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Khirbet Humsah residents amidst the ruins of their community. 4 November 2020. Photo by Sarit Michaeli, B'Tslem.
From the field

Hagai El-Ad's address at the European Parliament Committee on Human Rights, 16 Nov. 2020


Two weeks ago, on November 3rd, Israel carried out one of its biggest demolition operations in a decade. Khirbet Humsah, an entire Palestinian community in the northern Jordan valley, was demolished within hours. Seventy-four people were left homeless, 41 of them children. Tens of structures, people’s homes and livelihood, were destroyed.

Humsah is not alone. For years, Israel has been targeting dozens of Palestinian communities throughout the occupied West Bank. It is a criminal policy of forcible transfer. Israel is turning the lives of these communities into a prolonged nightmare, in order to force them to give up and leave. A nightmare of years of hardship without running water or a connection to the power grid, of home demolitions, of having to repeatedly vacate your home so Israeli troops can train on your land, of ongoing violence by settlers backed by Israeli security forces.

And sometimes, all this organized state violence is condensed into a few dark hours, as happened in Humsah. But whether it takes years or mere hours, it is a war crime.

The European Union has responded by calling this a “regrettable trend” and saying that “such developments constitute an impediment towards the two-state solution”.

Let me be clear: Israel knows, from decades of experience, that the worst it will have to deal with is such inconsequential expressions of concern. Israeli bulldozers on their way to demolish the next home of a defenseless Palestinian are driving on roads paved with such empty rhetoric. Every time euphemisms are used instead of calling crimes by their proper name, it emboldens Israel to continue its policies of oppression, dispossession, and violence against Palestinians. International acquiescence, decorated by meaningless talk of a “two-state solution”, is the backbone of the inherently undemocratic one-state reality we live in.

Everyone knows – in European capitals and in this parliament – that more statements will not stop the next demolition. When the lines have nothing in them, Israel doesn’t even have to read between them to recognize a green light to continue oppressing Palestinians. Without real consequences, that green light will continue to shine.

Humsah was not the first. And as long as impunity is the norm, it will not be the last. Everywhere in the Jordan valley, Palestinian communities face similar predicaments, while at the same time Israel established more and more settlement points. In Jerusalem, Palestinian families are forced out of their homes so Jewish settlers can move in. A few kilometers to the east, the community of Khan al-Ahmar is awaiting its turn. In the South Hebron Hills, Palestinian communities fear, after struggling for 20 years to stay on their land, the forthcoming ruling by Israel’s High Court of Justice. A court so just that it has never ruled against Israel’s Kafkaesque planning regime in the West Bank – a regime tailored to forbidding Palestinian development while issuing permits to build and expand Israeli settlements. By legitimizing all this, Israel’s highest court functions as a key enabler of flagrantly illegal policies meant to forcibly transfer Palestinians.

All this has been happening for decades, and continues also after Israel recently set aside – at least for the time being – its plan to formally annex parts of the West Bank. De-jure or de-facto, the formal status of Palestinian land has never stopped Israel from promoting its interests at the expense of Palestinians’ rights. Clearly, if Israel cared about international law or respecting human rights, it would not have built more than 250 settlements in which some 600,000 Israelis already live.

Does Europe really need an announcement of de-jure annexation to see reality for what it is? How many years of prolonged occupation, how many explicit statements by Israeli leaders, how many infrastructure projects, how many settlers does it take for Europe to wake up to the reality of Israel’s permanent control of everything and everyone between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea? A century of occupation? A million settlers? What is it that the EU is waiting for?

Consequences for human rights violations can be introduced through European foreign policy, by effectively using Europe’s considerable leverage. Clearly, the decision to not do so is a political choice. It undermines Europe’s commitment to human rights and weakens the rules-based international order. It normalizes oppression and dehumanizes Palestinians, because – apparently – no one has to be held accountable for their permanent subjugation. Not when an entire community is razed to the ground, not when hundreds of demonstrators are shot with live bullets along the Gaza fence, not when dozens of families were wiped out in their own homes in the massive attack on Gaza in 2014. Not now, not ever.

Europe has international responsibilities. It is the most significant international stakeholder committed, at its core, to democracy and to the rule of law. Grave, systemic human rights violations have been going on for years, in broad daylight, in Europe’s neighborhood. Put the empty rhetoric aside. See reality for what it is. Stand up for the universal values enshrined in law in the aftermath of the Second World War. Protect the rights of Palestinians. The time is now.