Israel's Actions in East Jerusalem May Constitute a War Crime

November 2, 2011

On Tuesday, Israel did not even try to hide the fact that their plans to accelerate the construction of 2,000 housing units in East Jerusalem – an area considered as ‘occupied’ by the international community thus making the construction illegal – was in response to and part of a series of punishments to be meted out against the Palestinian Authority for their successful pursuit for full membership to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and pursuit for full recognition for the State of Palestine by the United Nations body itself.

What is significant as well, but I’m afraid being over-looked, is that the announcement also came just two days after the well-respected organization, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), submitted a major and precedent-setting report to three of the UN’s Special Rapporteurs claiming that Israel’s actions in East Jerusalem violate international law and may constitute a war crime and asking for an investigation into these practices.

No Home No HomelandThe report, ‘No Home, No Homeland’ documents the slow, but steady displacement of thousands of Palestinians from East Jerusalem since Israel occupied the city following the 1967 war and the intentional implementation of policies to manipulate the demography to gain and maintain a Jewish majority there – “forcing the migration process on the basis of ethnicity – which violates international law, and is possibly a war crime”.

The report states that those who leave the city – for example, to pursue educational or job opportunities or to get married – lose residency rights if they are gone for seven or more years and they cannot return to live. Some 14,000 Palestinians lost their residency between 1967 and 2010, with half of those revocations taking place after 2006.

Those who build houses illegally, live in fear of having their property demolished and also face hefty fines.  Israel demolished more than 2,000 homes in East Jerusalem since 1967.  From 2000 to 2011, 771 homes were pulled down.   A further 1,500 demolition orders are pending execution. The problem is that Israel regularly denies permits to Palestinians to build or renovate there forcing them to build ‘illegally’.

At a press conference Monday, Michael Sfard, Israeli lawyer and legal counsel for the report said,

“We are witnessing a process of ethnic displacement.  Israel is manifestly and seriously violating international law … and the motivation is demographic.  There is a suspicion that a war crime is taking place and that is why an investigation should take place.”

ICAHD submitted complaints to the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons), the Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestinian Territories. ICAHD demanded to open an investigation into the legality of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem.

Amnesty International views East Jerusalem as part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel as an occupying power there which is legally obligated to follow the legal framework for an occupying power which includes not changing the topography or demography of the territory occupied unless it is to the benefit of the inhabitants or legitimate security reasons.  Based on this, Amnesty also believes all settlements built in East Jerusalem are not simply ‘Jewish neighborhoods’, but illegal settlements and any resolution on the issue of settlements must be based on international law, not ‘facts on the ground’ that have been created by one party or the other.

Update 11/3: Amnesty International just released a statement, ‘Israel ramps up settlement construction plans after Palestine UNESCO bid’, which criticizes the announcement by Israeli authorities to expand construction building in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and proposal to cut off  tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.  Philip Luther, Deputy MENA Director at Amnesty said, “These moves are unacceptable and could result in further violations of the rights to adequate housing and livelihoods in Palestinian communities near the settlements. Suspending the transfer of tax revenues will directly affect the Palestinian Authority’s ability to provide essential services throughout the West Bank, as well as salaries and other support provided to people in Gaza.”

The statement also maintains that Amnesty has repeatedly called for an immediate end to the construction and expansion of settlements and related infrastructure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and that Israel’s settlement policy is inherently discriminatory and perpetuates violations against the Palestinians there.  The statement also says, “When an occupying power has a formal policy of transferring parts of its civilian population onto occupied territory, it amounts to a war crime, and can be taken up for investigation by the International Criminal Court.”

See Amnesty document ‘Israel and the Occupied Territories: The issue of settlements must be addressed according to international law’ for more details.