Amnesty International, one member of a 20 member strong coalition of major international humanitarian and human rights organizations that work in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), issued a joint press release yesterday announcing that there has been a record number of unlawful demolitions by the Israeli authorities in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, over the past year, displacing a record number of Palestinian families from their homes and calling on the Middle East Quartet to change their failing approach.
The Middle East Quartet, made up of representatives from the United States, Russia, the United Nations and European Union, is currently meeting in Jerusalem in an attempt to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The coalition believes that startling figures issued this year show a sharp deterioration in the situation on the ground and calls for an immediate and “radical” change in approach by the Quartet. Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director, Oxfam International and coalition partner said:
“The increasing rate of settlement expansion and house demolitions is pushing Palestinians to the brink, destroying their livelihoods and prospects for a just and durable peace. There is a growing disconnect between the Quartet talks and the situation on the ground. The Quartet needs to radically revise its approach and show that it can make a real difference to the lives of Palestinians and Israelis.”
Figures from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) show that since the beginning of 2011 more than 500 Palestinian homes, wells, rainwater harvesting cisterns, and other essential structures have been destroyed in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, displacing more than 1,000 Palestinians – doubling the number of people displaced over the same period in 2010, and the highest figure since at least 2005. More than half of those displaced have been children.
Children are particularly traumatized by the loss of their home and belongings as well as by the disruption to their lives and trauma to their parents.
Also, the sharp rise in demolitions in 2011 has been accompanied by accelerated expansion of Israeli settlements and an escalation of violence perpetrated by settlers.
Peace Now, an Israeli peace organization, has documented plans for around 4,000 new settler housing units that have been approved in East Jerusalem over the past 12 months – the highest number since at least 2006. Plus, in November, Israel announced plans to speed up construction of 2,000 new units in the West Bank including East Jerusalem.
The latest figures from OCHA show that violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians, including children, have escalated by over 50% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 160% compared to 2009. Settlers have also destroyed or damaged nearly 10,000 Palestinian olive and other trees during this year, undermining the livelihoods of hundreds of families. Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights organization that works for long-term structural improvement in the human rights situation in the OPT, determined that the perpetrators act with virtual impunity, with over 90% of complaints of settler violence closed by the Israeli police without indictment in 2005-2010.
And up to 2,300 Bedouin living in the Jerusalem periphery could be forcibly and unlawfully relocated if Israeli authorities follow through with their reported plans in 2012, which would destroy their livelihoods and threaten their traditional way of life. Rural communities in the Jordan Valley are also facing the prospect of further demolitions as settlements continue to expand.
This well respected and credible group of major organizations, which includes Amnesty International, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch among others, is calling for the Quartet to hold all parties to the conflict to their international law obligations. They state that the Quartet must press the Israeli government to immediately reverse its settlement policies and freeze all demolitions that violate international law. (Amnesty International believes settlements must be addressed according to international law.)
Phillip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Interim Program Director, summed it up best when he said,
“Israel’s escalating violations show the fundamental failure of the Quartet’s approach. It’s time for the Quartet to understand that they cannot contribute to achieving a just and durable solution to the conflict without first ensuring respect for international law.”