(28 March 2013) BADIL Reaffirms Illegality of Proposals to Relocate Palestinian Bedouin Communities

PR/EN/280317/28


BADIL Resource Center reaffirms its support for the ‘Directive on Legal Aid for Palestinian Communities Facing Forcible Transfer’ and the letter issued by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on this regard on 23 March 2017.

This Directive requires any local and international organization, including UN agencies, providing legal aid to Palestinian communities anywhere in the occupied Palestinian territory to have the ‘informed consent’ of the community they represent, and any procedures, decisions, or legal courses of action on this matter to be done with the coordination and approval of the Colonization and Wall Resistance Commission of the PLO. It also clarifies that any ‘legal’ deals, agreements, and/or negotiations between any lawyer, legal practitioner, organization, or individual representing these communities and the Israeli authorities are completely rejected by the Palestinian authorities and illegal under international law, since those proceedings could contribute to facilitating forcible transfer. Forcible transfer is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime according to the Rome Statute.

The importance of the Directive, originally communicated on 4 October 2016, has become especially relevant in view of the most recent developments affecting Palestinian Bedouin communities in the Ma’ale Adumim colonial bloc in central West Bank. This politically sensitive area includes 46 Bedouin communities who are at immediate threat of forcible transfer to a so-called ‘relocation site’.[1] According to the letter issued by the Commission, the ‘cash for work’ program proposed by UNRWA in the area, supported by other UN bodies, has not respected the aforementioned requirements and is not acting in coordination with the Commission in implementing this proposal, nor does it have the genuine consent of those Bedouin communities.

Since the forcible nature of the displacement is one of the defining elements of forcible transfer, the informed consent of those being relocated would make the displacement legal. Yet considering the circumstances surrounding the Palestinian Bedouin communities affected by the Ma’ale Adumim colonial bloc, the lack of genuine choice becomes apparent.

The jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) reaffirmed that any announcement of an ‘intention’ to be relocated must be considered in light of the relevant operating circumstances.[2] This logic was developed in the case of Blagojević & Jokić:[3]

 
"Even in cases where those displaced may have wished – and in fact may have even requested – to be removed, this does not necessarily mean that they had or exercised a genuine choice. The trier of fact must consequently consider the prevailing situation and atmosphere, as well as all relevant circumstances, including in particular the victims’ vulnerability, when assessing whether the displaced victims had a genuine choice to remain or leave and thus whether the resultant displacement was unlawful."

Israeli demolition orders hang over the vast majority of Palestinian Bedouin structures in the area of Ma’ale Adumim colonial bloc, reducing the lives of affected individuals and communities to uncertainty and fear. Yet, the threat of demolitions represents just one element operating within what Israeli policy has rendered an almost impossible living environment. Only half of the Palestinian Bedouin communities in and around this area have been connected to the public water network, whilst none have been connected to the public electricity network.  Access to crucial grazing land is made increasingly problematic by the route of the Annexation and Separation Wall and the expanding boundaries of settlements, and this expansion also brings with it harassment and threats of violence from Israeli colonizers. The cumulative result is an environment through which the resident occupied Palestinian populace is coerced to leave. This situation, moreover, must be analyzed in the context of official Israeli plans to transfer these communities to relocation sites and announcements made by the Israeli Civil Administration to the Palestinian communities in the area making clear that no members of the community would be permitted by the ICA to remain in the area.

As such, the residents of these communities – and many other Palestinian Bedouin communities in the central West Bank – have been confronted with an impossible decision: a choice between succumbing to transfer, or awaiting forced eviction from their homes in what has become an almost impossible living environment created by Israel.

Given the aforementioned highly coercive physical environment, application of this principle to any issuing of consent by Palestinian Bedouin individuals/communities at risk of forcible transfer leaves no doubt that such ‘consent’ was issued from a position absent of genuine choice. This ‘consent’ is therefore obtained under duress, is entirely without legal value and should in no way be considered as absolving Israel or any other actor of their respective obligations under international law. Moreover, any deals or agreements based on this ‘consent’ would be devoid of any legality.

With regard to the obligation of organizations and UN agencies to coordinate with the Commission, this requirement stems from the fact that these negotiations and relocations are not only an individual matter, but a national issue for the Palestinian people. Accepting or authorizing such transactions with the Israeli authorities would affect the solution to the conflict as well as set a precedent for future relocation plans. 

This is why the requirements set out in the Directive and reaffirmed in the letter issued by the Commission must be the basis for any legal assistance, aid or representation offered to Palestinian communities at risk of forcible transfer. Not abiding by these considerations and imposing the proposed ‘relocation’ on these communities without their informed consent amounts to forcible transfer, as stated repeatedly by the UN itself.[4] The involvement of local or international organizations, including UN agencies, on these deals amounts to facilitating forcible transfer.
 

[1] UN OCHA. “Tightening of coercive environment on Bedouin communities around Ma’ale Adumim settlement”. Monthly Humanitarian Bulletin. 11 March 2017.
[2] ICTY, Prosecutor v. Krsc, 2001. Case number. IT-98-33-T, Trial Judgement, para.529
[3] ICTY. Prosecutor v. Blagojević. 2005. Case number IT-02-60. Trial Judgement. (hereafter ‘Blagojević’). Para. 596
[4] UN OCHA. “UN officials visit Palestinian community under transfer threat - call on Israel to respect international law”. Press Release. 22 February 2017.