressed wider concern for other Palestinian communities that are also facing demolition orders against them, saying that “limiting children’s access to education and other basic services during a pandemic only exacerbates this vulnerability. Currently, 53 schools, which are attended by 5,200 children, have demolition orders placed against them. The rights of children to protection, safety, and well-being must be upheld at all times.”