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Eviction of Palestinian community sparks diplomatic spat

September 24, 2013|By Batsheva Sobelman
  • French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing lies on the ground amid Israeli soldiers on the road leading to the West Bank village of Khirbet Makhoul.
French diplomat Marion Fesneau-Castaing lies on the ground amid Israeli… (AFP/Getty Images )

JERUSALEM--The eviction of a tiny Palestinian community has sparked a sharp dispute between Israel and the European Union that is threatening to become a diplomatic crisis over allegations of abusing a French diplomat.

Last week, Israeli authorities demolished the homes and structures of Khirbet Makhoul, a Palestinian community of around 20 families in the northern Jordan Valley after a legal ruling determined they were built without permits.

A few days later, a group of activists and European diplomats arrived at the ruined site. According the diplomats, they were delivering tents and humanitarian aid for the Palestinians left homeless after the demolition.

When Israeli troops refused to let them through and ordered the convoy back, a scuffle broke out and, according to reports, soldiers confiscated the equipment and mistreated the envoys.

Marion Fesneau-Castaing, a French diplomat, told Reuters she was dragged from a truck and forced to the ground. "This is how international law is being respected here," she said. One photograph shows her lying on the dusty ground, an armed soldier pointing his gun at her.

Israeli authorities have a different version of the incident.

An army statement said soldiers prevented Palestinians and foreign activists from erecting tents at the site and used means for riot dispersal when they met with violent objection.

Israeli officials maintain troops did not use force against Castaing and that footage shows the diplomat raising her hand to strike or push an officer, and that a closer look at the photograph shows the soldier was not facing her or pointing his gun at her.

European Union officials have demanded explanations from Israel and expressed concern over the incident.

A statement from European Union policy chief Catherine Ashton "deplored" the confiscation of humanitarian assistance and stressed the importance of applying "international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories."

Israel too is demanding explanations for "a blatant violation of diplomatic codes of conduct." The foreign ministry rejected Ashton's announcement as one-sided and called the diplomats' actions a "provocation under the alleged pretext of humanitarian aid."

Israel will not accept such misconduct, said a foreign ministry statement, promising its response will "reflect the seriousness" of the violations.

Now Israel may declare Castaing, a cultural attache at the French consulate in Jerusalem, persona non-grata and banish her.

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