Driving Bedouin From Their Homes Is a Crime

A Palestinian Bedouin man prays on October 27, 2014, beside his former home that Israeli bulldozers demolished near the Jewish settlement of Karmel, in the village of Um Alkhier near the West Bank city of Hebron. Mussa Qawasma/Reuters

On April 1, Palestine joined the International Criminal Court (ICC), which now has jurisdiction over international crimes committed on or from Palestinian territory since June 2014.

On the same day, though hardly reported, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) confiscated 12 sets of solar panels, batteries and electric cables from an impoverished Bedouin community, Khan al-Ahmar, in the arid hills east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank.

The residents needed the solar panels to generate their own power because Israeli military authorities refuse to allow them to connect to the electricity grid. It was the latest in a series of measures that appear designed to push the inhabitants of Khan al-Ahmar off their land.

The experience of the community of Khan al-Ahmar is all too common in the occupied West Bank. But Palestine's ICC membership should send a signal to Israel to investigate and stop such actions, and here's why.

The ICC's Rome Statute prohibits as a war crime the transfer by an occupying power of its civilians into occupied territory. It also prohibits the transfer of the people in the occupied territory from their homes to within or outside this territory, except temporarily for their own safety or for imperative military necessity.

The IDF has made repeated attempts to force residents to leave Khan al-Ahmar, whether by demolishing their homes, closing off road access or denying connections to utilities. The IDF has issued demolition orders against most of the ramshackle homes and animal pens in Khan al-Ahmar.

An Italian non-governmental organization built the community's only school out of mud and used car tires in June 2009 without a permit; a month later, the IDF threatened to demolish it but was blocked by Israel's high court.

Nearby Israeli settlements have repeatedly petitioned Israel's high court to order the IDF to demolish "illegal" Palestinian structures in Khan al-Ahmar. The IDF said in 2013 that it is planning to "relocate" residents of Khan al-Ahmar and other Bedouin communities further east, but Bedouin say they were not consulted and reject the plan.

Citing the lack of building permits, the IDF demolished the homes of more than 1,200 Palestinians in the West Bank last year alone. But the permits must be granted by the military authorities, which almost always deny such permits to Palestinians living in the 60-plus percent of the West Bank that remains under exclusive Israeli control.

The IDF's actions against the residents of Khan al-Ahmar appear intended to clear the area of Palestinian residents; Israeli authorities are also planning to expand the nearby settlement of Maale Adumim. The aim of these policies seems in effect to be the forcible transfer of people from their homes.

The ICC is a court of last resort that steps in only where national authorities fail to mount credible investigations. The Israeli authorities have so far supported, not investigated, the conduct of the IDF in Khan al-Ahmar. If they want to avoid ICC scrutiny, they should change course.

Bill Van Esveld is Israel and Palestine researcher, Middle East and North Africa Division, at Human Rights Watch. This article first appeared on the Human Rights Watch site.