OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged Israel to stop trying to displace Bedouin families in the West Bank, where the army last week manhandled European diplomats on an aid mission.
"The Israeli military should end its unjustified attempts to forcibly remove a decades-old community," the New York-based watchdog's Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement.
"Israeli forces didn't just rough up diplomats, they demolished every single building in Makhul and ordered the residents to leave and never come back," he said.
The army on September 16 demolished property built by the Palestinian Bedouin in the Jordan Valley village after Israel's Supreme Court ruled they had been erected without building permits and declared the area a "closed military zone".
Mahul is in an area of the West Bank under full control of the army, which rarely issues building permits.
The move forced out 10 families, including 16 children, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
Israeli troops on Friday then manhandled a group of European diplomats trying to deliver tents to residents of the demolished homes.
The troops forcefully dispersed the French, British, Irish, Spanish, Swedish and Greek diplomats who had accompanied aid workers to Makhul.
An Israeli court temporarily suspended any further demolitions on Tuesday following the incident, HRW said.
Major Guy Inbar, spokesman for the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), told AFP that Makhul demolition orders were first issued in 2009.
"In 2009 the civil adminstration issued demolition orders for this area and gave the population there an opportunity to come to the civil administration's committees in order to prove that they are living on their land, to legalise the place," he said.
"After not doing that for two or three years the civil administration issued again demolition orders and they appealed to the court," Inbar said.
"The court heard both sides and decided that the orders were correct and that the population there lived in an illegal way... therefore the civil administration came and demolished the tents in that area."
However, HRW said that under international humanitarian law, the forced transfer of civilians in an occupied territory is a "prosecutable war crime".
Israel has destroyed more than 500 Palestinian-owned properties in the West Bank and mostly Arab east Jerusalem since the beginning of this year, displacing 862 people, according to OCHA.