Legal expert warns of “ethnic cleansing” in Jerusalem

A Palestinian man walks past an Israeli riot police officer in Silwan, occupied East Jerusalem. (Anne Paq/ActiveStills)

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - “If the regime that encourages incitement, racism and anti-democracy is not toppled soon, we will find that the future is already here,” says Israeli columnist Sefi Rachlevsky in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

He adds “If there is one country in the world that should have heeded the commandment ‘Thou shall not fall into the chasm of anti-democratic racism,’ it is Israel. But the regime threatens to turn Israel into a rising anti-democratic power after all.”

Rachlevsky’s remarks come in the wake of an accusation by Richard Falk — an investigator with the UN Human Rights Council and an American professor emeritus of international law — that Israel is carrying out a form of ethnic cleansing against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem.

Falk was addressing the council on Monday as it prepared to pass a resolution condemning settlement building in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

“The continued pattern of settlement expansion in East Jerusalem combined with the forcible eviction of long-residing Palestinians is creating an intolerable situation in the part of the city previously controlled by Jordan,” Falk said.

“This situation can only be described in its cumulative impact as a form of ethnic cleansing,” he added.

Falk has requested that the council ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague to investigate Israel’s actions in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel has refused to deal with him and refused him entry to the country on several occasions despite him being Jewish.

Falk’s remarks in fact confirmed what human rights organizations have long accused Israel of: “Judaizing” occupied East Jerusalem by making it almost impossible for Palestinians to get building permits despite a chronic housing shortage.

Simultaneously, the Jerusalem municipality has actively encouraged the illegal settlement of Israeli settlers in the area while carrying out a wave of home demolitions which have left hundreds of Palestinians homeless.

Figures released by the United Nations show a two-fold increase in the number of Palestinian homes and agricultural buildings destroyed by Israel during this year, causing concern among officials.

The UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) recorded 70 demolitions since the start of 2011, displacing 105 Palestinians, of whom 43 were under the age of 18. The demolitions were carried out across the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and ordered by Israeli police, municipal officials and Israel’s civil administration.

While Jerusalem municipality has been adamant about destroying Palestinian homes and evicting Palestinians, illegal Jewish construction has largely been ignored.

In 2008, the Israeli high court ordered a group of settlers to vacate the apartment building Beit Yonatan, named after convicted American spy Jonathan Pollard who was jailed in 1987 for passing classified information on the US to Israel. The building is located in occupied East Jerusalem. But Jerusalem municipal authorities have so far refused to enforce the court order.

Towards the end of last year 25 European consuls based in Jerusalem and Ramallah called for strong action against Israeli policy in the eastern sector of Jerusalem.

Israel has extended its discriminatory policy to the rest of the Palestinian West Bank where almost sixty percent of the occupied Palestinian territory falls under complete control of the Israeli civil administration.

“Parallels between Israeli and Palestinian construction in the West Bank can’t be drawn. All Israeli settlement in the West Bank is illegal under international law. Settlers are positively discriminated against when it comes to illegal construction. Palestinians should have the right to build and grow but Israel is using its illegal construction policy as a political tool to restrict the Palestinians,” Sarit Michaeli from Israeli rights group B’Tselem told IPS.

Palestinians also face discrimination in almost every other aspect of life in occupied East Jerusalem with one of the most important sectors being education.

More than 5,000 Palestinian children in occupied East Jerusalem do not attend school at all. The drop-out rate for Palestinian school students in occupied East Jerusalem is 50 percent, compared with less than 12 percent for Jewish students.

“The rate of school drop-outs and the level of poverty in East Jerusalem amongst Palestinians is frightening,” Orly Noy from Israeli rights group Ir Amim told IPS.

“The severe neglect of the education system in East Jerusalem is brewing a catastrophe,” added Tali Nir, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

Israel’s Education Law requires the state to provide education equally to all residents of the city.

However, the Israeli government spent an average of 2,300 New Israeli Shekels (NIS), or approximately US $604, on each Jewish child in elementary school during the year 2008-2009. In contrast, no more than 577 shekels ($151 dollars) were spent on each Palestinian child.

Palestinians who have lived in occupied East Jerusalem for generations can also easily lose their residency.

Israeli Interior Ministry regulations provide for the abrogation of the rights of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who leave the city for a period of more than seven years. Citizens of Israel can leave the country for any length of time, and their citizenship and all their rights are theirs in perpetuity.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Palestinian member of the Knesset (Israeli parliament) Jamal Zahalka argued with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu over several new discriminatory laws.

The first law withholds funds from any Palestinian town within Israel which honors the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were either expelled by Israeli forces or fled during the war which saw the creation of Israel in 1948.

The second bill, alleged to target Israel’s minority Palestinian population, allows admission committees to review potential residents of Negev and Galilee communities that have fewer than 400 families “to maintain their cultural identity.”

Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, told IPS, “There were approximately ten laws passed during 2010 which discriminated against the Arab minority.”

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