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US State Department Slams Israeli Settlements, Home Demolitions and ‘Perpetual Occupation’ of Palestine

Israeli forces using a Caterpillar bulldozer to demolish a Palestinian home. (Photo: Sliman Khader/APA Images)

Israeli forces using a Caterpillar bulldozer to demolish a Palestinian home. (Photo: Sliman Khader/APA Images)

In a rare and stinging rebuke, the United States State Department issued a statement on Wednesday blasting Israel’s ceaseless expansion of Jews-only settler colonies in illegally-occupied Palestinian territory, as well as the recent uptick in demolitions of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces.

Expressing “deep concern” and “strong opposition” to Israeli settlement construction and expansion, State Department Spokesman John Kirby called Israel’s actions “corrosive to the cause of peace.” Kirby said Israel’s announcement earlier this week that more than 1,000 new settler homes will be built in occupied East Jerusalem is the latest move “that is systematically undermining the prospects for a two-state solution.”

“We are also concerned about recent increased demolitions of Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which reportedly have left dozens of Palestinians homeless, including children,” the statement added.  “More than 650 Palestinian structures have been demolished this year, with more Palestinian structures demolished in the West Bank and East Jerusalem thus far than in all of 2015.”

According to statistics provided by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, more than 800 people, including at least 348 children, have been displaced so far this year as a result of home demolitions. Over the past decade, more than 1,100 Palestinian homes have been destroyed, displacing nearly 5,200 people — half of them children. The destruction of Palestinian homes is part of Israel’s effort to quell resistance to its 49-year illegal occupation and to collectively punish the families of those who resist. Like the occupation and settlements, home demolitions are illegal under international law.

Israeli forces also recently demolished the Bedouin village of al-Araqib for the 100th time, this time while residents were fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Al-Araqib is one of 35 of what Israel calls “unrecognized” Bedouin villages in the Negev desert, meaning Israel denies residents connections to the national water and electricity grids, as well as health and educational services and basic infrastructure. Worldwide — including Israeli — opposition to a proposal to forcibly relocate as many as 70,000 Bedouins, known as the Prawer Plan, thwarted that effort in 2013, but periodic demolitions continue.

Kirby’s statement asserted that Israeli “land seizures, settlement expansion, legalizations of outposts and denial of Palestinian development… risk entrenching a one-state reality of perpetual occupation and conflict.”

The United States “remain[s] troubled that Israel continues this pattern of provocative and counterproductive action, which raises serious questions about Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful, negotiated settlement with the Palestinians,” the statement concluded.

Critics, including Nobel peace laureates Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Mairead Maguire and others, have called Israel’s occupation and settlement activity apartheid and even ethnic cleansing. A recently-released report by the Middle East Quartet, which is comprised of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, cited Israel’s expansion of illegal settlements as one of the primary obstacles to a viable two-state solution.

Although the United States has previously criticized Israeli policies and actions, from the State Department affirming the illegality of the settlements in 1978 to Kirby accusing Israel of “systematically seizing Palestinian land” earlier this month, such criticism is rare and has not affected the more than $3 billion in annual US military aid provided to Israel with no strings attached.

Palestinian Authority Communications Director Jamal Dajani said his government “support[s] the State Department statement.”

“It is about time we hear this from the US,” Dajani said. “The whole international community is condemning these Israeli actions. They are a violation of the Geneva convention, which specifically prohibits the occupying power from transferring people in the areas it is occupying.”

There has been no response yet to Kirby’s statement by Israeli officials.

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