If references to international law were effective in reducing or reversing Israeli violence, Palestinians would have tasted freedom many decades ago. The recent demolition by Israel of two EU-funded classrooms in Abu Nuwar was nothing unusual in this regard, and produced the usual, by now meaningless, responses. The Israelis said that no permits had been issued for the classrooms, bringing to mind the description “construction terror” used by Israeli MK Moti Yogev.
Despite the systematic violence targeting sectors which are crucial for Palestinians and their existence, such as education, there has been no variation in the rhetoric of response from UN and Palestinian Authority officials. Roberto Valent, the UN’s acting Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories, issued a detailed statement, reminding everyone that the Abu Nuwar School had been targeted by demolition for the sixth time. Israel’s policies, he added “have created a coercive environment that violates the human rights of residents and generates a risk of forcible transfer.”
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah cited the right to education in international treaties. Demolitions which target education facilities, he added, constitute “a deliberate policy of the Israeli authorities to pressure Palestinian communities to leave, in order to confiscate their land and build additional settlements.”
The difference between both statements is that the UN has preferred to address forced transfer as a possible consequence of Israeli demolition of Palestinian properties. Hamdallah’s statement leaves no doubt about the policy of forced transfer, yet fails to seek accountability beyond referencing international laws and conventions. If both approaches were to be analysed together, one would discover a complementary approach that safeguards Israel’s perception of itself as being above any law, international or otherwise. It also validates the self-identity which the colonial entity has constructed while requiring that Palestinians adhere to their enforced marginalised existence.
There is certainly enough awareness of the correlation between the destruction of education facilities and forced transfer. However, a statement by Shadi Othman from the EU office in Jerusalem indicates the misplaced priorities of international institutions which fund projects for Palestinians. “The European Union,” he explained, “has demanded from Israel more than once not to demolish projects [that] the European Union funds and which aim to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians.”
This is interesting, because the humanitarian aspect of seeking to improve Palestinians’ lives is not a direct challenge to Israeli politics and policies that create violence against, and the vulnerability of, the Palestinian people. It is also convenient for the EU to have humanitarian structures demolished rather than risking a disruption of economic relations with Israel by, for example, introducing sanctions to put pressure on the state. Thus, it can be deduced that Palestinians and their legitimate rights are far from being a priority for the institutions funding a number of facilities in the occupied territories. If international institutions are forced to address the consequences of forced transfer, an allocation of funds for yet another project to be targeted by Israel will no doubt be forthcoming. It will not, however, come with any kind of diplomatic or other protection for the Palestinians.
The responses to the demolitions are detrimental to the people of Palestine; indeed, the approach taken actually safeguards the interests of both Israel and international donors. It is obvious (and has been for decades) that Israel will not bat an eyelid when reminded that it is in constant violation of international law, particularly when it knows that it can exert so much influence at the UN, either directly or through its proxies at the US State Department and its client nations.
The EU, on the other hand, has created a project out of Palestinian suffering, which makes the cycle of violations, including demolitions, favourable for its purportedly humanitarian agenda “to help” Palestinians. All of this posturing, though, merely enables the political actors to divert attention away from the fact that projects, even those scheduled for eventual destruction, are more important than developing and implementing a political framework which makes Israel accountable under international law. Between prioritising projects and people, international institutions prefer the façade of the former over the protection of Palestinian rights.