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Special Focus: Highest Rate of Demolitions in Shu’fat Refugee Camp in 15 Years

Saturday, 15 December 2018 16:52
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Mass demolitions in Shu’fat refugee camp, taken on 21 November 2018 – Al-Haq © 2018.Since the beginning of Israel’s occupation in 1967 and its illegal annexation of occupied East Jerusalem, Israel has taken systematic measures aimed at realising an Israeli-Jewish demographic majority in the city of Jerusalem.[1] Israel’s policy enacted in East Jerusalem has included a clear Government-led plan to gradually reduce Palestinian presence from the city, thereby unlawfully altering Jerusalem’s demographic composition and the legal status of the city, as enshrined in international law.

Throughout its occupation, Israel has imposed various discriminatory policies that target Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including the denial of family unification permits for Palestinians in Jerusalem and the revocation of Palestinians’ East Jerusalem residency status, increasingly on punitive grounds. In East Jerusalem, as elsewhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Israel has further created a discriminatory building permit regime, using discriminatory planning and zoning designed to force Palestinian transfer from the city.[2] Such discriminatory planning has allowed Israel to establish a “legal” umbrella under which it continues to engage in the forcible transfer of Palestinians from Jerusalem, through measures such as administrative and punitive house demolitions.

Over the past year, Israel has accelerated its plans to forcibly transfer Palestinians from Jerusalem by intensifying existing discriminatory measures, introducing new ones, and proposing a series of bills before the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset), including the so-called “Greater Jerusalem” bills, aiming to annex settlement blocs in the eastern Jerusalem periphery and to remove densely-populated Palestinian neighbourhoods from the city’s municipal boundaries. These neighbourhoods include Kufr ‘Aqab, Anata, and Shu’fat Refugee Camp, which are already separated behind the Annexation Wall and are home to roughly one third of Jerusalem’s Palestinian population. Should the “Greater Jerusalem” plans go forward, Israel will have realised its demographic goals for the city, with minimal Palestinian presence. Critically, Israel’s escalations coincide with United States’ President Trump’s announcement recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on 6 December 2017, followed by the relocation of the United States (US) embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on 14 May 2018, both in violation of international law governing the status of the city of Jerusalem.

Discriminatory Planning and Administrative Demolitions in East Jerusalem

Israel’s discriminatory urban planning and licensing permit system has made it virtually impossible for Palestinians to acquire building permits for residential and commercial structures in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, leading to substandard living conditions and the creation of coercive environments designed to drive Palestinian displacement. Palestinians are only allowed to build on 13 percent of East Jerusalem lands zoned for construction, much of which is already built up, while only seven percent of housing permits in the city are granted to Palestinians.[3] The lengthy and complex process of applying for building permits in occupied East Jerusalem involves highly intricate procedural obligations set under Israel’s planning regulations, creating a series of technical obstacles for Palestinians when undertaking application procedures. Consequently, the planning policies specific to East Jerusalem make it almost impossible for Palestinians to build structures in accordance with the imposed Israeli law. Moreover, the Jerusalem Municipality enforces additional procedures on Palestinians in East Jerusalem, further complicating the process of acquiring building permits.[4] As is the case in Area C of the occupied West Bank,[5] the discriminatory planning and building regime forces Palestinians to build “illegally”, leading to the threat of facing “administrative” demolitions of homes and other structures, on the ground that they lacked Israeli-issued building permits.

According to Al-Haq’s documentation since the beginning of 2018, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) have carried out a total of 102 administrative demolitions of various structures in occupied East Jerusalem throughout the year, including the unlawful destruction of 48 residential houses, under the pretext that they lack Israeli-approved building permits. As a result of such demolitions, Israel has displaced 158 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including 78 children, since the beginning of the year.[6] Critically, Al-Haq’s field documentation shows that between 2016 and 2018, 787 Palestinians in East Jerusalem were displaced as a result of administrative and punitive demolitions carried out by the Israeli occupying authorities.

Al-Haq Field Documentation on Demolitions in East Jerusalem 2016-2018

Year

Administrative House Demolitions (lack of Israeli-issued permits)

Punitive House Demolitions

Palestinians Displaced

2016

124

7

402

2017

73

1

227

2018

102

0

158

Total

299

8

787

 

As an addition to Israel’s discriminatory planning and zoning, the construction of the Annexation Wall in and around occupied East Jerusalem since 2003 has carved out entire Palestinian neighbourhoods and isolated them behind the Wall, but within the Israeli-defined municipal boundaries of Jerusalem.[7] One of these areas is Shu’fat Refugee Camp.[8] Established in 1965, Shu’fat Refugee Camp is home to 26,000 Palestinians, of which 19,000 are refugees officially registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).[9] The illegal Israeli settlement of Pisgat Ze’ev is located to the north of the camp, and residents of the camp have to cross the crowded Shu’fat Camp checkpoint every time they enter and exit the Camp. Although located within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, the residents of the Camp are mostly excluded from accessing basic municipal services, with the exception of water and electricity services. Other basic services, including healthcare, education, and sanitation are solely administered by UNRWA.

21 November 2018: Mass Demolitions in Shu’fat Refugee Camp

On Wednesday, 21 November 2018, large numbers of the IOF raided Shu’fat Refugee Camp, equipped with several bulldozers and trucks and guarded by surveillance helicopters, and proceeded with demolishing commercial stores and buildings located at Ras Khamis main road, which leads to the entrance of the Camp. The demolition operation lasted for three consecutive days, ending on Saturday, 24 November, and resulting in the unlawful destruction of 18 commercial stores and three fuel stations on the grounds that they lacked building permits. As a result of the mass demolitions, the livelihoods of hundreds of Palestinian residents of the Camp have been affected.

According to Al-Haq’s documentation, the IOF closed off the entire area surrounding the location of the demolitions to prevent residents from approaching the scene. According to the owners of the affected businesses,[10] they were never personally handed any demolition orders or notices prior to the demolition. The residents affected reported to Al-Haq that officials from the Jerusalem Municipality stuck the demolition notices to the shops’ doors at around 10:00 pm the night before the demolition operation began, noting that the notices were written in Hebrew. According to the head of the Camp’s Popular Committee, Mahmoud Al-Sheikh, this was the largest demolition operation carried out by the Israeli occupying authorities in Shu’fat refugee camp since 2003.

Mass demolitions in Shu’fat refugee camp, taken on 21 November 2018 – Al-Haq © 2018.

All 21 of the demolished stores and stations were built out of brick, or both brick and stone. The demolitions resulted in large economic losses for the affected families, including the loss of their place of business, the loss of their main source of income, and the material loss resulting from the destruction of the property, as business owners were not given sufficient time to empty their belongings from inside the property. Al-Haq attempted to reach many of the owners of the demolished buildings, but they were reluctant to give out personal information, fearing potential economic harassment by the Israeli authorities. Indeed, Palestinian owners of demolished structures are often targeted and harassed following the demolition, as they are frequently ordered by the Israeli authorities to pay for the costs associated with the demolition.

One of the demolished businesses is a hair salon owned by a Shu’fat Refugee Camp resident, who spoke to Al-Haq about the conditions under which the demolition took place, as well as the financial hardships she endured as a result of the demolition:“I was in my house in Shu'fat Refugee Camp when I heard from my neighbours that members of the Jerusalem Municipality, accompanied by a number of Border Police officers wearing green uniforms, as well as members of the Israeli Police in blue uniforms began to demolish my shop. I looked outside my window where I could see them. I saw the IOF bulldozers demolishing my shop as well as other shops around it. On the previous night, at about 10:00 pm, Jerusalem Municipality officials left demolition notices on my shop’s door and the doors of other shops around it, raided the Camp at 6:00 am the next morning, and proceeded to carry out the demolitions. I was able to take out a lot of my things from the salon, but I could not take out the woodwork used for decoration, which was expensive. All furniture and wooden decorations were demolished. I used to pay a monthly rent of 2,000 Shekels, and now I rent a different store for 2,500 Shekels… I had to pay 16,000 Shekels to equip the new salon, repair the bathroom, paint the walls, and make new decorations. I am a mother of six, one of whom is a university student…”[11]

Mass demolitions in Shu’fat refugee camp, taken on 21 November 2018 – Al-Haq © 2018.

In light of the recent termination of US funding for UNRWA, the mass demolitions and the targeting of Shu’fat Refugee Camp cannot be seen in isolation of the gradual campaign by Israel and the US to terminate the Palestinian refugee question, without a just and lasting solution to their plight, and to delegitimize the role UNRWA has played for the past seven decades. Such attempts are part of a systematic attempt to “wish away”[12] the rights of Palestinian refugees under international law, notably to return to their homes and property. Mr. Khader Al-Dibs, the media spokesperson for the Popular Committee of Shu’fat Refugee Camp told Al-Haq that the Camp’s residents:

“reject the flagrant violation by the Municipality… the demolitions are in conjunction with attempts to terminate the role of UNRWA after President Trump withheld his country’s funding to the agency… This is also an attempt to end the refugee issue, undermine Palestinians’ right of return, and eradicate the only refugee camp in occupied East Jerusalem, especially since the former mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat has announced his intention to eliminate UNRWA’s role after President Trump announced the withdrawal of his country’s funding.”[13]

The demolition of Palestinian homes, structures, and infrastructure under the practice of ‘administrative’ demolitions violates Israel’s duties as Occupying Power in the OPT, comprising the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the occupied Gaza Strip. Unless justified by military necessity, both the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibit the destruction of property.[14] Critically, extensive destruction of property carried out unlawfully and wantonly constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention[15] and may amount to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC),[16] giving rise to individual criminal responsibility. Notably, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor has listed demolitions by the Israeli authorities of Palestinian property in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as an allegation under consideration by her office in her 2018 report on preliminary examination activities.[17] In her report dated 5 December 2018, the ICC Prosecutor concluded that she “intends to complete the preliminary examination [into the situation in Palestine] as early as possible.”[18]Israel’s ongoing practice of administrative demolitions is in keeping with its systematic policy of forcibly transferring Palestinians from Jerusalem. In addition to the unlawful destruction of property, which has left thousands of East Jerusalem residents homeless over the past few years, Israeli policies have contributed to the creation of coercive environments and unbearable living conditions for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, forcing many to leave. Israel’s ongoing policies of house demolitions, including punitive demolitions, residency revocations, including punitive revocations, settlement construction and expansion in East Jerusalem and in its eastern periphery, along with the Annexation Wall, have resulted in the direct and indirect transfer of Palestinians from Jerusalem. Forcible transfer falls within the ICC’s competence and may amount to a war crime and even a crime against humanity, entailing individual criminal responsibility.[19]The coercive environment created as a result of Israel’s policies and practices are intended to force Palestinian East Jerusalem residents to leave their homes and businesses. Given the coercive nature of such transfers, decisions to relocate cannot be considered an exercise of genuine choice. Accordingly, Israel is in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which strictly prohibits the forcible transfer of protected persons not justified by military necessity. Israel’s wide policy of permanent annexation of occupied East Jerusalem and the forcible transfer of Palestinians from the city may further amount to the crime of persecution of Jerusalem’s indigenous Palestinians.[20]

[1] Over the years, Israel has put in place various plans to alter the demographic composition of Jerusalem, including the target for 2020 set by the Israeli municipal authorities to achieve a 60 per cent  Israeli-Jewish demographic majority as opposed to a 40 per cent minority of Palestinians. This master plan for Jerusalem has been deposited by the district commission and adopted by the district master plan.

[2] Al-Haq, “Living Under Israeli Policies of Colonization in Jerusalem” (4 February 2017), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/topics/wall-and-jerusalem/1099-living-under-israeli-policies-of-colonization-in-jerusalem. Also see infographic on living under policies of colonialism in Jerusalem, available at: http://www.alhaq.org/publications/papers/living-under-policies-of-occupation_Infographic_English.pdf.

[3] OCHA, “High numbers of Demolitions: the ongoing threats of demolition for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem” (15 January 2018), available at: https://www.ochaopt.org/content/high-numbers-demolitions-ongoing-threats-demolition-palestinian-residents-east-jerusalem. Also see infographic on administrative and punitive house demolitions in East Jerusalem, available at: http://www.alhaq.org/images/thumbnails/images/stories/Images/Infographic%20Home%20Demolitions.pdf.

[4] Norwegian Refugee Council, “Legal Memo – Applying for a Building Permit in East Jerusalem(2017), available at: https://www.nrc.no/globalassets/pdf/legal-opinions/application_4_building_permit_memo.pdf.

[5] See Al-Haq, Settling Area C: the Jordan Valley Exposed(2018), available at: http://www.alhaq.org/publications/publications-index/item/settling-area-c-the-jordan-valley-exposedcategoryid10?category_id=7.

[6] Figures as of 8 December 2018

[7] As noted by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Construction of a Wall in the OPT, “[t]he works deviate more than 7.5 kilometres from the Green Line in certain places … In the case of Jerusalem, the existing works and the planned route lie well beyond the Green Line and even in some cases beyond the eastern municipal boundary of Jerusalem as fixed by Israel.” See Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 2004, p. 136, para. 83.

[8] For more information on the construction of the Annexation Wall, see Al-Haq, The Jerusalem Trap (2010), pp. 18-21, available at: http://www.alhaq.org/publications/publications-index/item/the-jerusalem-trap.

[9] The numbers listed here are obtained through field information collected by Al-Haq in November 2018 from the head of the Popular Committee at Shu’fat Refugee Camp, Mahmoud Al-Sheikh. The Shu’fat refugee camp profile published by UNRWA, however, indicates that the total number of the camp’s residents is 24,000, of whom approximately 12,500 are registered with the Agency. This information is available at: https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/west-bank/shufat-camp.

[10] According to Al-Haq’s documentation, most of the demolished structures are rented by the business owners from the original property owners.

[11] Field information collected by Al-Haq in December 2018.

[12] UNRWA, “Open Letter from UNRWA Commissioner-General to Palestine Refugees and UNRWA Staff” (1 September 2018), available at: https://www.unrwa.org/newsroom/official-statements/open-letter-unrwa-commissioner-general-palestine-refugees-and-unrwa.

[13] Field information collected by Al-Haq in December 2018. Al-Haq notes that Qalandia Refugee Camp is another refugee camp located in East Jerusalem, if only in part as some areas of the Camp area classified as Area C of the occupied West Bank. This makes Shu’fat Refugee Camp the only refugee camp to be entirely located in East Jerusalem and subject to the jurisdiction of the Israeli municipality, given that the camp is located within the Israeli-defined municipal boundaries of Jerusalem. Shu’fat Refugee Camp is also one of the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods located behind the Annexation Wall and targeted as part of Israel’s overall campaign to shut down UNRWA activities in the OPT. Notably, on 4 October 2018, Israel’s Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat stated on Twitter that Trump’s decision created an “opportunity” to terminate the work of UNRWA in Jerusalem. A day later, Barkat announced that he had developed a plan to end the work of UNRWA in Jerusalem. See Haaretz Israel Closing UNRWA in East Jerusalem: Assuming Responsibility or a Political Move? (2018), available at: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-who-s-responsible-when-east-jerusalem-s-unrwa-gets-shut-down-1.6532468.

[14] Article 53, Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).

[15] Article 147, Fourth Geneva Convention (1949).

[16] Article 8(2)(a)(iv), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998).

[17] ICC Office of the Prosecutor, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2018 (5 December 2018), paras. 270-271.

[18] ICC Office of the Prosecutor, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2018 (5 December 2018), para. 284.

[19] Articles 7(1)(d) and 8(2)(a)(vii), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998).

[20] Articles 7(1)(h), Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998).

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