The forced evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem by Israel are in contravention of international law, the head of the United Nations agency tasked with assisting millions of Palestinian refugees said today.
Karen AbuZayd, the Commissioner General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), visited the home of one of the Palestinian families who are being forced out of the neighbourhood, where four families – comprising dozens of people –have already lost their homes.
Currently, eight families, totalling 120 people, have been served with orders to vacate their homes.
Israeli settlers, with the active protection and assistance of Israeli authorities, have taken over the vacated homes.
“But these numbers don’t speak to the human suffering and trauma that has been the unfortunate hallmark of these forced evictions,” Ms. AbuZayd said on her last official visit to Jerusalem, coinciding with Human Rights Day.
In Sheikh Jarrah, she noted that the “failure of the international community to fulfil the promise of the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] is so acutely felt and where the pain and the ugliness of dispossession and occupation are so tragically in evidence.”
The UN, she said, rejects Israel’s claims that these cases are a private matter to be dealt with by municipal authorities and domestic courts.
“Such acts are in violations of Israel’s obligations under international law,” the Commissioner General underscored.
UNRWA, she said, calls on Israeli authorities to reinstate all Palestine refugee families that have been displaced or forcibly moved out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, and “asks that the dignity, rights and freedoms of these people be protected at all times.”
Israel’s willingness to support pre-1948 land claims in occupied East Jerusalem, while contesting pre-1948 Palestine refugee land claims in West Jerusalem and other areas, is “discriminatory,” Ms. AbuZayd emphasized.
In her address today, she also highlighted the plight of the Bedouins of the West Bank, whom she characterized as one of the most disadvantaged groups in the region.
Israel, as the occupying power, is responsible for ensuring that the occupied population’s needs are met, the Commissioner General said, but many Bedouin and herding communities originally uprooted in 1948 are being evicted from their homes.
“These groups are now sinking deeper into food insecurity and abject poverty as grazing land continues to shrink and access to natural resources is severely restricted by the occupying power,” she said. “Their full rights must be respected as a matter of utmost urgency.”
Yesterday, the UN and partner aid organizations issued a call for $664 million to respond to humanitarian needs in the occupied Palestinian territory, with the top humanitarian official in the region underscoring how Palestinians are becoming increasingly dependent on aid.
The funds are intended to support programmes targeting the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and parts of the West Bank where the barrier, Israeli settlements, access and planning restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities have impacted people’s livelihoods.
“Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory continue to face a crisis of human dignity,” said Maxwell Gaylard, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory.
“The continued erosion of livelihoods and the denial of basic human rights together are compelling Palestinians to become more and more dependent on international aid, he added, noting that humanitarian needs have increased, especially in the Gaza Strip, in the wake of the devastation wrought by Operation Cast Lead, launched by Israel in December 2008 in response to rocket attacks by militants in Gaza.