Israeli security forces demolish a building near Beit Jala in the West Bank, August 26, 2019. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)
Israel’s recent targeting of homes and even water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in the occupied West Bank violates international law and undermines efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic, said the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).
NRC said the ongoing demolitions and threats of forcible transfer, amid plans for Israel’s next government to unilaterally annex large parts of the West Bank, jeopardises the health and safety of thousands of Palestinians.
According to NRC, a land grab would not only disenfranchise Palestinians and erode their hopes for genuine self-determination, but also sever coordination between Israeli and Palestinian authorities necessary to counter the spread of Covid-19 among both peoples.
“It is Israel’s legal obligation to protect the health and life of Palestinians under occupation,” said Jan Egeland, NRC’s Secretary General. “We urge Israeli authorities to immediately cease the unlawful destruction and seizure of property in the West Bank, including humanitarian relief items. This is not the time to undermine global efforts to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”
“The international community must act to ensure Israel abides by international law and joins the global call to end political conflicts to fight the pandemic, rather than escalate the vulnerability of Palestinians under occupation,” said Egeland.
Since Israel confirmed its first case of Covid-19 on 21 February, the UN reported that the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) demolished 69 structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. This forcibly displaced 63 people and affected 417 others. The structures included 28 residential properties and seven water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Donor states had provided a third of the destroyed or seized structures as humanitarian relief.
While the ICA confirmed on 7 April that it will not destroy inhabited residential property in the West Bank to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, it did not extend the freeze to other structures, including infrastructure such as critical WASH facilities, essential to prevent infection, added NRC.
It said that in contrast to the stimulus package passed to support the Israeli economy and population under strain from public health measures, Israel has demolished 28 Palestinian agricultural and livelihood structures in Area C, exacerbating affected families’ ability to provide for themselves and their communities. Israel has further failed to prevent settler violence against Palestinians and their property, with the UN reporting a surge in attacks since the outbreak of Covid-19.
NRC referred to international humanitarian law (IHL) which requires Israel, as the occupying power, to protect the population of the territory that it occupies, and ensure the welfare and wellbeing of Palestinians, as well as respect for their human rights. Israel has a legal obligation to ensure and maintain health facilities, services, and supplies in occupied Palestinian territory.
Destruction of property, including humanitarian relief consignments, by the occupying power is prohibited and amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Demolitions combined with other factors, such as the denial of basic service infrastructure, including water, sanitation, and community health care facilities, aggravate the coercive environment in which Palestinians throughout the West Bank live, generate a risk of forcible transfer, and contribute to the spread of Covid-19.