A high-level UN human rights expert has called for Jewish settlements to be classified as a war crime, urging the international community to hold Israel accountable for a practice it has long considered illegal.
Presenting his latest report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michael Lynk, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, said he examined whether the Israeli settlements were in violation of the absolute prohibition against “settler implantation” in the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and concluded that “the Israeli settlements do amount to a war crime.”
Talking about the human rights situation in Palestine recently, he said that in east Jerusalem, Jewish settler groups sought to evict Palestinian families from their homes, pointing out that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, forcible transfer of a protected population was prohibited, and the occupying power is forbidden from applying its own laws to the occupied territory.
“I submit to you that this finding compels the international community … to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free,” Lynk told the Geneva rights council.
Lynk said Israel’s demolition of Bedouin tent dwellings in a village in the West Bank on Wednesday left residents without food or water in the heat of the Jordan Valley, calling it “both unlawful and heartless”.
“Progressive seizure of Palestinian lands together with the protection of the settlements is a further consolidation of Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank,” he said.
There are nearly 300 settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, with more than 680,000 Jewish settlers, Lynk noted.
The settlements have become “the engine of Israel’s 54-year-old occupation, the longest in the modern world”, he added.
He stressed the need for international action, not just words, in order to resolve the situation in Palestine.
“As long as the international community criticizes Israel without seeking consequences and accountability, it is magical thinking to believe that the 54-year-old occupation will end and the Palestinians will finally realize their right to self-determination,” he said.
A few days ago, the Israeli occupation army blocked the delivery of aid to Palestinians whose homes were demolished in the northern Jordan Valley and asked a UN aid team to leave the area, UN humanitarians said on Thursday.
The razing of 27 residential and animal structures and water tanks on Wednesday in the Palestinian herding community of Humsa al-Bqai'a was the first of its kind since February, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
The Israeli army’s civil administration and forces also confiscated, among other things, food, milk for children, clothes, hygiene materials and toys during the demolition campaign.
The action involved 11 homes for about 70 people, including 36 children, the office said. Animals had no fodder and water as well.
Representatives of OCHA and humanitarian partners visited the community Wednesday evening, but the army on Thursday asked them to leave.
The community rejected a proposal from the Israeli army to move it to a different location, OCHA said, adding that the army moved the residents’ belongings to the proposed site.
Humanitarians said 11 structures donated as humanitarian aid in February following similar demolitions were destroyed or seized by the army during Wednesday’s raid.
"The repeated destruction of their homes and property, including assistance provided by the humanitarian community is having a devastating economic, social and traumatic impact on the community, particularly children," OCHA warned.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres voiced his deep concern over the demolition of property in the herding community, Stephane Dujarric, the chief spokesman for Guterres, stated.
"He reiterates his call on the Israeli authorities to cease demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property in the occupied West Bank," Dujarric added in a regular briefing.
"Such actions are contrary to international law and could undermine the chances for the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state," he read a statement issued by Guterres.