Israeli bill would strip EU diplomats of immunity for building Palestinian shelters in West Bank

A view of the West Bank Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim is seen near Jerusalem © Ammar Awad
European Union diplomats should be stripped of immunity for supporting the construction of houses for Palestinians in the disputed West Bank, according to new legislation proposed by a member of the Israeli Parliament.

The bill was presented on Wednesday by Oded Forer, a member of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) for Yisrael Beiteinu, a right-wing nationalist party.

The proposed legislation says EU diplomats should be stripped of immunity if they help Palestinians build homes illegally in Area C of the West Bank. It is not yet clear what the measure would actually mean for EU diplomats, however.

Area C is an administrative division in the West Bank that comprises about 60 percent of its territory. According to information from the Israeli media, it was home to some 150,000-300,000 Palestinians and 380,000 Israelis in 2015. It is this area where the Jewish settlements, which are illegal under international law, are located.

The European Union doesn’t recognize the legality of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and helps build shelters for Palestinians there. Such houses are easily recognized, as they are all labeled with the EU flag.

The EU has helped to fund around 200 temporary structures, mainly shelters for Bedouin communities, which are traditionally semi-nomadic tribes stretching from North Africa to the Middle East. The Israeli government has often tried to move the Bedouins into state planned housing, but Israeli activists say this is because the government wants to build its own settlements in the area.

The EU says providing shelter for Palestinians is humanitarian assistance and, thus, should not require permits from the Israeli authorities, but this hasn’t stopped Israel from criticizing the program and demolishing the structures it builds.

“Diplomatic immunity was not granted to allow for activities that undermine the state’s sovereignty,” said Forer, as cited by the Jerusalem Post. 

The primary aim of the bill is to eliminate construction of Palestinian houses on Route 1 (also known as Highway 1), which passes Ma’ale Adumim, one of the best-known Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

According to right-wing Israeli politicians, the buildings emblazoned with EU logos could help Palestinians attack Israeli vehicles on the road.

Immunity for foreign diplomats can’t be used to “legitimize activities that at the end of the day harm the state and the citizens of Israel,” Forer said.

The JP reported that the Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud (center-right to right-wing), and Bayit Yehudi (religious Zionist) parties support the proposed bill.

In August of this year, Israeli authorities razed at least three EU-funded shelters in Area C that had been home to 27 people, including 16 minors, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. 

“In recent years, the European Union has unilaterally built over a thousand illegal structures across Area C in violation of international law,” Israeli authorities said.

In May, Tel Aviv demolished and confiscated “materials for 10 residential caravans in the community of Jabal al Baba, displacing 49 people,” the EU said, adding that a similar situation had taken place in June that left 26 people from six families homeless.

“These confiscations as well as previous demolitions, compounded by the inability of humanitarian agencies to deliver relief items to the affected households, create a coercive environment that potentially pressures them to leave their current sites against their will,” the EU said in a statement.

So far this year, Israel has destroyed 780 homes in Area C, compared to 453 demolitions in all of 2015, according to a Haaretz estimate. Demolitions in 2015 left some 580 Palestinians homeless, while this year 1,129 people have been left without a roof over their heads.

Israel’s activities in the occupied territories were discussed in a report by a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, who accused Israel of stifling Palestinian development.

“Poverty is rising. Unemployment is rising to epic levels. Food insecurity is becoming more acute. The Palestinian economy is becoming more stifled and less viable under the occupation,” the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, Michael Lynk, told the UN General Assembly in New York when delivering his report in late October.

In that same month, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel should declare sovereignty over the occupied territories in the West Bank if the UN Security Council adopts any resolutions condemning Israel’s settlement activities.