UN experts say mass eviction of Palestinians a possible war crime

UN experts alarmed by Israel High Court’s ruling on Masafer Yatta and the risk of forcible transfer of Palestinians.

An Israeli soldier chases a protester
About 1,200 Palestinian residents, including 500 children, face the imminent risk of forcible transfers from their land, which Israel plans to use as a military training site [File: Nasser Nasser/AP]

Geneva, Switzerland – Israel’s decision to evict approximately 1,200 Palestinians from their homes in Masafer Yatta in the occupied West Bank may amount to a war crime, UN human rights experts said.

The decision to forcibly transfer the Palestinian residents is a serious breach of international humanitarian and human rights laws, and an independent and impartial investigation into the matter should be established, the experts said.

“By upholding this policy to drive Palestinians out of Masafer Yatta, the Israeli judicial system has given carte blanche to the Israeli Government to perpetuate the practice of systematic oppression against Palestinians,” three UN special rapporteurs said in a joint statement on Monday.

The court decision to permit the forced eviction was “all the more disconcerting”, the UN expert said, as it is being undertaken to allow Israeli military training in the area.

“How can this be given priority over the rights of the Palestinian residents? Israel has shown no ‘imperative military necessity’ to vacate the area. The displacement of the Masafer Yatta communities may thus amount to a war crime,” the rapporteurs said.

Some 500 children are among the estimated 1,200 Palestinian residents who are now at imminent risk of forcible transfer from their land following the judgement of the Israeli High Court of Justice earlier this month.

On May 4, the high court rejected appeals by the residents of Masafer Yatta to prevent their eviction. The court’s ruling effectively ended two decades of legal battles by the residents who had fought to continue living on their land, which the Israeli army has designated a closed military training site – code-named “Firing Zone 918” – located south of Hebron.

Israeli forces have reportedly already demolished structures in the Masafer Yatta communities of Khribet al Fakhiet and al-Markez, according to the rapporteurs.

Francesca Albanese, a lawyer and UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, told Al Jazeera that Israel has not “respected the duties of an occupying power”.

Those duties, which Israel has breached, are delineated in the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention, said Albanese, who was one of the three signatories to the UN statement.

“Instead, it has chosen to prioritise the establishment of Jewish-only settlements and infrastructure in occupied Palestine, which is in itself a war crime as it violates the absolute prohibition against the forcible transfer by an occupying power of parts of its civilian population into an occupied territory,” Albanese said.

The occupation of Palestinian lands has benefitted Israeli settlers over the right to life, livelihoods, and housing for Palestinians, she said.

“The occupying power has no right to do so and should instead carry out military training in its own metropolitan territory,” she added.

According to data provided by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, between January 2009 and May 2022, Israel demolished some 8,413 Palestinian buildings, including residential, educational, business and medical infrastructure of which 1,513 were funded by donors.

Israel’s destruction of Palestinian buildings has displaced more than 12,000 residents from their homes and affected a total of 136,494 Palestinian people.

The residents of Masafer Yatta have now exhausted all legal avenues to legally challenge the eviction order, Albanese said, noting that an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the situation in Palestine is ongoing and that the court could investigate these most recent developments.

“All the attention is now on the office of the current ICC prosecutor,” she said.

Albanese also said that a number of EU member states, who are part of the West Bank Protection Consortium – which provides legal and material support to the Masafer Yatta communities, could use their voice to call on the Israeli government and demand that it respect and comply with international law.

“More broadly, it is necessary to exert pressure on Israel to dismantle the regime of full control and subjugation of the Palestinians it has put in place through the vehicle of the occupation,” she said.

Between January 2008 and April 2022, the Israeli occupation has killed some 6,030 Palestinians and 268 Israelis, while injuring 137,349 Palestinians and 5,912 Israelis.

In their joint statement, the three UN human rights experts also expressed particular concern that the Israeli court’s decision on Masafer Yatta had dismissed as not relevant or not binding, norms and principles that are the very foundation of international law.

“A Court that does not provide justice based on international norms and that perpetuates the violations of fundamental human rights of people who have been under military occupation for 55 years, becomes itself part of the structural system of oppression,” the experts said in their statement.

Source: Al Jazeera