UN independent experts spotlight ‘prima facie war crime’ in East Jerusalem


The international community must take immediate action to stop Israel’s forced evictions and displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem as part of Israel’s annexation and “de-Palestinianization” of the city, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Thursday.

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A market in Jerusalem.

“There has been an ongoing and unchecked tragedy: the forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes,” they said in a joint statement.

“Israel’s transfer of its own population into the occupied territory confirms a deliberate intention to colonize the territory it occupies, a practice strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law,” they said.

“It amounts to a prima facie war crime,” they declared.

The joint statement came from three UN independent experts: Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; and Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

After repeatedly raising these issues with the Government of Israel, they said no response has been received to date.

‘Irredeemably’ altering city’s status
Indeed, despite efforts of international organizations and activists, Palestinians under Israeli occupation continue to be forced out of their homes and dispossessed of their land and properties on the basis of discriminatory laws.

The laws, designed to consolidate Jewish ownership in Jerusalem, are irredeemably altering the city’s demographic composition and status, they warned.

Discriminatory laws
In neighbourhoods adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem, an estimated 150 Palestinian families are currently at risk of forced eviction and displacement by Israeli authorities and settlers.

Over the past decades, hundreds of Palestinian properties in occupied East Jerusalem have been taken over by settlers, in part due to a law that claims to allow the transfer of pre-1948 Jewish property to the “original Jewish owners” or their “heirs”, the experts said.

‘Lawfare’ in action

The current legislation helps settler organizations expropriate Palestinian properties through a manipulation of the law, they added.

“This is lawfare in action,” they said. “The law is discriminatory and acquisitive by design, and no such right to restitution exists for the over 1 million Palestinians and their descendants who were displaced and dispossessed from Jerusalem, Israel, and the rest of the West Bank and Gaza as of 1947 and in 1967.”

Longing for justice
“They are still longing for justice,” the UN experts said.

Of specific concern are three families that are currently at risk: the Shehades in Silwan, the Ghaith-Sub Labans in the Old City, and the Salems in Sheikh Jarrah. Despite living in their homes for many decades under a protected tenancy lease, these families have faced eviction lawsuits filed by settler organizations seeking to take over their properties for years.

The Ghaith-Sub Laban family has already exhausted all legal avenues to challenge the eviction order, they said, adding that Israeli authorities have served them with a notice to vacate their house by 25 April, or face forced eviction.

'Blatant violation of international law'
“This is in blatant violation of international law that does not confer the occupying Power the authority to change the local legislation unless strictly required by security needs: settler-colonial intent and interests are not a security need,” the experts said.

The establishment and expansion of settlements constitute “a grave breach of international law, prosecutable under the Rome Statute”, they said, emphasizing that no State should passively acquiesce with these illegal acts to “trump the rights of Palestinians to self-determination, adequate housing, property, non-discrimination”.

“For the Palestinians, the enjoyment of human rights is a far-off hope as the suppression of these rights is part of the very architecture of the Israeli occupation,” they said.

“The almost 56-year-long occupation and the way it is allowed to conduct itself with general impunity and without consequences, makes a farce of international law and the credibility of the system mandated to enforce it,” they said.

“The occupation must end with all deliberate speed and until that day, Israel must comply fully with international humanitarian law and international human rights law obligations,” they stressed.