UN Officials Call for Immediate Halt to East Jerusalem Demolitions

The Humanitarian Coordinator of the United Nations in the Occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA), Jamie McGoldrick, called on Friday, May 3, for an immediate halt to the Israeli authorities’ destruction of Palestinian-owned property in occupied East Jerusalem. “Demolitions in East Jerusalem have increased at a staggering pace over the last month, leaving tens of Palestinians displaced and others who have lost their livelihoods overnight,” said McGoldrick. “This must stop.”

As of April 30, 111 Palestinian-owned structures had been destroyed in East Jerusalem since the start of 2019, either directly by the Israeli authorities or by their owners to avoid hefty fines, following the issuance of demolition orders for the lack of building permits. Of these, 57% (63 out of 111) were demolished in April, bringing the total number of demolitions throughout in the West Bank in 2019 to 214.

On April 29 alone, Israeli authorities demolished 31 structures in several neighborhoods of East Jerusalem; this is the highest number of structures demolished in a single day in East Jerusalem since OCHA began systematically monitoring demolitions in 2009. Overall, more Palestinians were displaced in East Jerusalem in the first four months of 2019 than in all of 2018, 193 compared to 176.

Of particular concern, on April 30 Israeli security forces demolished four structures in the Wadi Yasul area of Silwan, forcibly evicting 11 Palestine refugees, including seven children, with an additional refugee family losing personal property. Israeli forces used beatings, stun grenades and sponge-covered bullets as residents tried to retrieve belongings prior to the demolitions, seriously injuring five people. One man, whose home was destroyed, was injured with a sponge-covered bullet fired into his back and was subsequently arrested. Israeli security forces brutally beat him during his arrest and transfer to the Israeli detention center. There he remains in custody. Two other structures were demolished in Wadi Yasul April 17. Nearly all structures in Wadi Yasul are increasingly threatened by demolition following the near complete exhaustion of efforts to protect homes in the area. Over 550 people face the possibility of immanent displacement as a result. Around a quarter of them are registered Palestine refugees.

“Some of the elderly refugees in Wadi Yasul who were originally displaced as a result of the 1948 war now face the prospect of losing their homes for the second time, 71 years later. For them and for the younger generations this cycle of loss is being perpetuated,” said Gwyn Lewis, Director of West Bank Operations for UNRWA. “As we have seen from the numerous cases UNRWA has responded to in the past, displacement, particularly for the most vulnerable, such as the elderly and children, is extremely traumatic, destroys livelihoods, and separates families from their communities.”

“As the occupying power of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel is obligated to ensure the welfare and well-being of the local Palestinian population,” said James Heenan, Head of OHCHR in the occupied Palestinian territory. “The implementation of the discriminatory Israeli zoning and planning regime cannot be invoked by Israel to justify any violation of international law.”

Following the occupation of the West Bank in 1967, Israel unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem to its territory, in contravention of international law. In East Jerusalem, as in Area C of the West Bank, a restrictive planning regime applied by Israel makes it virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, impeding the development of adequate housing, infrastructure and livelihoods. Only 13% of East Jerusalem is zoned for Palestinian construction, much of which is already built up, while 35% has been allocated for Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law.

Demolitions, forced evictions, and the discriminatory and restrictive planning regime are elements of a coercive environment created by a range of Israeli practices and policies that pressures many Palestinians throughout the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to leave certain areas and generates a risk of forcible transfer, which is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits the destruction of personal property unless rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. Forced eviction contrary to international law also violates the right to adequate housing and the right to privacy, and may be incompatible with other human rights.