EU, Israeli diplomats at odds over mobile classrooms and solar panels, with Jerusalem insisting they amount to an effort to strengthen Palestinian claims
By TOI STAFF
Eight European Union member states are demanding that Israel pay them back for the demolition and confiscation of buildings and other installations constructed for the benefit of Bedouin encampments in Area C of the West Bank by the EU’s mission in Israel.
A letter from the EU member states, led by Belgium, setting out the demand will be handed to the Israeli Foreign Ministry in the coming days, according to the Haaretz newspaper, citing an initial report in France’s Le Monde daily.
In August, Israel dismantled a structure in West Bank Bedouin Arab village of Jabal al-Baba adjacent to al-Azariya, that was slated to open as a kindergarten for 25 children and a structure being used to house a small primary school in the southern West Bank. In addition, it confiscated solar panels on another structure being used as a school in the southern West Bank.
At the time, the EU expressed “strong concern about the recent confiscations of Palestinian school structures undertaken by Israel in Bedouin communities in the occupied West Bank.”
Israeli officials said that the installations, which include mobile rooms meant to serve as classrooms and solar panels to supply electrical power to the tent and shack dwellings of the semi-nomadic Bedouin communities of the central West Bank, were constructed illegally, without obtaining proper building permits.
Palestinian activists and EU diplomats counter that Israel makes it too difficult to obtain such permits, effectively imposing a ban on development for Palestinians living in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and security control.
Besides Belgium, the seven other signatories to the letter are France, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland and Denmark.
According to the report, each country’s government is demanding Israel return to them the equipment it confiscated when dismantling the structures, and if it refuses, to pay them 30,000 Euros for it.
“The destruction and confiscation of humanitarian equipment, including infrastructure for schools, and disrupting the transfer of humanitarian aid contradict Israel’s commitments under international law and cause suffering for the Palestinian residents” of the area, the letter says, according to a Hebrew-language translation by Haaretz.
Israel is reportedly set to reject the demand out of hand.
According to Israeli officials, the EU’s structures are not humanitarian aid, but amount to development activities carried out without coordination and unlawfully in a bid to strengthen Palestinian claims to the areas where it is taking place.
Anywhere from 150,000 to 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C, which includes all Israeli settlements and covers about 60 percent of the West Bank’s land area. Area C Palestinians live in some 180 villages, most of which are not recognized by Israel. Unrecognized villages often lack basic infrastructure and planning, and are under threat of demolition.
Israel annually demolishes dozens to hundreds of Palestinian buildings in Area C, according to Bimkom, a group of Israeli planners and architects that advocates for Palestinian construction rights.