In an unprecedented move, which indicates just how much the international community is losing patience with Israel, eight European Union countries have written an official protest letter to Tel Aviv, demanding over €30,000 ($35,400) in compensation for confiscating and demolishing structures and infrastructure which the countries had built in Area C of the West Bank, which is under full Israeli control.
A senior European diplomat told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the letter from the eight EU nations, which is the first of its kind, would be delivered to senior Foreign Ministry officials within days.
According to the unnamed European diplomat who talked to Haaretz, Belgium is leading the move. The other countries involved in drafting the letter are France, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg, Italy, Ireland and Denmark. All eight countries are members of the West Bank Protection Consortium, a body through which they coordinate humanitarian assistance to Area C.
The countries were protesting the confiscation of solar panels they had installed in Bedouin communities and the demolition of mobile structures that were financed in various Bedouin communities to serve as classrooms.
The existence of the protest letter was first reported by the French newspaper Le Monde. In the letter, the eight countries stressed that if Israel does not unconditionally return the equipment it seized, they would demand compensation. The demolition and seizure of humanitarian equipment, including school infrastructure, and the interference in the transfer of humanitarian assistance contravenes Israel’s obligations under international law and causes suffering to the Palestinian residents, the letter said.
The letter is the second step these countries are taking on this issue. A month and a half ago, diplomats from the eight countries came to meet with the head of Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s Europe desk, Rodica Radian-Gordon, to protest Israel’s actions against Bedouin communities in Area C.
According to a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, Belgian Ambassador to Israel Olivier Belle said during the meeting that if Israel did not return the equipment it had seized, his country would formally demand compensation. Belle was the only one at that meeting to raise the issue of compensation, but in the ensuing weeks he has apparently managed to persuade his colleagues to turn the demand into a joint agreed-upon position.
Israel categorically rejects the demand for compensation. Israel’s position is that the European activity in Area C is not humanitarian assistance but illegal development that is being done without coordinating with Israel and with the aim of strengthening the Palestinians’ hold on Area C. The European position is that under the Geneva Convention, Israel is responsible for dealing with the everyday needs of the Palestinian population in Area C, and since it is not doing so, the European states are stepping in with humanitarian aid.
This edited article first appeared in Haaretz