Parliament discusses pending demolition of Khan al Ahmar, Bedouin community supported by MAP/ICS mobile clinic

In a week in which the Israeli authorities carried out demolition work in multiple Palestinian communities including Khan Al Ahmar, Abu Nuwar and Susiya, MPs discussed the need for urgent action to prevent forcible transfer. It was the sixth major Parliamentary debate on Palestinian issues within two months.

MAP’s mobile health clinic regularly visits 27 Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley including Khan al Ahmar and Abu Nuwar. The clinic is a lifeline for the communities in Area C, 60% of the West Bank under full Israeli civil and military control, all of which are prevented from building permanent healthcare centres.

In both an Urgent Question on the Palestinian Bedouin community of Khan al Ahmar and in International Development Questions, UK MPs called for urgent action to stop the impending demolition and forcible transfer of Palestinian Bedouin communities in Area C.  

Richard Burden MP, Chair of the Britain-Palestine All Party Parliamentary Group and former delegate on a MAP-Caabu visit to Palestine, secured the debate and opened by reiterating that forcible transfer is a war crime, and asking what action the UK Government will take to hold Israel to account:

"As we speak, bulldozers are flattening the village of Khan al-Ahmar and destroying its school, which was built with international donor support, and which provides education for about 170 Bedouin children from five different communities. The village of Abu Nuwar is also being destroyed today.

“People who live in these villages threaten no one. Their crime is to have homes on land that Israel wants, in order to expand the illegal settlements of Kfar Adumim and Ma’ale Adumim. To speak plainly, this is state-sponsored theft: a theft that will cut the West Bank in two, making a contiguous Palestinian state near-impossible and the prospects of a two-state solution still more remote. More importantly, as the Minister said, the forcible transfer of the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar and Abu Nuwar contravenes international humanitarian law. It is a war crime.

“As the Minister also said, he—along with over 100 Members of this House and peers, and about 300 international public figures—has repeatedly urged the Government of Israel not to go ahead with the demolitions. Now that they have ignored those calls, the question is whether the commission of this war crime will have any consequence. If not, why will Mr Netanyahu believe other than that war crimes can continue with impunity? What practical action do the UK Government propose to take to hold those responsible for this war crime to account, and is it not time finally to outlaw commercial dealings by UK firms with illegal settlements in the West Bank?"

In reply, Alistair Burt MP, Foreign Office and DFID Minister, said that the UK Government is "already in conversation with like-minded European partners about what should be done next" and that on Wednesday 4 July “officials from our embassy in Tel Aviv and from our consulate general in Jerusalem visited Khan al-Ahmar to express our concern and demonstrate the international community’s support for that community.”

11 MPs that participated in MAP and Caabu's parliamentary delegations to the West Bank spoke in the debate.

Among them, Lilian Greenwood asked what the UK Government was doing to support the humanitarian needs of those who had be forcibly transferred and Chris Elmore said that the UK Government and the EU must be stricter in asking for reparations from Israel for donor funded structures that have been demolished, with a particular focus on the school at Khan al Ahmar.

Former MAP-Caabu delegate, Tommy Sheppard challenged the UK Government’s response, arguing they had not offered "a single practical action...in response to this atrocity. Like others in this House, I do not doubt his sincerity, but I am alarmed by his reticence to do something about it.”

Shadow Minister for International Development Dan Carden described the demolitions and forcible transfer as "truly heartbreaking" and asked:

"How far away must the peace process be from realisation and how bad does the atrocity have to be before he is genuinely willing to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us what actions and what sanctions his Department and this Government are at least debating?”

 

Andy Slaughter discussed the "strategic step" of Khan al Ahmar's demolition:

"I have visited Khan al-Ahmar twice and have met many of the families there. This is a personal violation for them, as well as a war crime, but it is also a strategic step. There are 46 Bedouin villages and their future may well hang on whether the Israeli authorities get away with the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. This allows for the splitting of the West Bank and for the annexation, which is now openly talked about, of the West Bank by Israel to take place. If not now, when are the Government going to act? When are they going to act against illegal settlements and end trade? When are they going to recognise Palestine and when are they are going to recognise their historical obligations and take a lead internationally, rather than wringing their hands?"

Matthew Pennycook stressed that now it was time for "a fundamental reappraisal of the Government’s approach" and that "the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar and the forcible transfer of its population represents a step change in the nature of the occupation."

Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, who accompanied MAP’s CEO on a visit to Khan al Ahmar last November, warned that “we are fast approaching a dangerous place where even some respected Palestinian figures are moving away from the idea of a two-state solution towards seeking democratic control over a single state, with all the implications that that would have for the potential Israeli minority”. She argued that “before that shift in opinion can take hold, and before the actions of the Netanyahu Government render a two-state solution a geographical impossibility, this is the time for the United Kingdom to lead the major nations of the world in recognising the Palestinian state, and to do so immediately, while there is still a state left to recognise.”

Christine Jardine said she was "perplexed and dismayed that Israel appears not to comprehend or to be prepared to take note of the outrage and the damage done to its reputation by this forcible transfer of communities, which is regarded as a breach of international law."

Julie Elliott and Alan Brown both reiterated calls for those responsible to be held to account.

Minister Burt concluded the debate by stating:

I will not make policy standing here at the Dispatch Box. I indicated that this needs a considered response, which we are undertaking in company with others. I am sorry that is not as neat as a swift, immediate response, but I think it is the right response. We will consider with others what to do.

I have listened very carefully to the House, and I hope others have listened to the feeling the House has expressed and take due note of the deep concerns that Members have rightly expressed, whatever position they have taken in the past, about the actions that have taken place today. I hope those concerns will go loudly around the world.”

MAP calls on the UK to take effective steps to help halt the impending demolition and forcible transfer of Bedouin communities in the West Bank. International pressure is essential to halt preventable crimes and ensure that these communities are finally allowed, not only to stay on their Palestinian land, but to develop and thrive on it too.

You can read the discussion in full here or watch here.

Video Credit: Parliament Live TV