The Occupied West Bank Latroun Villages
By Stephen Lendman | December 28, 2009
On June 6, 1967, when Israeli forces invaded Gaza and the West Bank, on the second day of the so-called Six-Day War (June 5 – 10, 1967), they entered three Palestinian villages in the Latroun salient – Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba, forcibly expelling the residents, numbering over 10,000 at the time. By the next day, most were gone while Israel began razing village lands and erasing their memory in an area well-known for its water resources and fertility, located northwest of Jerusalem along the Green Line. One soldier at the time explained that they:
“were told to take up positions around the approaches to the villages in order to prevent those villagers – who had heard the Israeli assurances over the radio that they could return to their homes in peace – from returning to their homes. The order was – shoot over their heads and tell them there is no access to the village,” even though Fourth Geneva’s Article 49 states:
“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.” Doing so is a “grave breach,” and those responsible are criminally liable.
Forty-two years later, their former homes gone and land expropriated, the survivors remain displaced, unable to return in violation of international law and Article 11 of UN Resolution 194:
“Resolv(ing) that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.”
Israel never complied even though its admission to the UN was conditional on accepting this and other relevant UN resolutions.
Established in 1979, Al-Haq is a Ramallah, West Bank-based independent Palestinian human rights NGO dedicated to protecting and promoting these rights and the rule of law in Occupied Palestine. In December 2007, it published a report still relevant titled, “Where Villages Stood: Israel’s Continuing Violations of International Law in Occupied Latroun, 1967 – 2007,” and dedicated it “To the people of Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba, and to all Palestinians who remain displaced from their homes, their villages, their land.”
Focusing on the Latroun villages, it highlights the plight of all Palestinians – denied their rights by forced displacements, prevented from returning, and in the Occupied Territories still living under an oppressive 42-year military occupation. Al Haq’s purpose was to document an international crime, disclose the policy behind it, provide victims the evidence they need to seek justice, and the world community ample reason to demand it. After 42 repressive years, Israel’s occupation “has acquired some of the (worst) characteristics of colonialism and apartheid” with no redress in sight to end it.
Following the Six-Day War, Israel expropriated 400 square km from displaced persons and refugees, and threatened Palestinians along the Green Line with more, especially in the three Latroun villages, targeted for annexation prior to the occupation by establishing irreversible “facts on the ground” when completed.
Al-Haq’s study uncovered official Israeli political and military documents and compiled firsthand accounts from interviews with former soldiers who participated in the operation and were willing to discuss it freely. Thankfully so because their truths must be told.
The Story of the Latroun Villages: Their Destruction and Displacement
In Israel’s 1948 “War of Independence,” the Old City of Jerusalem (in East Jerusalem) and Latroun salient were key targets fought hard for, lost, and thereafter “engrained in the collective psyche of the Israeli military.” As a result, Latroun remained a West Bank enclave along the Green Line, separated from Israel by a “No Man’s Land” buffer zone.
The Six-Day War achieved the earlier loss, erased a “bitter memory” according to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, and provided an opportunity for more land and its valuable resources by expelling Palestinian residents and denying their right to return.
From the start, no resistance was met because the Jordanian military withdrew the night before, knowing it would be outnumbered so prioritized its defense of Jerusalem. As a result, Palestinian residents began fleeing as soon as Israeli tanks approached, and those remaining were forcibly expelled, in many cases with no time to take essentials, including food and water for a 20 km walk to Ramallah (in intense heat), their only way to get there not knowing their fate, yet believing at the time they’d be allowed to return.
Unknown to them then:
– expulsion meant permanent displacement;
– Latroun was to be part of Israel and all traces of their former land destroyed, except in their collective memories;
– village destruction was a punitive land grab accomplished by bulldozing and blasting with explosives, not the result of war; reportedly, some residents who remained were buried under their homes, a willful act of murder;
– destruction was complete, including homes, schools, mosques, archaeological landmarks, a medical clinic, wells, an agricultural association, and a police station – everything leveled to Judaize it.
One participating soldier said it was “the blackest hour of my life. Things were done here which should not have been done, and I participated in an action that I shouldn’t have been part of.” Others felt the same way as they witnessed innocent civilians, including the sick and elderly, persecuted and displaced. Those too frail to leave were buried alive, an act too horrifying for some to bear.
Dr. Moussa Abu Ghosh remembered his cousin, Hasan Shukri, buried beneath his home:
He “was nineteen, an invalid, paralyzed from polio. They found his wheelchair outside and found his body underneath the house.” Others recalled similar incidents, but how many is unknown, perhaps dozens of civilians willfully murdered, guilty of being Arabs on land Israel wanted and took.
After the war, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol told Israeli ministers:
“For the first time since the establishment of the state, the security threat to Israel from the West Bank has been removed, and here I am reminded particularly of Latroun, which for us was a worry, as (in 1948) the territory in that area cost us much blood even though in the end it remained on the other side.”
No security threat existed, but Israel got its revenge and the territory it sought. The major Western media was silent, much like today, so most people accept the mythology of a beleaguered Israel surrounded by hostile Arabs, acting heroically in self-defense.
Israel’s Use of the Latroun Land
After the Six-Day War, Israeli Defence Forces and Defence Ministry Archive (IDFA) Military Organising Orders, June 1967 IDFA 901/2/281, section 4 stipulated that the GOC Central Command would be in charge of the area west of the Green Line, including Latroun, to secure it permanently for Israel. Judaizing followed in violation of international law, amounting to what former UN Special Human Rights Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine, John Dugard, called:
a “form of colonialism of the kind declared to be a denial of fundamental human rights and contrary to the Charter of the United Nations as recalled in the General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”
It “solemnly proclaims the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end (of) colonialism in all its forms and manifestations” because it’s fundamentally contrary to international law and the very notion of human rights.
Not for Israel, however, acting outside the law thereafter to colonize the Territories (focusing on the West Bank) and incorporate them into greater Israel, with borders yet to be determined because land seizures keep expanding them for new settlements and enlarging established ones.
In 1970, Mevo Horon was built on Beit Nouba land, initially for ideologically religious settlers in prefabricated buildings, now greatly expanded in more permanent form. “The settlement contains a Jewish religious school and it exploits the surrounding land, to which Palestinian access is banned, for agricultural purposes.” The entire settlement, of course, is built on Palestinian land, stolen to provide new homes for Jews.
In 1973, Bernard Bloomfield, president of the Jewish National Fund (JNF) of Canada, led a campaign to raise $15 million for a recreational park for Israelis. His vision was realized where Imwas and Yalo once stood:
“a proud tribute to Canada,” in his words, “and to the Canadian Jewish community whose vision and foresight helped transform a barren stretch of land into a major national recreational area for the people of Israel.”
Unmentioned was that it was on stolen, occupied land, the village names now erased, forgotten, and forbidden to be mentioned until the JNF and Civil Administration agreed under pressure, in March 2006, to erect two signs acknowledging its former existence. It was short-lived, however, as within weeks the signs were vandalized, uprooted and stolen to preserve the new name – Ayalon Park or Ayalon/Canada Park under the administration of the Canada JNF.
It’s a recreational area solely for Jews on former Palestinian land, where its former owners can’t enter. Canada’s JNF calls it “Israel’s Central Park.” Knowing their history, Palestinians are justifiably outraged.
The Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Railway
Israel Railways Ltd. is the independent state-owned company running the nation’s rail network, and since March 2003 began building a high-speed line connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, via Modi’in. By early 2008, trains were to be operating between Tel Aviv and Modi’in Central Station, but the entire line to Jerusalem won’t be in service until 2016, according to current estimates.
The final portion from Modi’in to Jerusalem will go through Latroun between Canada Park, Mevo Horon, and Beit Sourik. As a result in May 2006, the Civil Administration issued military orders to seize Palestinian land, the way the Separation Wall is expropriating about 12% of the West Bank. The rail line is taking more.
Denying Latroun Residents Their Right to Return
Before the Six-Day War, Israel planned to expel Latroun residents and prevent their return, although at the time there was debate on how and whether to do it. On June 25, 1967, disagreement arose between the military and government ministers over whether destruction and displacement was justified and about how to deal with refugees post-conflict, mainly from Qalqiliya and Latroun. At issue was Israel’s image, a matter of less concern to the military that wanted full control over a strategic area, the position that finally prevailed.
In the end, a compromise let Qalqiliya residents return but not Latroun ones on the premise that showing some concern would be diplomatically beneficial. Former Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba residents in Jordan were forced to stay while a grossly inadequate resettlement proposal was offered others in the West Bank, one they never accepted.
Thereafter on October 23, 1967, Military Order No. 146 barred them from returning and declared Latroun a “closed area,” effectively confiscating their land and declaring that “persons using the road will not delay their travel nor will they leave the road” in order to prevent their return to Latroun. The order is still in force.
Nonetheless, village residents kept petitioning for their rights, each time without response, most recently in November 2007, but as time passes, the more embedded facts on the ground become.
Fourth Geneva Convention’s relevance affected Article 35 of Israel’s Military Proclamation No. 3 stating that its military courts “must apply (its) provisions….In case of conflict between this Order and the said Convention, the Convention shall prevail.” So why hasn’t it?
Because the ruling was subsequently reversed despite the international community’s firmness that it applies universally and Israel has no right to disregard it. In its 2004 ruling on the Separation Wall, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirmed this interpretation, and so did the 1907 Hague Regulations.
In addition, international humanitarian and human rights laws apply, according to the UN General Assembly, ICRC, and independent judicial bodies. “Israel’s claim that customary and conventional human rights laws do not apply to the OPT as the Palestinian population is not within its sovereign territory has been almost universally refuted.”
Under Fourth Geneva’s Article 4, Latroun villagers were protected persons prohibited from being forcibly displaced, yet they were and prevented from returning.
This principle goes back to the 1863 Lieber Code that says “private citizens are no longer (to be) carried off to distant parts,” and the Hague Regulations state that “the practice of deporting persons was regarded at the beginning of (the 20th) century as having fallen into abeyance,” stopping just short of prohibition but inferring that interning or expelling civilians falls below minimal civilized standards and are hence unacceptable and effectively illegal.
Israel is bound under international law but disregards it nonetheless. Yet two weeks after the Six-Day War ended, serious cabinet debate considered compliance because keeping legitimate residents displaced served no military or security purpose. Nonetheless, Latroun ones lost everything, so for them the consequences were grim. Families were separated and unprotected, and accounts reported road side deaths from exhaustion and exposure.
The ICRC’s Appeals Chamber (ICTY) emphasized the link between prohibiting deportation, forced transfer, and residents’ right to their property stating:
The “protection interests underlying the prohibition against deportation include the right of the victim to stay in his or her home and community and the right not to be deprived of his or her property by being forcibly displaced to another location.” Latroun villagers lost everything. For some, including their lives.
Property Destruction and Appropriation
Article 23(g) of the 1907 Hague Regulations affirms a well-established international law principle that it’s “especially forbidden (to) destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war.” This applies to property owned privately, publicly, and by institutions related to religions, charities, education, and the arts and science.
According to Article 6(b) of the Nuremberg Charter:
War crimes include “violations of the laws or customs of war (including) plunder of private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity.”
Under Fourth Geneva’s Article 53:
“Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
These provisions apply to occupied territory, and thus relate to Israel’s wanton looting and destruction of Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba. No military necessity warranted it. After fighting ended and Israeli forces occupied the area, it was done solely to displace the residents and seize their land for Jews only use.
“That the villages were destroyed in the context of occupying forces exercising effective control over the area as opposed to in the course of battle between two armies is significant in rendering Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention applicable to all property destroyed in Latroun.”
The 1868 Petersburg Declaration first recognized the principle, stating that:
“the only legitimate object which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the military forces of the enemy.”
Thereafter, the concept was interpreted to mean acts of war must be warranted by “absolute military necessity.” An authoritative ICRC study also prohibits property destruction “unless required by imperative military necessity.”
The post-WWII Hostages Trial of Wilhelm List and Others (United States Military Tribunal, Nuremberg) established that the:
“destruction of property to be lawful must be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war…. Destruction as an end in itself is a violation of international law. There must be some reasonable connection between the destruction of property and the overcoming of the enemy forces.”
This was “patently not the case in Imwas, Yalo or Beit Nouba.” The IDF brazenly violated established international law. Fighting had ceased. There was no resistance. Those displaced were non-combatants, and the property destroyed served no military objective.
According to IDF chief of staff, Uzi Narkiss (1925 – 1997), destroying the Latroun villages was done for “revenge” after failure to capture the area in 1948. For Defense Minister Moshe Dayan (1915 – 1981), it was done “not as a result of battle, but of punitive action.” It led Israeli writer Amos Kenan (1927 – 2009) to question “this idiotic approach (of) collective punishment,” forbidden under Fourth Geneva’s Article 33 stating:
“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited. Pillage is prohibited. Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”
Destroying Latroun continued what began during Israel’s War of Independence that expelled about 800,000 Palestinians, slaughtered many others, and destroyed 531 villages, crops and agricultural land, and 11 urban neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and elsewhere.
After expelling 650 Palestinians on June 11, 1967, Israeli forces destroyed the entire Mughrabi Quarter of East Jerusalem’s Old City, and thereafter continued a state policy of displacement and demolition:
– for punitive reasons;
– to build and expand settlements;
– establish military zones; and to
– create public areas solely for Jews and tourism.
According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, an estimated 24,145 homes have been demolished in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza from 1967 – July 2009 – 4,247, according to the UN, during Operation Cast Lead alone.
All Israeli settlements are illegal under Article 49(6) unequivocally stating:
“The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
However, according to Israeli authorities, this provision only prohibits “forcible” transferring of the occupying power’s population from its territory unrelated to “voluntary or induced migration.” Not so, however, as is clear and unequivocal. Again, Fourth Geneva’s Article 49 states:
“Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive.”
In addition, the International Criminal Court (ICJ) affirmed that Article 49:
“prohibits not only deportations or forced transfers of population….but also any measures taken by an occupying Power in order to organize or encourage transfers of parts of its own population into the occupied territory.” As a result, “the Israeli settlements in the OPT (including East Jerusalem) have been established in breach of international law.”
They represent a calculated scheme to displace Palestinians and expropriate as much of their land as possible. From 1967 – 2007, Israel established 121 settlements, 106 outposts, and a dozen (de facto settlement) neighborhoods, now home to about 500,000 Jews. As of summer 2009, construction continues. No settlement freeze exists, and official state policy is to keep expanding them, seize all of East Jerusalem, and all valued West Bank land, expelling Palestinians in the process.
Grave Breaches and Individual Criminal Responsibility
The Nuremberg Tribunal established the principle of individual responsibility for committing international crimes directly or by “order(ing), solicit(ing) or induc(ing) the commission of such a crime (as well as) aid(ing), abet(ting) or otherwise assist(ing) in its commission.”
These are “grave breaches” under Fourth Geneva’s Article 147 and are considered among the most serious war crimes requiring “effective penal sanctions” against persons committing them or ordering them to be committed. As such, all High Contracting Parties are obligated to seek justice by arresting and bringing those responsible before a domestic or foreign court. In other words, for crimes this heinous and others as severe, the well-established universal jurisdiction principle applies.
For Imwas, Yalo and Beit Nouba, at issue are protected persons and property rights under Fourth Geneva and other long-standing international law provisions. As explained above, they’re unambiguous so parties in violation must be fully held accountable.
However, in prosecuting war crimes, it’s often challenging to establish a clear link between senior commanders and civilian authorities on the one hand and acts committed by their subordinates. Yet the highest authorities can be held responsible if they knew, should have known, and/or failed to take all necessary measures to assure no laws of war were broken.
“In the case of the Latroun villages, evidence of the direct responsibility and complicity of figures (at) the (highest levels of the) political and military leadership presents itself,” including the prime minister, members of his cabinet, IDF chief of staff, and his top commanders. They ordered and agreed to actions on the ground by a 10 – 3 cabinet vote.
In addition, “the forcible expulsion and continuing displacement of the Latroun residents was not a once-off occurrence, never to be repeated elsewhere in the OPT.” The policy continues unabated and is ongoing through home demolitions, land seizures, settlement expansions, daily harassment, house searches, arrests, killings, torture, cutting off water and power, restricting free movement, curtailing economic activity, denying farmers access to their land, and more in grave violation of international law.
The Right of Return
Besides being established under numerous UN Resolutions, including UN Resolution 194, Fourth Geneva’s Article 49 requires that persons forcibly displaced “shall be transferred back to their homes as soon as hostilities in the area in question have ceased.”
In addition, Principle 28 of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement says it’s the:
“primary duty and responsibility (of combatants and/or occupiers) to establish conditions, as well as provide the means, which allow internally displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes or places of habitual residence.”
Latroun villagers “hold an inalienable right to return to the OPT under instruments of international human right law….This right is held not only by those who fled to Jordan in 1967, but also their descendants, once they have maintained genuine links with the territory of origin.” In addition, those unable to return or whose homes have been destroyed, are legally entitled to compensation for their loss and suffering.
Businesses benefit prominently from the spoils of war and occupation, yet their responsibility has “yet to be clearly defined or regulated by international law.” However, “precedents….have arisen….primarily in the context of reparations for victims of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law.”
The Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor’s finding is pertinent to Latroun and other occupied territories. It held that:
“Indonesian business companies, including State Owned Enterprises, and other international and multinational corporations and businesses (that) benefited from the occupation” must contribute to reparations to compensate East Timorese occupation victims.
According to the ICRC, international humanitarian law obligates states, soldiers, other armed groups, and corporations, whose activities were involved in a war or military occupation. In other words, war profiteering has a price, but who will enforce payment.
After 42 years of military occupation, Israeli policy remains defined by its:
– lawlessness and belligerency;
– ruthless incivility and suppression of human and civil rights;
– “voracious desire” (for) permanent control over as much of the West Bank as possible, including East Jerusalem,”
– refusal to seek an equitable durable peace; and
– determination to fragment the population into powerless, servile, isolated cantons under an oppressive Kafkaesque “matrix of control.”
No easy solutions exist. None are proposed, nor will there be any from the top down. With their growing grassroots support, it’s for committed Palestinians to achieve their long-denied equity, justice and self-determination. That’s how change always comes.
Stephen Lendman is a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com