Hazel Ward, AFP
Last updated: 1 November, 2011

NGO: Israel forcing Palestinians out of east Jerusalem

Israel’s policies in east Jerusalem are forcing Palestinians to leave the city, a move which could constitute a war crime, according to an Israeli NGO which has taken the issue to the United Nations.

“Housing demolitions, forced evictions and residency revocation are all leading to ethnic displacement in east Jerusalem,” said Itay Epshtain, co-director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) which on Monday published a damning report on the issue.

Jerusalem municipality spokesman Stephan Miller rebuffed the allegations, saying the report contained “misleading facts, blatant lies and political spin about Jerusalem and lacks any connection to reality.”

He said the city’s mayor was committed to “improving the quality of life of Jerusalem’s Muslim residents.

But ICAHD on Monday submitted complaints to three UN Special Rapporteurs, demanding they launch an investigation into the legality of Israel’s policy in the eastern sector of the city, which it occupied in 1967 and later annexed — a move never recognised by the rest of the world..

The group’s report “No Home, No Homeland” accuses Israel of making it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, with the Jerusalem city council granting just 18 for a population of 300,000 last year.

Instead Palestinians build without permits, and their homes are often demolished by the municipality, which sends them a bill for the operation.

Families are left with no option but to rebuild illegally, move in with family — or leave.

Israel also automatically revokes the permanent residency status of any Jerusalem Palestinian who has been ‘abroad’ — including in the West Bank or Gaza — for more than seven years.

“The basket of possibilities puts them in a dilemma: they can either stay in Jerusalem and build illegally because the chances of building legally are almost zero, or they have to leave,” said Michael Sfard, a prominent human rights lawyer who co-wrote the report.

“In legal terms, this is called ‘ethnic displacement’.”

Sfard said Israel was enforcing a deliberate policy aimed at controlling Jerusalem’s demography and ensuring a Jewish-Arab ratio of 70/30.

“There is a place between the Jordan River and the (Mediterranean) sea where Israeli policies are meant to chase Palestinians away from their place of residence: this is in east Jerusalem.”

ICAHD said there was a real possibility that the policies constitute a war crime, and that it hopes the UN Special Rapporteurs on adequate housing, internally displaced persons, and human rights in the occupied territories will agree to open an investigation.

“There is a danger that war crimes have occurred but in order to verify that, an investigation must take place,” Sfard said.

The report accuses Israel of “engaging in the war crime of deportation when it deports Palestinians from east Jerusalem or simply by barring reentry of those who have remained outside of the area for more than seven years.”

“Once they revoke their residency, it is de facto deporting them which is against the Geneva Convention,” said lawyer Emily Shaeffer who co-wrote the report.

And doing so without verifying they had another place to go rendered them stateless, which was another violation, she said.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. It considers the whole of Jerusalem its “eternal and indivisible” capital, but the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as capital of their future state.

There are around 300,000 Palestinians living in the mainly-Arab eastern sector of the city, but they are only permitted to build on less than 9 percent of the land there, ICAHD statistics show, indicating the sector is currently suffering a shortage of around 25,000 homes.

Jeff Halper, co-founder of ICAHD, said housing demolitions represented the essence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “which has to do with displacement and ethnicity and the process of ‘Judaising’ the country.”

“The end game is to eliminate east Jerusalem as an entity so you’ll have a few little pieces,” Halper explained.

“You create facts on the ground that pre-determine the outcome of negotiations so that by the time you get to final status talks, there is no more east Jerusalem.”