Israel accuses EU diplomats of ‘provocation’
Irish official part of West Bank aid mission but ‘not involved directly in incidents’
French diplomat Marion Castaing on the ground after Israeli soldiers carried her out of her truck containing emergency aid in the West Bank herding community of Khirbet al-Makhul in the Jordan Valley yesterday. Photograph: Abed Omar Qusini/Reuters.
Israel has accused European diplomats, including the deputy head of Ireland’s diplomatic mission in Ramallah, of “provocation” following a confrontation between the diplomats and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank.
Israeli officials said the diplomats, who were accompanying a UN-coordinated aid convoy last Friday, had broken the law. Israeli soldiers manhandled the diplomats and seized tents and emergency assistance they had been attempting to give to some 120 Palestinian Bedouin whose homes in Khirbet al-Makhul in the Jordan Valley had been razed by Israel days before.
An Israeli court had ruled the dwellings, along with stables and a kindergarten, were built without permits.
A Reuters reporter witnessed soldiers throw sound grenades at the group of diplomats, aid workers and local residents. The reporter also saw them yanking French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing out of the truck carrying the supplies before driving it away. “They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity. This is how international law is being respected here,” she told Reuters.
Video footage showed Ms Fesneau-Castaing later striking an Israeli border policeman on his chin.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed Stephanie O’Brien, deputy head of the Irish diplomatic mission in Ramallah, had participated in the mission to deliver aid to the village. “[Ms O’Brien] was not involved directly in the incidents which subsequently took place,” it added.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has demanded that Israel provide an explanation of the incident.
“The EU deplores the confiscation of humanitarian assistance carried out by Israeli security forces in Khirbet al-Makhul,” she said. “The EU underlines the importance of unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance and the applicability of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs echoed Ms Ashton’s remarks. “The Government has repeatedly expressed its concerns at the negative impact on the peace process and current crucial peace talks of such practices as forced evictions and displacement of marginalised communities carried out by Israel in the occupied territories,” it said.
Israel’s foreign ministry dismissed the EU statements as “one-sided” and claimed Ms Ashton had ignored what it described as the diplomats’ “blunt violation of the law, their disregard of a ruling of the Israeli court and their unnecessary provocation under the alleged pretext of humanitarian aid”.
Spokesman Paul Hirschson said: “The idea that a foreign diplomat can strike an Israeli border police officer in the face is totally unacceptable and explanations both from the diplomats and their governments would be warranted.”
He added that Israel was considering how to respond. “Israel has already made it clear that it will not accept this misconduct. Israel’s response will reflect the seriousness of these violations.”
Israeli-EU relations have been strained following the EU decision, announced in July, to bar financial assistance to Israeli organisations operating in the occupied territories from next year.