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Israel High Court liable for war crimes, rights group says

Bulldozers demolish two buildings belongs to Palestinians under the observation of Israeli forces with the claim of unauthorized construction, near Bethlehem, West Bank on January 29, 2018. ( Mamoun Wazwaz - Anadolu Agency )
Bulldozers demolish two buildings belongs to Palestinians under the observation of Israeli forces in the West Bank on 29 January 2018 [Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s High Court of Justice could be liable for war crimes for the “forcible transfer” of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem yesterday issued a new report in which it claimed that Israel’s Civil Administration – which administers Area C of the occupied West Bank – and the country’s High Court of Justice could be liable for war crimes.

The report looked at steps Israel has taken, at both the planning and judicial levels, with regard to Palestinian property rights. This includes reclassifying territory in the occupied West Bank as Israeli state land, which B’Tselem said is often done without due process and without allowing Palestinians to file legal objections, the Jerusalem Post reported.

B’Tselem states that Israel’s planning policy in the occupied West Bank is deliberately designed to expropriate Palestinian property, saying: “The planning apparatus Israel has instituted in the West Bank serves its policy of promoting and expanding Israeli takeover of land across the West Bank.”

The report explains that Israel used several mechanisms to achieve this aim, including prohibiting Palestinian construction in 60 per cent of Area C, equal to roughly 36 per cent of the whole West Bank. This is done using a variety of legal definitions: “state land”, which accounts for approximately 35 per cent of Area C; “military training zones”, approximately 30 per cent of Area C; or settlement jurisdictions, approximately 16 per cent of Area C.

READ: Israel settlers storm Bethlehem village and establish illegal outpost

Furthermore, B’Tselem argues that the Israeli high court’s support of this planning policy is tantamount to support for “forcible transfer”, which constitutes a war crime under international law. The report details how, “despite hearing arguments that challenged the lawfulness of [Israel’s planning] proceedings, in each and every case the Court has accepted the state’s argument that Palestinian construction is unlawful”.

This leads many Palestinians to be dispossessed of their homes or face demolition orders. Citing Civil Administration figures, B’Tselem states that 16,796 demolition orders were issued against Palestinians from 1988 to 2017, noting that year-on-year figures have increased since the Oslo Accords were signed in the mid-1990s.

B’Tselem’s report goes on to say that high court justices’ disregard for the “fact that the implementation of Israeli planning policy involves violating the absolute prohibition on forcible transfer” is “particularly blatant”. Given that “violation of this prohibition is a war crime”, B’Tselem concludes:

It stands to reason that [Israeli] judges are well-aware, or ought to be, of the judicial foundations they are cementing in their rulings, and the devastating implications of these rulings, including the violation of the IHL [international humanitarian law] prohibition on forcible transfer. Therefore, they too – along with the prime minister, senior ministers, the chief of staff and other senior military officers – bear personal liability for the commission of such crimes.

In December, it emerged that Israel had demolished 538 Palestinian homes and facilities across the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem in 2018, leaving 1,300 Palestinians and 225 children homeless. The Abdullah Al-Hurani Centre said that Israel “continues its policy of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem,” pointing out that, in addition to the demolitions, Israel had issued 460 “stop-building orders” during the same period.

READ: Internal EU report says Israel imposes ‘systematic legal discrimination’ on Palestinians

Israel’s demolition policy was thrust into the spotlight in 2018 with the case of Khan Al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village located east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Israel has sought to demolish the village to make way for Ma’ale Adumim and Kfar Adumim, two illegal Jewish-only settlements situated on the Jerusalem-Jericho road. The E1 area – where Khan Al-Ahmar is located – remains largely inhabited by Palestinians, thus posing an obstacle to Israel’s plan to facilitate Ma’ale Adumim’s annexation.

Despite being repeatedly threatened with demolition, the village currently remains standing. However, Israel has continued its assault on Khan Al-Ahmar, in January preventing Palestinians from entering the village and installing checkpoints nearby.

READ: New report: Israel’s ‘digital occupation’ of Palestine

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