B’Tselem Urges ICC to Prevent Expulsion of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta

12:00 Oct 6 2022 Masafer Yatta (مسافر يطا )

B’Tselem Urges ICC to Prevent Expulsion of Palestinians in Masafer Yatta
Demolition of a building in Masafer Yatta, in July.Credit: MUSSA ISSA QAWASMA/ Reuters Published by Haaretz

by Hagar Shezaf for Haaretz
Oct 6, 2022 6:05 pm

The Israeli nongovernmental organization B’Tselem has asked Karim Khan, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, to act to prevent the expulsion of about a thousand residents of Masafer Yatta from their homes after Israel declared the area a live-fire zone for training.

In its appeal, which marks the first time B’Tselem has ever approached the prosecutor, the NGO asked that it makes clear to Israel that such a move would be regarded as a war crime. It said expulsion violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which bars residents of occupied territory from being expelled.

The request comes against the background of earlier actions by the ICC in connection with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. In October 2018, Fatou Bensouda, who was then the prosecutor, issued a statement saying she was “following with concern” after events in Khan al-Ahmar, a Palestinian village that was facing expulsion orders. Bensouda stressed that transferring a population in an occupied area was a war crime.

Her warning is believed to be one of the reasons Israel never expelled the residents. B’Tselem hopes that a similar statement would have the same impact regarding Masafer Yatta.

B’Tselem’s appeal to the ICC prosecutor contains a list of incidents that have occurred at Masafer Yatta since last May, when Israel’s High Court of Justice rejected a suit seeking to block the expulsion. They include army training exercises, razing of homes and detention of residents.

“Israel is currently working to expel about 1,000 Palestinians from the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank and destroy their communities, by making the conditions they live in so unbearable they are forced to leave the area they have lived in for generations,” the NGO said in a letter to Khan.

It said that “the Israeli apartheid regime, which controls the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, operates on the conviction that land is a resource meant to benefit the Jewish population only.”

In March 2021, the Hague prosecutor announced the opening of an official investigation into suspicions of war crimes allegedly committed in the area since June 2014. Israel rejected the allegations and said the court was acting without authority.

After a group of European diplomats, including those from Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, visited Masafer Yatta last week, Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff, the head of delegation representing the EU in the West Bank and Gaza, issued a statement saying the situation there had worsened since their previous visit and that the razing of homes “constituted a serious violation of international law.”

One of the lawyer's claims – representing the residents – in the lawsuit rejected by the High Court last May was that the expulsion from Masafer Yatta violates the Geneva Convention’s ban on forced expulsions. Justice David Mintz rejected the claim on the grounds that when international law conflicts with Israeli law, Israeli law prevails. He also ruled that the convention’s ban did not apply to the situation in Masafer Yatta.

This week, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal, seeking another hearing on the verdict on the grounds that Mintz’s rulings had no precedent. Nevertheless, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut noted that the ruling “raises difficulties.”
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