18 March 2021- Forced Evictions of Palestinians and Israeli Settlement Colonization

Excellency,

The situation in Occupied Palestine continues to worsen due to Israel’s human rights violations and war crimes. In particular, the occupying Power has escalated its appropriation of Palestinian homes, lands and properties aimed at accelerating the forced transfer of Palestinian civilians, especially areas in and around occupied East Jerusalem, and entrenching its settlement colonization and annexation schemes.

Numerous Palestinian families in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem are threatened with homelessness and forcible transfer from the City like so many before them.  At this moment, at least 37 families comprising 195 persons, most of them refugees, are at risk of eviction as settler groups, with the full support of the occupation’s government and judiciary, persist with campaigns to dispossess and displace these families, yet again, and replace them with Israeli-Jewish settlers.

These illegal actions are being carried out in countless ways every single day in Occupied Palestine in grave breach of the of international humanitarian and criminal law and violation of Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, including the specific prohibitions on policies and measures aimed at altering the character, demographic composition and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.

As explained by Palestinian and partnering human rights organizations in an urgent joint appeal on 10 March 2021 to UN Special Rapporteurs, “Israeli settlement activities in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan are part of a much larger scheme aimed at forcing the transformation of Jerusalem’s demographic composition and cultural character to entrench exclusive Israeli-Jewish ownership over Jerusalem at the expense of its Palestinian protected population”

Moreover, they stress that, “through intensified settler-colonial policies and activities in East Jerusalem,  which includes the neighbourhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, the Old City, Wadi Al-Joz, At-Tur (Mount of Olives), Israel aims to consolidate its domination from West Jerusalem, extending to the E1 area surrounding the illegal Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the eastern periphery of the city.” All Israeli actions to date point to this unlawful and destructive scheme.

As so many families live under the constant threat of being forcibly displaced in the coming months – with the recent court decisions ordering families in Sheikh Jarrah to abandon their homes by 2 May 2021, and families in Silwan by August 2021 – we must remind that in just a little over a year’s time, form the start of 2020 to March 2021, Israeli courts approved the evictions of 33 Palestinian families with 165 members, including dozens of children, as documented by the Israeli NGO Peace Now. In fact, OCHA estimates that around 90,000 Palestinians are at risk of evictions/demolitions in occupied East Jerusalem.

Indeed, Palestinian NGOS are being joined by Israeli and international NGOs in sending repeated warnings to the UN and the global community on the ongoing and impending forced displacements of Palestinian civilians from their homes and lands.

According to OCHA, in just the period between 16 February and 1 March alone, 35 Palestinian-owned structures have been demolished or seized by Israel, displacing 98 people, including 53 children. Hundreds of Palestinian families are living in fear awaiting decisions by Israeli courts regarding the fate of their homes. In addition to the above cases in occupied East Jerusalem, I must bring your attention to the imminent demolition of hundreds more Palestinian homes in Silwan after an Israeli court abandoned previous legal agreements and ruling instead in favor of establishing a biblical national park called “The King’s Garden”. If Israel continues with this massive demolition campaign, more than 1,500 Palestinians will be immediately displaced, most of whom are women and children.

As stressed in the above-mentioned joint appeal, “At a time when people around the world are trying to survive the global pandemic, Palestinians in East Jerusalem continue to endure an ongoing Nakba, as they continue to be denied their inalienable right of return to their homes, properties, and lands, and to be under threat of further displacement and dispossession. They undergo a lengthy, exhausting, and unaffordable legal struggle to challenge the eviction lawsuits filed against them by settler organizations before Israeli courts. Given the discriminatory and untransparent nature of the Israeli legal system, they are effectively denied access to the rule of law.”

The institutionalized nature of such discriminatory practices has emboldened and made more extreme Israel’s settlers in Occupied Palestine, as they are not only backed by the state but certain that their impunity will not be challenged, even by the judiciary. Against this backdrop, settler attacks against Palestinians and their properties have reached dangerous heights in recent months, reinforcing Israeli settlement expansion and annexation schemes. Similarly, the trends illustrate how such constant, unchecked settler violence is used as a tool to create an ever more coercive environment, facilitating greater control over Palestinian land, but without Palestinians, further proving Israel’s annexation aims.

Just to share one example: A Palestinian landowner has reported that Israeli settlers made no less 15 attempts to take over his farm in al-Baqa’a, east of Al-Khalil (Hebron), the last attack occurring on 16 March. Settlers have tried to destroy his crops, run him over, and raze his land. Denied the protections of international humanitarian law, he has been able to remain in his land only with the protection of human rights activists who have repeatedly intervened and forced the settlers to leave the area. Yet, the threat remains and such systematic harassment, intimidation and attacks are committed every day against Palestinians across Occupied Palestine as the occupying Power and its settler militias persist in the attempts to drive Palestinians from their lands through a combination of military orders and violence.

On 6 March, occupation authorities issued a military order to expropriate 658 dunams of Palestinian land in the village of Al-Ubeidiya, near Bethlehem, for a water project exclusively for illegal settlements and outposts in the area. The same day, also in Bethlehem, Israeli settlers from the “Gush Etzion” settlement chopped off and burnt dozens of olive trees and attacked farmers who were forced to leave at gun point.

On 9 March, a mob of 80 settlers forced their way into Wadi Qana nature reserve, near Salfit, indiscriminately attacking several Palestinian farmers and livestock herders. For decades Israel has violated international law with regards to Wadi Qana, imposing de facto annexation by placing it under the authority of Israeli Nature and Parks Authority. As of today, Palestinians who have lived in Wadi Qana for generations cannot access their lands, while settlers from the nearby “Karnei Shomron” settlement enjoy unlimited access to the nature reserve and its natural resources.

For the second time in March, occupation forces stormed Kifl Haris, near Salfit, and blocked the town’s entry and exit roads to escort a religious march of extremist settlers, who proceeded to desecrate the town’s shrines and attack homes. On 13 March, settlers from the illegal settlement of “Givat Ronin” attacked Palestinian residents and properties in the village of Burin, near Nablus, with settlers demolishing a Palestinian home under construction. Occupation forces intervened to protect the invading settlers, which resulted in the shooting a Palestinian youth during the settler attack. On the same day, a mob of settlers launched a pre-dawn attack against Palestinian residents of Huwwara, near Nablus, hurling stones at homes and vehicles. On 15 March, Israeli settlers attacked the village of Qaryout, preventing Palestinians from accessing their lands. The settlers went on to damage the village’s farmlands and destroyed fences that had been put up to protect the residents from settler attacks.

On 8 March, Israeli forces stormed the village of Bani Naim, near Al-Khalil and demolished a Palestinian home under construction and water well. On 9 March, Israeli occupation forces issued demolition orders to several Palestinian homes in Al-Jib, near Jerusalem, under the pretext that they were built without permits. According to Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, Israel has rejected nearly 99% of Palestinian building permit applications over the years, making it impossible for Palestinians to build and develop their communities in their own land. The following day, residents of Al-Walajeh, also near Jerusalem, learned that an occupation court injunction on the demolition of 38 homes could be lifted next month, subjecting Palestinians to another wide-scale displacement campaign. Israeli NGOs Ir Amim and Bimkom issued a joint report last week, alerting the international community, stating, inter alia:

“Israel has been gradually confiscating al-Walajeh lands and detaching it from the Palestinian space around it. While its northern segment is situated within the Jerusalem municipal borders, the construction of the Separation Barrier between 2010 and 2017 around three sides of the village turned it into a nearly isolated enclave. The barrier severed it from the rest of the city, while likewise separating it from some 1200 dunams of the village’s agricultural lands… these lands were declared by the Israeli Authorities as the Nahal Refaim National Park, a form of “touristic settlement,” which would serve to create Israeli territorial contiguity between Jerusalem and the Har Gilo settlement (part of the Gush Etzion bloc), constituting another link in the de facto annexation of ‘Greater Jerusalem’.”

At the same time, Israel persists with all of its repressive measures against Palestinian civilians, including massive arrest campaigns and raids. Israeli NGO B’tselem released shocking footage showing Israeli soldiers arresting five Palestinian children, ranging from 8 to 13 years old, for picking vegetables near the illegal outpost of “Havat Maon”, which continues to expand on Palestinian land. “This is another example of the absolute disregard on the part of Israeli authorities and forces on the ground to the well-being and rights of Palestinians, no matter how young or vulnerable,” a B’Tselem spokesperson said.

In the early hours of 8 March, Israeli occupation forces arrested 32 Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, and conducted numerous predawn raids across the occupied West Bank. On the same day, Israeli forces raided the offices of the Palestinian Health Work Committees in Ramallah, ransacking the building and confiscating computer equipment and documents.  On 10 March, Israeli forces conducted several raids in various parts of the West Bank, arresting nine Palestinians, including the preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque. According to OCHA, Israeli forces conducted 184 search-and-arrest operations across the West Bank between 16 February and 1 March, arresting 158 Palestinians, with East Jerusalem being the prime target.

As the global community observed International Women’s Day last week, Israeli occupation forces raided a women’s center in East Jerusalem, arresting two women involved in organizing an International Women’s Day event aimed to celebrate the role of women in Palestinian culture and heritage. The fact that the event was shut down illustrates the routine violence faced by Palestinian women under Israeli occupation. According to the Palestinian Prisoner Society, Israeli authorities are currently incarcerating 35 female Palestinian prisoners, 11 of whom are mothers.

Regrettably, accountability remains absent for these violations and the countless other crimes perpetrated throughout the course of Israel’s nearly 54-year military occupation, resulting in endless oppression for the Palestinian people and devastating consequences for the goal of a just peace. Year after year, the international community condemns Israeli violations and crimes, but falls short of measures aimed at actually implementing international law, and holding Israel accountable. Yet, it remains the international community’s responsibility to oppose these violations of fundamental principles of international law, and to act collectively bring a halt to such impunity, rather than green lighting it with lack of tangible action or, worse, complicity such as that we are regrettably witnessing with the decisions by certain States vis-à-vis Occupied East Jerusalem, in violation of international law, including the Charter of the United Nations, and Security Council resolutions 478 (1980) and 2334 (2016).

Arguments that any action to seek accountability for Israel’s crimes and violations is “anti-Semitic” and/or undermines the peace process are unconvincing and detached from reality. Just this week, the Israeli Prime Minister, in yet another election frenzy, vowed yet again to legalize settler outposts if re-elected. This compels us to ask: which is a bigger threat to the two-State solution and the peace process? The pursuit of accountability under international law or the pursuit of creeping annexation?

It is time to effectively end the Security Council’s paralysis which has allowed Israel’s occupation and de facto annexation to continue with impunity. Doing so would re-establish the framework of international law as the principled path to ending this historic injustice and would reassert the applicability of international law in the face of violations and breaches in any circumstance. With the aforementioned in mind, implementation of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) in all of its provisions becomes more imperative than ever, and we urge all States to uphold their obligations in this regard to ensure accountability for Israel’s internationally unlawful acts, to protect the Palestinian civilian population under occupation, and to salvage the prospects for a just and peaceful solution.

To conclude, we must recall that this week marks the 18th anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while undertaking nonviolent action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. Rachel’s sacrifice and courage are unforgotten and her memory will always be honored. In one of the last messages shared with her family, Rachel wrote: “I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity.” We, the international community, must discover the degree of our collective strength in the face of such grave injustice through dignity.

I should be grateful if you would arrange to have the text of the present letter made available to the members of the Security Council for their immediate, valuable consideration and also distributed as an official document of the Security Council.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

Dr. Riyad Mansour

Minister, Permanent Observer