UN expert: Israeli settlements, house demolitions are war crimes
By Jonathan Fowler
The Associated Press
GENEVA — Israel's policy of building settlements in Palestinian territories and destroying Arab homes and farmland is a war crime, a United Nations investigator said on Friday.
“Israel has used the current crisis to consolidate its occupation” of Palestinian areas, said Miloon Kothari, the housing expert of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Yaakov Levy, Israel's ambassador to UN offices in Geneva, rejected Kothari's “wild compilation of one-sided accusations.”
Kothari, an Indian architect who visited Israel and Palestinian territories earlier this year, told reporters, “The serial and deliberate destruction of homes and property constitutes a war crime under international law.”
The building of new Jewish settlements is “incendiary and provocative” and settlers are “free to indulge in violence and confiscate land,” he said.
Kothari cited international accords like the Geneva Conventions on warfare, which govern the behaviour of occupying powers. The 1949 agreements bar the colonisation of occupied land, but lack legal measures to ensure compliance.
Israel has built hundreds of Jewish settlements — home to about 400,000 Israelis — on land conquered in the 1967 Middle East war and is continuing construction. It claims the Palestinian territory it seized is “disputed,” rather than occupied and that the Geneva Conventions do not apply.
“The issue of settlements is a political issue on which Israel and the Palestinians disagree,” Levy told the Associated Press.
Both sides discussed settlements ahead of the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and Palestinians and during later talks in 2000 and 2001, he said.
“We made detailed suggestions on how to solve the issue, but the Palestinians broke off negotiations. The difficulties were caused by a conscious Palestinian decision not to work with us and resort to a policy of violence.”
In a 27-page report, Kothari said Israel claimed that settlement expansion was necessary because of “natural” population growth. But while settler numbers have risen by 12 per cent a year, the Israeli population has been growing by just 2 per cent a year, he said.
“The active and sustained implantation of Jewish settler colonies serves the ... purpose of acquiring territory and natural resources and limiting the living space of the Palestinian host population,” he said.
Kothari criticised the destruction of homes during Israeli military offensives like the brutal attack on Jenin refugee camp.
Israel launched its operation in Jenin and other areas earlier this year after a series of bombing and shooting attacks against Israeli targets by Palestinian resistance fighters.
Kothari said the widely publicised destruction of homes during military operations, meant to “cause optimum material and psychological harm,” was just a small part of an ongoing takeover of Palestinian areas.
Israel is intentionally destroying olive groves, orange orchards and other Palestinian agricultural land and is responsible for severe “misuse of and hoarding of water resources,” including cutting off pipelines to Palestinian villages, he said.
Thousands of homes had been bulldozed and thousands more are threatened with demolition, he said, citing studies by Israeli human rights groups with which he had been in contact since his visit.
Kothari said he has asked for Israeli cooperation during his visit on an academic invitation in January, but the “policy has been not to engage.”
“I think this is largely because they do not have sufficient answers,” he said.
But Levy claimed Kothari had travelled to the region “under false pretenses”
without Israeli permission to investigate the Palestinian situation for
the United Nations and “only looks at the issue as a biased person.”