Israel has come under heavy criticism after the military demolished several homes and other structures in a Bedouin community in the occupied West Bank this week as much of the world's attention was focused on the U.S. election.
On Friday, a group of European diplomats visited the community of Khirbet Humsu in the northern Jordan Valley in a show of support for the Palestinian community against what an EU representative said was a violation of international law.
Israeli troops with bulldozers and heavy equipment on Tuesday — U.S. Election Day — demolished 18 tents and other structures that housed 74 people, including 41 minors, according to the Israeli rights group B'Tselem. The Israeli military said the structures were built without permission.
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B'Tselem said the troops also demolished livestock enclosures, storage sheds, cooking tents, solar panels, water containers and feeding troughs, and that they confiscated 30 tons of livestock feed, a vehicle and two tractors.
Abed al Ghani Awad, a resident of the impoverished Bedouin community, said life was already difficult before the demolitions.
“We suffer from all different kinds of weather, heat and cold and water scarcity,” he said, adding that the closest source of water is 14 kilometers (9 miles) away.
European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, who led the delegation, said it was “very clear” that the demolition of the structures “is contrary to international law.”
Yvonne Helle, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said in a statement earlier this week that it was the single largest demolition of its kind in the past decade.
“Their vulnerability is further compounded by the onset of winter and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” she said of the Bedouins of of Khirbet Humsu. “Some of the demolished structures had been donated as humanitarian assistance.”
The Israeli military body in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank says an “enforcement activity" was carried out against seven tents and eight pens that were “illegally constructed” in a firing range. It declined to respond to questions about the broader policy of home demolitions.
Israel seized the West Bank in the 1967 war and has established Jewish settlements there that are now home to nearly 500,000 people. The West Bank is home to more than 2.5 million Palestinians, and is seen as the main component of a future Palestinian state.
The Jordan Valley is home to around 60,000 Palestinians, according to the U.N., but nearly 90% of the land is part of what is known as Area C, the three-fifths of the West Bank under complete Israeli control. In the Jordan Valley, it includes closed military areas and around 50 agricultural settlements housing some 12,000 Israelis.
Palestinians are barred from those areas, and even on the lands they own, they are forbidden from digging wells or building any kind of infrastructure without hard-to-get military permits. From 2009 until 2016, less than 2% of more than 3,300 permit applications in Area C were successful, according to Peace Now, an Israeli anti-settlement group, citing official statistics.
Palestinians who build without authorization are at risk of having their homes and other structures destroyed at any time, even years after they have been erected.
Even before the demolitions in Khirbet Humsu, B’Tselem said 111 homes have been destroyed in the West Bank so far this year — the highest annual number since 2016 — leaving 458 people homeless, including 228 minors.
The demolitions underscore Israel's total control of the Jordan Valley despite its decision to pause outright annexation as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement reached earlier this year to normalize relations with the United Arab Emirates.
President Donald Trump's Mideast plan, which overwhelmingly favors Israel and was rejected by the Palestinians, would allow Israel to annex up to a third of the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley. Israel insists annexation has only been paused temporarily.
Former Vice President Joe Biden is opposed to annexation. He is expected to discard the Trump plan if he becomes president and press Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks.
Krauss reported from Jerusalem.