Israeli forces rough up EU diplomat in the West Bank

An official who works for a European-government aid agency witnessed the incident describes it as “very forceful”. Hugh Naylor reports from Ramallah

French diplomat Marion Castaing lays on the ground after Israeli soldiers carried her out of her truck containing emergency aid on Friday. Abed Omar Qusini / Reuters

RAMALLAH // Israeli forces shoved a French diplomat to the ground yesterday and used stun grenades to prevent a convoy escorted by European and UN officials from delivering aid to Palestinian villagers.

The convoy was carrying tents and water to residents of the Palestinian-Bedouin community of Makhul that Israel demolished on Monday. Makhul is located in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley area.

Taking part were diplomats from several European Union countries, Brazil and Australia, along with officials from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Israeli soldiers forcibly removed Marion Castaing, a French diplomat, from a truck and pushed her to the ground. After the military seized the aid, police officers arrived on scene and dispersed the crowd with stun grenades, witnesses said.

“They dragged me out of the truck and forced me to the ground with no regard for my diplomatic immunity,” Ms Castaing said.

An official who works for a European-government aid agency witnessed the incident and described it as “very forceful”. Various European countries were mulling over whether to lodge a complaint with the Israeli foreign minister.

“All of us reported this to our embassies and respective capitals,” said the official.

Lt Col Peter Lerner of the Israeli military said “Palestinians and foreign activists violently objected by throwing stones and striking law-enforcement officers”.

Soldiers responded using “riot-dispersal means”, said Lt Col Lerner, adding that authorities were conducting an investigation into whether the officials involved had abused their diplomatic privileges.

Lt Col Lerner also called their actions “illegal” but diplomats and aid workers, however, denied throwing stones or acting violently.

The incident highlights rising tension between Israel and the EU after the 28-member bloc announced guidelines in July targeting Israeli entities operating in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Coming into effect next year, the measures bar EU agencies from direct and indirect financing or cooperation with such entities, including Israeli settlements, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Israel captured those territories along with the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In July, Israeli media reported that Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s defence minister, halted cooperation with EU aid officials operating in the territories. Also that month, authorities barred European aid workers from entering the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip.

EU officials have become concerned recently by Israeli demolitions of projects they fund, including homes and power-generation facilities, for Palestinian communities in the West Bank.

Participating in yesterday’s convoy were officials representing EU-country missions in Israel or the Palestinian territories, including Britain, France, Ireland, Spain, Sweden and Greece.

The diplomats and UN officials decided to escort the truck carrying supplies for the 120 displaced villagers, who were attempting to return to Makhul to rebuild homes.

Israel’s military barred aid agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, from building shelters after demolishing 57 homes and animal pens in Makhul, aid workers said.

“The military told them they demolished the homes because they lacked building permits,” said an official who works for a European aid agency.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem and areas of the West Bank that fall under direct Israeli control, such as Makhul, complain it is nearly impossible to obtain such permits from Israeli authorities.

Demolitions of Palestinian buildings in those areas occur regularly.

* Additional reporting by Reuters