The last three months of 2016 saw the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank demolish or confiscate a number of humanitarian aid structures, reflecting the dramatic rise in the number of humanitarian aid items destroyed or confiscated by Israeli forces in 2016. This disturbing practice has a particularly adverse impact on the welfare of Palestinian children and specifically engages their rights under the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which Israel is obliged to to respect and protect.
2016 saw more than 286 such structures demolished or seized. On 10 November 2016, the UN Coordinator for Humanitarian Aid and Development Activities, Robert Piper, reported a 165% increase from the total in 2015. He condemned the Israeli authorities’ continued obstruction of humanitarian assistance, stating that ‘targeting the most vulnerable of the vulnerable and preventing them from receiving relief – especially as winter sets in – is unacceptable and runs counter to Israel’s obligations as an occupying power’.
The dismantling of emergency residential tents donated to a community in the Jordan Valley by an aid agency in response to the displacement of 25 people, including 10 children, caused by the demolition of their homes in September, is especially concerning. Confiscation or destruction of aid structures in these circumstances render their inhabitants doubly displaced and contribute to a coercive environment, pressuring residents to permanently leave their homes. Such pressure could arguably constitute the unlawful and criminal forcible transfer of a protected population, as provided for by the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.
The communities targeted during the last three months of 2016 suggest that demolitions of humanitarian aid are being carried out in order to contribute to a coercive environment to pressure Palestinians living in areas earmarked by Israel to leave. For example, Khirbet Tana is located within an Israeli-declared ‘firing zone’. Such areas constitute nearly 30 % of Area C and are inhabited by more than 5,000 Palestinians. The Israeli authorities regularly carry out demolitions in these communities. Khirbet Tana has sustained four waves of demolitions since the start of 2016. In November 2016, Israeli officials targeted the community, seizing an aid organisation’s electric generator and metal-cutting machine. Israeli authorities also took pictures of structures previously provided as humanitarian assistance, including one serving as a school, four water cisterns and six residential shelters.
Another community located in a ‘firing zone’ that was targeted in the last three months of 2016 was Al Mirkez in Masafer Yatta. In December, the Israeli authorities seized a caravan provided by a humanitarian organization to the community. The caravan was to be used as a primary health centre.
In December, an Israeli military training exercise resulted in damage to a water connection to the herding community of Khirbet Yarza, affecting 65 Palestinians. The water connection had been provided as humanitarian assistance. The detrimental impact of undermining a means of obtaining water on children is clear.
A high number of demolitions of relief structures occurred in areas marked for illegal Israeli settlements. About one quarter of the structures targeted in 2016 were in Palestinian Bedouin communities located within or near the area allocated to the E1 settlement expansion project, indicating that waves of demolitions are intended to coerce Palestinians living on land earmarked by Israel for settlements, to leave their homes. Robert Piper states that through ‘a combination of law, policy and practice, Israel is building an increasingly coercive environment in Area C of the West Bank. This is both illegal and creating an entirely new reality on the ground’.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) obliges Israel to make the best interests of the child a primary consideration in all actions concerning children. The demolition of relief structures provided to families following demolitions which left them without shelter, is a clear breach of the duty imposed by Article 3. Actions which deprive children of shelter and disrupt the family environment are not made with the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.
Article 27 of the CRC protects children in terms of their standard of living, and seeks to ensure that this standard is adequate with respect to the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. It further adds that State Parties are responsible for taking appropriate measures to provide assistance in respect to nutrition and housing. The above-mentioned demolitions and confiscations of humanitarian aid which rendered children and their parents homeless, clearly violate both the letter and the spirit of Article 27. The seizure of donor funded tents on 7 November in Khirbet Tell al Himma, provided to families following previous demolitions which left them without shelter or kitchens, is indicative of the seriousness of Israel’s breach of Article 27 of the CRC.
Article 16(1) of the CRC states that no child should be subjected to arbitrary interference with his or her privacy or family. Demolitions of structures being used as homes where previous homes have been demolished, involve a clear arbitrary interference with a child’s family life. Article 31 (1) provides the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities. Demolitions of residential shelters and water tanks are likely to entrench poverty and undermine the fulfilment of basic needs like water and food.
Article 20 of the CRC states that a ‘child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment… shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.’ Incidents referred to above have demonstrated a lack of action on Israel’s part to provide ‘special protection and assistance’ to these people, and in some circumstances, even temporary structures, which have been provided to effected families, have been dismantled. Not only is there a lack of protection and assistance, but a positive removal of assistance provided by third parties.
Article 18 (2) of the CRC obliges Israel to provide appropriate assistance to parents and legal guardians in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities. The above-mentioned incidents involving confiscation of or damage to water, health and electricity facilities, are clear violations of this obligation.
Demolitions which cause displacement or damage to livelihoods are likely to impact children in ways that substantially undermine the general purpose of the CRC, specifically the Preamble’s recognition that children ‘should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness’.
Demolitions of Palestinian property are a major problem in the occupied Palestinian territory, and aid demolitions make up only a small number of these. Israel demolished, dismantled, or confiscated 1090 Palestinian-owned structures in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem between January 1 and December 31, 2016, displacing 772 children. 2016 saw the highest recorded demolition rate since the UN began recording demolitions in 2009. The demolition of Palestinian homes and other property which make humanitarian aid necessary, must stop if Israel is to fulfil its obligations under the CRC.
Families who have been forcibly displaced must be allowed to return to their homes in safety and dignity, and be given compensation for any harm they have suffered, including the destruction of land, homes and property.
Finally, as referred to above, it’s important to bear in mind the wider context of the continuing presence and expansion of illegal settlements construction which is a major contributing cause of demolitions and displacement. Implementing the recent UN Security Council resolution 2334 demand on Israel to ‘immediately and completely cease all settlement activities’ would be a significant step towards ending the demolitions and displacement that engages and appears to clearly breach a number of important international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law obligations. [For more on the human rights impact of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and related third-state legal duties, please see LPHR’s recent briefing here].
Silvia Florea, Angelina Nicolaou
The information in this blog is taken from the in focus section – which is fully footnoted – of the LPHR Child Rights Bulletin for the period 4 October – 26 December 2016.