Israel To Build 450 Homes in West Bank as Army Resumes Arrest of Minors

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A Palestinian family argues with members of the Israeli forces as an Israeli army bulldozer prepares to pull down their house in the West Bank on January 20, 2015. AFP/Hazem Bader

Published Friday, January 30, 2015

Updated at 3:47 pm (GMT+2): The Israeli authorities on Friday published tenders to build 450 new illegal settler homes in the occupied West Bank, the head of an NGO that monitors settlement activity said, as Zionist settlers attempted to kidnap an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler in occupied East Jerusalem.

"It's the opening of the settlement floodgates," said Daniel Seidemann, head of the Terrestrial Jerusalem group, adding that the announcements were the first since October 2014 and unlikely to be the last before the March 17 general election.

Settlement watchdog Peace Now said that the new homes were to be built in four existing settlements across the occupied West Bank — 114 in Adam, 156 in Elkana, 78 in Alfei Menashe and 102 in Kiryat Arba.

Seidemann, whose group particularly monitors settlement in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, predicted that building plans there were likely to be announced soon.

"I don't think it's over," he said. "I would be very concerned."

He linked the new tenders to the election in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud is competing with other rightwing parties for the settler vote.

"This could hardly be an accident," he said. "It could not have taken place without Netanyahu's knowledge and consent."

On Friday, a senior Palestinian official said Israeli plans to build new settler homes constitute a “war crime.”

"What the Israelis announced is part of a wider war... against the Palestinian people. This is a war crime which should push the settlements issue to the International Criminal Court," Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Wassel Abu Yousef said.

Seidemann predicted that building plans there were likely to be announced soon in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem.

"Netanyahu has a tendency, especially when he's having trouble in the polls, to do something outrageous in Jerusalem," he said.

He pointed to Givat Hamatos, where Peace Now revealed on October 1 that final approval had been granted for the construction of 2,610 settler homes.

"I don't think it's over," he said. "I would be very concerned and keep a close eye on things like Givat Hamatos."

Meanwhile, Israel's state-run electricity company is to reduce energy supplies to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank because of a debt of more than $450 million, an official said on Thursday.

The move comes at a time of diplomatic tensions, weeks after Israel froze the Palestinian Authority's (PA) tax revenues in retaliation for joining the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"Due to a mounting debt worth nearly 1.8 billion shekels ($459 million), we have decided that as of today, electrical supply (to the West Bank) will be cut" for an hour each morning and another hour at night, an Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) official said.

The measure, which would "not cause general power cuts, will remain in place until the PA begins to settle its debts," the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Jerusalem District Electricity Company, a private Palestinian firm that distributes energy supplied by the IEC, acknowledged the PA had failed to make payments but condemned the Israeli move as collective punishment.

"But it is an unfair decision and a form of collective punishment," JDECO director Hisham Omari said. "The IEC is the sole provider of electricity and we depend on it. We're still under occupation."

Neither official would comment on whether the move was a political decision.

But local media reported that enforcing it would require Netanyahu’s approval and also have to go through Israeli security officials.

Israeli news website Ynet said the IEC had tried to carry out the move "several times in the past" but was prevented from doing so by the premier's office.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-infamous Balfour Declaration, called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state — Israel — was declared inside historical Palestine.

Israel then occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank during the 1967 Middle East War. It later annexed the holy city in 1980, claiming it as the capital of the self-proclaimed Zionist state — a move never recognized by the international community.

Kidnap attempt

An Israeli settler attempted to kidnap an 18-month-old Palestinian toddler in the Jabal al-Mukkabir neighborhood of East Jerusalem on Thursday, witnesses said.

The child was the son of Ghassan Abu Jamal, one of the attackers who killed five Israelis in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue last November.

Abu Jamal's brother said the child, Mohammed, was walking with his uncles when he wandered some five meters ahead of the group.

A female settler then exited a car and grabbed him, running with the child for some 20 meters before relatives caught up and freed the boy.

She released the boy and fled the scene in her car.

On Wednesday, two Palestinian children, one of whom survived a kidnapping attempt in July, identified the Zionist settlers who kidnapped and burned alive 16-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Abu Khdeir.

In July, a day before Abu Khdeir’s murder, Zionist settlers attempted to kidnap Moussa Zallum, 7, who lived in the same neighborhood in annexed East Jerusalem as Abu Khdeir.

"I heard the sound of a car braking as it entered the neighborhood. Then I heard Moussa crying for help," Dina Zallum, Moussa’s mother, told the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem on July 7.

The defense attorney asked Moussa and his 8-year-old brother Yehya several questions focusing on small details in an attempt to find discrepancies in their testimonies, family members who attended the hearing told Ma'an news agency. However, according to the family members, the two brothers were consistent and gave similar accounts.

Zionist settlers kidnapped and burned alive Abu Khdeir because of his ethnicity in July 2014.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions rose sharply after three Israeli settler teenagers were kidnapped on June 12 and later found dead in the occupied West Bank.

It was followed shortly by the kidnapping of Abu Khdeir, in his neighborhood in annexed East Jerusalem. His charred body was found hours later in a forest on the edge of the city. Autopsy found fire dust material in Abu Khdeir's respiratory canal, which meant he had inhaled the material while he was being burnt alive.

Arrest of Palestinian minors

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) have shut down a program meant to decrease the number of nighttime arrest raids targeting children in Palestinian homes after less than a year, with statistics suggesting that even when the program was active night raids barely decreased at all.

Military Court Watch, a Palestinian legal monitor focused on the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli detention, said in a statement on Thursday that the Israeli military had also failed to keep any statistics on the program it implemented of its own accord, meaning no independent evaluation could be conducted.

MCW said that the evidence "indicates that no genuine attempt has been made by the military authorities to effectively replace night arrests with summons and that the pilot program has not been implemented in good faith."

"The evidence indicates that repeated nighttime raids by the Israeli army are an essential element in the military's strategy of 'demonstrating presence' in Palestinian villages located near settlements amounting to a systematic pattern of intimidation."

The report comes less than a year after Israeli military authorities unveiled the program to the international media with great fanfare, in the wake of a series of concerns raised in Europe and Australia over the effects of Israeli nighttime raids on Palestinian homes.

MCW argued in the statement that despite the attention the program garnered, the Israeli military only reduced the number of nighttime arrest raids targeting children by five percent in the two districts where it was implemented, Nablus and Hebron, also known as al-Khalil.

The program was meant to replace nighttime arrests with summons to be delivered to Palestinian homes calling for children wanted for questioning to report to Israeli military intelligence offices.

But MCW said in the statement that 67 percent of these summons were delivered to Palestinian children during raids conducted by the military "after midnight in a process that continues to terrify the civilian population."

The program to end nighttime raids targeting children was initially promoted by Israel as part of its effort to reform military procedure in the wake of a damning 2013 report released by UNICEF.

According to the 2013 report, Israel is the only country in the world where children are systematically tried in military courts and subjected to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment."

Over the past decade, Israeli forces have arrested, interrogated and prosecuted around 7,000 children between 12 and 17, mostly boys, UNICEF found, noting the rate was equivalent to "an average of two children each day."

"The monthly average for 2013 shows that 219 children per month were in Israeli military custody, compared to 196 per month in 2012, marking a 12 percent increase," UNICEF report said.

A report by Defense for Children International (DCI) published in May 2014 revealed that Israel jails 20 percent of Palestinian children it detains in solitary confinement.

The Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights documented dozens of video recorded testimonies of children arrested during the first months of 2014, pointing out that 75 percent of the detained children are subjected to physical torture and 25 percent faced military trials.

Israeli forces demolish Palestinian houses

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities on Thursday destroyed the home of a Palestinian family as well as a barn in the town of Idhna in the southern West Bank.

Locals told Ma'an news agency that Israeli bulldozers escorted by several military jeeps demolished a house as well as a mobile home belonging to Ahmed Jamal al-Jiyawi in the area of Khirbet al-Ras west of Idhna.

Israeli forces also raided the area of Wadi Risha, also west of Idhna, and demolished a large steel barn using for raising cows by a local farmer.

Locals said that the structure belonged to Mahmoud Musallam Abu IJeheisha, and that the man supports a family of 10, mostly children.

While 600,000 Israeli settlers living in settlements across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law, can secure a construction permit within few week, Palestinians frequently tell of years of struggle to secure a license as Israel rarely grants them any and regularly demolishes structures built without licenses

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates that Israeli authorities have demolished at least 359 so far in 2014 and about 27,000 Palestinian structures in the West Bank since 1967.

(AFP, Ma’an, Al-Akhbar)


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