UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS SPOKESPERSON Rupert Colville has issued a briefing on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
Eight Palestinian refugee families residing in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem are facing a risk of forced eviction due to a legal challenge by the Nahalat Shimon settler organisation. For four of these families, the risk is imminent.
Mr Colville said the evictions, if ordered and implemented, would violate Israel’s obligations under international law. The eviction proceedings in these cases and in other similar cases in East Jerusalem, are based on the application of two Israeli laws, the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law of 1970. According to a survey carried out by the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2020, at least 218 Palestinian households in East Jerusalem, including the families in Sheikh Jarrah, have eviction cases filed against them. The majority of these have been initiated by ‘settler organisations’, placing 970 people, including 424 children, at risk of displacement.
He continued: “Given the disturbing scenes in Sheikh Jarrah over the past few days, we wish to emphasise that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which International Humanitarian Law applies. The occupying Power must respect and cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory, and must respect, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country. This means that Israel cannot impose its own set of laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem, to evict Palestinians from their homes. In addition, the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law are applied in an inherently discriminatory manner, based solely on the nationality or origin of the owner.
“In practice, the implementation of these laws facilitates the transfer by Israel of its population into occupied East Jerusalem. The transfer of parts of an occupying Power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.
“According to several Security Council resolutions all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of East Jerusalem, including expropriation of land and properties, are null and void and must be rescinded.
Forced evictions may also violate the rights to adequate housing, said Colville, and to privacy and other human rights of those who are evicted. Forced evictions are a key factor in creating a coercive environment that may lead to forcible transfer, which is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention and is a grave breach of the Convention.
“We call on Israel to immediately halt all forced evictions, including those in Sheikh Jarrah, and to cease any activity that would further contribute to a coercive environment and lead to a risk of forcible transfer. We also call on Israel to review the application of the Absentee Property Law and the Legal and Administrative Matters Law to ensure they are in accordance with the obligations of Israel under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
“We further call on Israel to respect freedom of expression and assembly, including of those who are protesting against the evictions, and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force while ensuring safety and security in East Jerusalem.”