UN, U.K. slam Israel’s eviction of Arab families from East Jerusalem

2 August 2009

From Haaretz.com

The evacuation of two Palestinian families from the homes in the disputed East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Sunday drew a slew of condemnations.

The neighborhood was at the center of escalating tensions between Israel and the U.S. last month, when Israel’s plan to build some 20 new apartments there was revealed. The U.S. has demanded that the project be halted, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said two weeks ago that “Israel will not agree to edicts of this kind in East Jerusalem.”

The evacuation comes after a decision by the High Court of Justice last week, which ruled that the homes belong to Jewish families.

Robert Serry, the United Nations envoy to the Middle East, criticized the evacuation of the Palestinian families, saying “Israel’s actions are unacceptable.”

“I deplore today’s totally unacceptable actions by Israel, in which Israeli security forces evicted Palestinian refugee families registered with UNRWA from their homes in the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to allow settlers to take possession of these properties,” Serry said in a statement.

“These actions are contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions related to occupied territory. They also contravene the united calls of the international community, including the Quartet?s, which in its recent statement urged the Government of Israel to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, including house demolitions and evictions,” he went on to say.

“These actions heighten tensions and undermine international efforts to create conditions for fruitful negotiations to achieve peace,” Serry went on to say.

The British consulate also issued a statement condemning the move, saying that Britain does not accept Israel’s claim that its courts are preventing radical settlers from entering Arab neighborhoods.

The British statement went on to say that the evacuation and such moves come in contrast with Israel’s declarations regarding its desire to achieve peace with the Palestinians. The British statement also called on Israel not to allow extremists to control the government’s agenda.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also condemned the move.

No American response has been received yet, but U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spoken out against the evacuation in the past, and is expected to issue a similar condemnation later in the day.

Early Sunday morning, local residents clashed with police after they arrived at the homes with eviction notices.

“Police arrived before dawn and cordoned off part of the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah before forcibly removing more than 50 people,” said Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN agency in charge of Palestinian refugees.

UN staff later saw vehicles bringing Jewish residents to occupy the homes, he said.

Last week, an examination by Haaretz revealed that Israel Lands Administration rules prevent Arab residents of East Jerusalem from taking ownership of the vast majority of Jerusalem homes.

Shiekh Jarrah and other East Jerusalem neighborhoods have been the subject of recent tension between Israel and the United States.

Two weeks ago, the U.S. State Department summoned Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, and told him plans to build another 20 homes for Jews in Sheikh Jarrah should be suspended.

Clinton in March criticized Israel’s plans to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem as a violation of its international obligations, calling it “unhelpful” to Middle East peace efforts.

“Clearly this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the ‘road map’,” Clinton said.

East Jerusalem is home to more than 200,000 Palestinians, out of the city’s total population of 700,000.