GENEVA - The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling on Israel to halt forced evictions of Palestinian refugee families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem, although Israel claims Palestinians are exploiting the potential evictions to spur unrest.
The U.N. agency says that, as the occupying power, Israel would be violating international humanitarian law if it carried out the threatened eviction of eight refugee families. The agency says it is urgent for Israel to meet its obligations, given confrontations occurring in Sheikh Jarrah.
Violent clashes between Palestinians protesting the threatened evictions and Israeli police have been escalating for weeks. Many people have been wounded, including six Israeli police officers. Two Palestinians reportedly were killed Friday.
The spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner, Rupert Colville, says east Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel, the occupying power, he says, cannot confiscate private property or impose its own set of laws in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.
“In practice, the implementation of these laws facilitates the transfer by Israel of its population into occupied east Jerusalem. The transfer of parts of an occupying power’s civilian population into the territory that it occupies is prohibited under international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime,” Colville said.
Israel has not immediately responded to the U.N. agency’s criticism of its policy and the violence that has ensued. However, an Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry tweet has accused the Palestinians of using the threatened evictions to incite violence.
It warned that the Palestinian Authority and “Palestinian terror groups will bear full responsibility for the violence emanating from their actions,” adding that, “The Israel Police will ensure public order is maintained.”
The United States has expressed concern about the heightened tensions in the region. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said it was “critical to avoid unilateral steps that would exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace. And that would include evictions, settlement activity and home demolitions.”
Colville said those are longstanding issues, which U.N. human rights officials have raised with Israel for many years.
“Unfortunately, it seems to fall on deaf ears. But these are really serious matters. As I said, we are talking about a potential war crime here. We are talking about a potentially grave breech of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These are not little things. These are very major, very major legal issues and they are ones that we continue to highlight year after year,” Colville said.
U.N. officials are urging Israel to respect protesters’ rights of freedom of expression and assembly and to exercise maximum restraint in the use of force, while ensuring safety and security in east Jerusalem.
Israeli’s Supreme Court is expected to rule Monday on whether to uphold the evictions in favor of Jewish settlers.