The British Government is funding legal aid to Palestinians whose homes are at risk of demolition as it “called into question Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution”.
It follows news in recent weeks that Israeli authorities have confiscated tents in the West Bank and bulldozed Palestinian-owned homes in East Jerusalem, prompting even pro-Israel MPs to vent their anger in a Parliamentary motion two weeks ago.
The legal aid and settlement monitoring programme is part-funded through the UK’s £1.26 billion cross-governmental Conflict, Security and Security Fund (CSSF), which draws on lessons learned from the Iraq Inquiry.
Among the recent CSSF-funded projects is the strengthening of the Lebanese Armed Forces, to help them secure the country’s border with Syria, to Israel’s north.
The legal aid programme which helps Palestinians whose homes are at-risk of demolition is run through the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), and the UK Government said supporting these families was the “right” thing to do.
“The UK is a strong friend of Israel but our concerns about demolitions and evictions of Palestinians from their homes are long-standing and well-known,” a Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) spokeswoman said.
“We believe it is right that Palestinians should be supported to appeal these decisions through the Israeli legal system because they cause unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians, call into question Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution and, in all but the most exceptional of cases, are contrary to international humanitarian law.”
The NRC supported the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) until its 20-year mandate was withdrawn by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February this year. The Government said the NRC was “an experienced and trusted partner”.
The organisation uses Israeli lawyers to provide legal representation to Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank who are “vulnerable to displacement, land confiscation, settlement expansion, settler attacks, and denial of planning rights”.
The CSSF budget for “information, counselling and legal assistance for the protection of Palestinians affected by or at risk of forced displacement” is currently £2.4 million over a four-year period. The Department for International Development has also supported similar programmes since 2010.
The Government said the NRC abided by the “core humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence,” adding: “They have robust controls to prevent any diversion of aid to non-state armed groups, particularly those groups or individuals designated as terrorists by the UN Security Council.”
In the House of Lords, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Lord Ahmad said: “The UK is focused on preventing demolitions from happening in the first place through our funding to the Norwegian Refugee Council legal aid programme which helps residents challenge decisions in the Israeli legal system.”
The UK, France, Germany and Spain all signed a statement late last month “strongly condemning” the demolition by Israel of buildings in the district of Wadi al Hummus.
Ahmad said: “We remain seriously concerned by the continued demolition of Palestinian property by Israeli authorities… The practice causes unnecessary suffering to ordinary Palestinians and is harmful to the peace process.”