An open letter to Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel.
David Friedman, esq.
Nominee for U.S. Ambassador to Israel
Dear Mr. Friedman,
I am writing with urgency. I have asked my Senators Feinstein and Harris to forward my questions to you and request your reply. I am bringing these questions forward because although many speculate about what shape peace between Israelis and Palestinians will take in the future, I am most concerned with how you will assure a future for Palestinians who are being forced from their land right now.
The stakes were always high but since January 2017, this situation is critical. These past two weeks, I have once again been urging everyone I know to write to their Senators and Representatives to urgently request that they call the Israeli Embassy and the U.S. State Department to prevent the imminent demolition of a West Bank Palestinian school and village, this time the village of Khan al Ahmar. Simultaneously we await word of the State of Israel’s position re. the appeal by the Palestinian village of Susiya, calls are arriving from the village of Umm al Kheir about the Israeli Army’s demolition of water catchment cisterns in their area, and more.
The village of Khan Al Ahmar is located in the West Bank between the Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim and one of its elite suburbs, Kfar Adumim. According to the Times of Israel, at the request of President Trump’s administration, a bill to unilaterally annex Ma’ale Adumim and the surrounding area has been postponed — but Khan al Ahmar and the many other villages within that annexation footprint remain in grave danger because they continue to face the very real and imminent threat of demolition.
On March 5th, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) issued demolition orders to the entire village. The residents were given seven days to demolish their own homes, mosque, medical clinic, and elementary school, serving 172 children from neighboring communities.
A few days prior, Attorney Shlomo Lecker, the Israeli lawyer representing Khan Al Ahmar, filed an emergency petition requesting an injunction against demolition from the High Court of Israel. In a breach of procedure, Justice Noam Sohlberg, the judge on duty at Israel’s High Court, has not replied. Justice Sohlberg’s failure to issue the requested injunction, or reply in any way, means Khan al Ahmar may be demolished before its appeal is heard by Israel’s High Court.
Whether the Annexation bill moves forward or not, Israel has aggressively escalated its demolition of Palestinian communities. According to the U.N. Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, the 140 structures demolished during January 2017 was more than 50 percent higher than the 91 structures targeted in January 2016, a year that experienced more demolitions than any year since 1967. All of these demolitions were carried out in Area C and East Jerusalem on the grounds of lack of building permits, although these are practically impossible to obtain for Palestinians. This is no way to build peace.
1. Even when the expansion of Israeli settlements may be on hold, Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes and villages in Area C continues unchecked and is escalating.
· Because Justice Noam Sohlberg lives in a West Bank settlement, and is himself a part of Israel’s settler movement, would you, as the US Ambassador to Israel, urge Justice Solhberg to recuse himself from consideration of Khan al Ahmar’s petitions to the Israeli High Court?
· Do your own donations to support education in the Israeli settlement of Beit El and President Trump’s trust in you put you in a unique position to stop Israel’s demolition of Palestinian communities?
· Given your commitment to equal rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories, as the US Ambassador to Israel, will your office submit amicus briefs and make private calls in support of Israel’s minorities and Palestinians when they petition the Israeli High Court in matters consistent with American values such as fair housing, private property, and local, democratic control of zoning and planning?
2. There are currently over 11,000 demolition orders pending against Palestinian homes, schools, barns, and water cisterns in the West Bank. The reason most often given for demolition orders is that the structure in question was built without a building permit but Palestinian families are blocked from attaining building permits because their villages’ master plans have not yet been approved. Even though nearly 120 Palestinian villages in Area C have filed master plans with the Israeli Civil Administration, only three have been approved and six have been denied entirely.
· Do you see Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, barns, water cisterns, and schools as a political decision rather than a defensible legal decision?
· Will you do all you can to urge Israel to grant local zoning and planning rights to Palestinian villages so they can live in their homes, work on their land, educate their children, and build a future in accordance with the same democratic principles any American town would expect and every Israeli town enjoys?
3. In my 15 years of working with Palestinians and Israelis to keep Palestinian schools and homes safe, the intervention of the U.S. Ambassador has been crucial. Will you make calls to your Israeli counterparts to stop the Israeli Army’s live fire training exercises within Palestinian villages and stop demolition bulldozers? In other words, will you use this position to build peace by assuring that law-abiding Palestinian communities will remain safe on the land they own?
4. According to the World Bank, in 2016 the unemployment rate in the West Bank reached 27% and in Gaza, unemployment is at 42%, with youth unemployment at 58%, among the highest in the world. As you stated in your confirmation hearing, economic security for any peoples can offer hope and promote peace and stability. What programs would you initiate to stimulate American investment in Palestinian job growth? Will you encourage Palestinian home construction and agriculture on Palestinian land in Area C and encourage American investment and support?
I would very much appreciate your timely, thorough, thoughtful response.
Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance