Israeli authorities have demolished several homes in the strategically sensitive E1 region of the occupied West Bank, displacing at least 17 Palestinians, among them children.
Israeli troops forcibly evacuated local residents and bulldozers flattened four homes in the Jabal al-Baba community, on the outskirts of occupied East Jerusalem, on Thursday, according to a local spokesman.
“They showed up at four in the morning and removed everyone from their homes – men, women, children,” Daoud al-Jahalin, the spokesman of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe in the neighbouring village of Abu Nuwwar, told Al Jazeera.
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“There were no journalists there to witness it so they did it all by force, pointing their weapons at people and hitting many of the young men.”
Jabal al-Baba and Abu Nuwar are among more than 20 Palestinian Bedouin villages – known as the Jahalin communities – in the E1 area of the central West Bank.
An estimated 300 people live in Jabal al-Baba, while another 700 live next door in Abu Nuwar.
Israel intends to demolish those communities and build Jewish-only settlements in their place, effectively dissecting the West Bank into separate halves and eliminating the possibility of territorial congruity in a potential Palestinian state.
According to Israel’s relocation plan, the local Palestinian residents will be moved to a nearby planned township less than a kilometre away and provided with basic services that they have been so far denied, including electricity, water and sewage services.
“Legally speaking, [this] involves elements of war crimes and crimes against humanity particularly related to extensive destruction of property, land appropriation and further persecution of Palestinians,” Mona Sabella of the Al-Haq rights group told Al Jazeera.
“The plan would result in further violations of fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination, the right to freedom of movement and the right to health, among others.”
Throughout occupied East Jerusalem and its peripheries, some 90,000 Palestinians are facing potential displacement, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
According to a Al-Haq report published last month, life for Palestinian Jerusalemites has grown more difficult in recent months, with Israeli forces using live ammunition at a greater frequency, raiding hospitals and erecting more checkpoints, among other measures.
Yet most of the Jahalin communities’ residents are already UN-registered refugees who were uprooted in 1951 when the newly formed Israeli government expelled them from their ancestral lands in the Negev region of the country.
“This would be the second time we are displaced,” Jahalin said.
Israel’s Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, told Al Jazeera that “demolitions were carried out” to remove “illegal structures” from the area.
Thursday’s demolitions came just a day after Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah condemned the forcible displacement of the Jahalin communities.
“Israel’s systematic violation of international laws is no longer acceptable by the international community,” Hamdallah said in a statement released on Tuesday.
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Christopher Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said the latest demolitions are part of an ongoing pattern.
“We are seeing continued and repeated forced displacement, often on a large scale, and which is often related to illegal settlements,” he told Al Jazeera.
On January 6, Israeli bulldozers razed five homes and left 25 people homeless in Abu Nuwar.
“This highlights time and time again the need for a just and durable solution for people who are dispossessed. These people are facing an acute and chronic protection crisis,” Gunness added.
The E1 corridor is located in Area C, which refers to the 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli administration and off-limits to the Palestinian Authority.
According to Bimkom, an Israeli organisation that advocates for planning rights, Israeli land authorities have increased the pressure on Palestinians in E1 in recent months, demolishing homes and issuing dozens of new eviction notices.
“The main idea is to cleanse the area [of Palestinian communities] as much as possible, particularly in places where there is a clear Israeli interest,” Alon Cohen-Lifshitz, director of Bimkom’s planning and community department, told Al Jazeera.
Between 2009 and 2014, Israeli settlements expanded by 23 percent in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Upwards of half a million Jewish Israelis already live in more than 150 Jewish-only settlements across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Under international pressure, Netanyahu formally froze settlement expansion plans in E1 in 2013.
In late December, however, the Israeli group Peace Now revealed that Israel’s Ministry of Housing is planning to build 55,548 new homes in the West Bank, including 8,372 in E1.
Speaking of the relocation plan, spokesman Daoud al-Jahalin said: “Nobody here wants to leave.”
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