KHAN AL-AHMAR, West Bank: European diplomats on Thursday tried to pay a solidarity visit to a West Bank village under threat of demolition by Israel but police barred them from reaching a school there.
Diplomats from Belgium, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the EU sought to visit the school in the Bedouin village of Khan Al-Ahmar which is funded by several European countries, but they were turned back at the village entrance.
Police at the scene said the area had been declared a closed military zone.
“We were briefed by local leaders but refused access by security forces to the school,” the Irish representative office to the West Bank wrote on its official Twitter feed.
“We wanted to show our solidarity with this village which is threatened with destruction, for humanitarian reasons and because it is a major issue of international law,” the Consul General of France in Jerusalem, Pierre Cochard, told journalists at the scene.
He said that demolishing the village of 173 residents, east of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, would be a violation of the Geneva Convention laying out the obligations of an occupier toward those under its control.
It would also significantly complicate the search for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.
Israeli authorities say the village and its school were built illegally, and in May the Supreme Court rejected a final appeal against its demolition.
But activists say the villagers had little alternative but to build without Israeli construction permits, as the documents are almost never issued to Palestinians for building in parts of the West Bank, such as Khan Al-Ahmar, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs.
On Tuesday, activists said, Israel issued orders authorising the seizure of access roads to the village.
Heavy equipment has since been seen there, feeding speculation a road was being prepared to facilitate its evacuation and demolition and sparking scuffles between Israeli police and protesters.
Israel authorities say they have offered villagers an alternative site.
The village is made up mainly of makeshift structures of tin and wood, as is traditionally the case with Bedouin villages.
It is not known when the demolition will take place, but on Thursday bulldozers could be seen widening the access road to the village.
Activists expect the demolition to happen within the next few days.
Dozens of journalists and activists stood at the edge of the village on Thursday.
“What the Israeli authorities are doing is a population transfer contrary to the Rome and Geneva conventions,” Palestinian lawyer Munji Abdallah, 50, told AFP.
Khan Al-Ahmar is located near several major Israeli settlements and close to a highway leading to the Dead Sea.
Activists are concerned that continued Israeli settlement construction in the area could effectively divide the West Bank in two.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry in Gaza said a Palestinian teen shot by Israeli forces in May during major clashes on the Gaza border had died of his wounds.
“Mahmud Al-Gharabli, 16, died after being injured in the head east of Gaza City on May 14,” said ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qudra said.
Al-Gharabli’s death brings to at least 63 the number of Palestinians killed on that day, when thousands approached the heavily guarded border fence as the US moved its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Since the protests and clashes broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 139 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.
The majority were involved in protests and clashes but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.
No Israelis have been killed.
Israel says its use of live fire is necessary to defend its borders and stop infiltrations. It accuses Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas of seeking to use the protests as cover for attacks.