Israeli forces have displaced at least 43 United Nations-registered refugees in a “large-scale demolition” of Bedouin homes and structures in the occupied West Bank, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
Among the buildings destroyed in the West Bank’s Anata village were seven homes, four animal shelters and four outdoor washrooms, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement on Wednesday.
Three of the buildings demolished on Tuesday were funded by an international NGO, he said.
Seven Palestinian families comprised of 43 people, including 25 children, were displaced by the demolitions, Gunness said.
They also included a 48-year-old father with Parkinson’s disease, a 48-year-old man who is unable to walk, an 84-year-old woman and another woman who is seven months pregnant.
“It is heartbreaking to see such shocking disregard for international law and the impact it is having on an entire UN protected community,” Gunness said.
“While condemning this disregard for international law, we would respectfully remind Israel, the occupying power, that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, it has an obligation to respect family rights, including the dwellings of the protected population – not destroy them.”
A spokesperson for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories did not reply to Al Jazeera’s request for a comment.
International law violations
During the early morning on Wednesday, Israeli forces also demolished at least three homes in the Jabal al-Mukaber neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem, the local Ma’an news agency reported.
While Israel claims the homes were built without the proper permits, rights groups maintain that Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, violates international law.
Mona Sabella, a legal researcher and advocacy coordinator at the Al-Haq human rights group, said the demolitions in Jabal al-Mukaber “come at a time when Israel is increasing settlement construction in East Jerusalem and poverty is at an all-time high among Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.
“People are finding it more and more difficult to afford living in Jerusalem as a result of Israeli policies and practices towards forcible transfer, both direct and indirect,” she told Al Jazeera.
During the first three months of 2016, Israeli forces demolished an average of 165 homes a month, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The Israeli rights groups B’Tselem estimates that 530,000 Israelis live in Jewish-only settlements – considered illegal under international law – across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
|Couches and personal belongings sit in the wreckage of the demolished homes in Anata’s Bedouin community [Photos courtesy of UNRWA]|
Earlier this month, Israeli politicians vowed to expand settlements after a Palestinian teenager killed a 13-year-old Israeli in the illegal settlement of Kiryat Arba in the southern West Bank.
At the girl’s funeral, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, a member of the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party, called for increased settlement construction in the occupied territory, Israeli media reported at the time.
“We will build in Sarona and Kiryat Arba, in Jaffa and Jerusalem, in Itamar and Beersheba,” Bennett said, referring to areas in both the West Bank and present-day Israel.
Echoing Bennett, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel, a key figure in the Israeli settlement movement, said the expansion of settlements was needed “now more than ever” and demanded “Israeli sovereignty” in the West Bank.
Nur Arafeh, a policy fellow at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, said using attacks as a pretext for settlement expansion “is not new.
“Israel has always sought to collectively punish Palestinians following every attack, and the expansion of illegal settlements is only one tool of collective punishment, among many,” she told Al Jazeera.
“And what makes Israel repeatedly take such measures is the morbid silence of the international community and the complicity of some world powers and companies in maintaining this system of injustice.”