UN warns Israel against relocating Bedouins

UNRWA says plans to rehouse Palestinian Bedouins may be seen as forcible transfer, and could lead to more settlements.

Palestinian Bedouin village of the Jahalin tribe in West Bank [EPA]

The United Nations Relief and Works agency for Palestine Refugees has urged the international community to block Israeli plans to relocate thousands of Palestinian Bedouins from the central West Bank, in fear the move could lead to further violations of UN charter.

The UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl said on Sunday that the implementation of such a plan would stoke concerns “that it amounts to a ‘forcible transfer’ in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

“It might also make way for further Israeli illegal settlement expansion, further compromising the viability of a two-state solution,” he said in a statement quoted by the AFP news agency.

“I urge the Israeli authorities not to proceed with the transfer, and I also urge the donor and state community to take a firm stand against it.” 

A meeting on international aid to the Palestinians is to be held in New York on Monday. According to UNRWA, most of those planned for resettlement to Jericho, east of Palestinian territory, were registered Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli military department responsible for civil affairs in the occupied West Bank had no immediate comment, but Haaretz newspaper last week quoted an official as saying that dozens of meetings were held with Bedouin leaders. 

“As part of the effort to draft master plans for the benefit of the area’s Bedouin population, whose purpose is to enable the Bedouin to live in places with suitable infrastructure, dozens of meetings were held with Bedouin leaders,” it said in a written response to AFP.

According to a Haaretz reporter, an original scheme to relocate one tribe had grown to move almost 12,500 Bedouin from Jahalin, Kaabneh and Rashaida tribes.

The newspaper also said that such plans were not organised with dialogue recommended by the Israeli Supreme Court and were not with consultation with the Bedouins who were to live there.

Israel had to shelve plans it unveiled in December 2012 to build 1,200 settler homes after it triggered diplomatic backlash.