August 20, 2017

Israel under fire over ‘two-tiered’ policies

Reshaping demographics. Israeli border police check Palestinians’ identification cards at a checkpoint as they exit the Arab neighbourhood of Issawiyeh in Jerusalem. (AP)

London- Israel has come under fire over allegations that it is discrimi­nating against Palestinian resi­dents of East Jerusalem as well as its own Arab citizens inside the country’s internationally recog­nised borders.
Israel has been accused of main­taining a “two-tiered” residency policy in Jerusalem where the city’s Palestinian residents face forced evictions while Israeli citizens are transferred from other areas to populate it, moves that run contra­ry to international law.
“Israel’s revocations of the resi­dency status of thousands of Pal­estinians from East Jerusalem over the years illustrate the two-tiered system Israel maintains in the city,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.
HRW, citing Israeli Interior Minis­try figures, said Israel revoked the status of at least 14,595 Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem from 1967-2016.
“Israel claims to treat Jerusalem as a unified city, but the reality is ef­fectively one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director, said in a release.
Israel’s occupation of East Jeru­salem in 1967 and subsequent an­nexation were rejected by the in­ternational community. There are more than 300,000 Palestinians who have permanent residency sta­tus in the city.
“Residency revocations often ef­fectively force Palestinians from East Jerusalem, who are protected by virtue of Israel’s occupation un­der the Fourth Geneva Convention, to leave the territory they live in,” the HRW report said. “Deportation or forced transfers of any part of the population of an occupied territory could amount to war crimes.”
The rights group also criticised Israel’s attempt to change the pop­ulation make-up of the city. Since 1967, Israel has “transferred thou­sands of its own Jewish citizens to East Jerusalem, a war crime under international law,” HRW said.
The rights watchdog accused Is­rael of acting to make Palestinians a minority in Jerusalem by denying them house-building permits and demolishing structures built with­out Israeli approval. The United Na­tions estimated that approximately 90,000 Palestinians live in homes built in East Jerusalem without permits.
“Municipal planning documents have had the stated goal of ensur­ing that Palestinians are a minority in the city,” HRW said in May.
Israel has accused HRW of having an anti-Israel bias and of spreading pro-Palestinian propaganda.
“The issue has nothing to do with religion or ethnicity. Rather, the key distinction is whether the individual is an Israeli citizen or not,” wrote the pro-Israel website NGO-Monitor. “Many of the ‘dis­criminatory’ policies falsely alleged by… HRW actually result from the failure of [Palestinian residents in Jerusalem] to exercise their right to vote and elect municipal leaders who will implement their desired policy outcomes.”
In July, Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now reported that a Palestinian family was given an eviction order from their East Je­rusalem home, in which they had lived more than 50 years.
“This eviction is a part of a larger process the government is under­taking, of establishing settlements in Sheikh Jarrah,” Peace Now wrote on its website.
Israel has come under frequent criticism for its policies in occupied East Jerusalem.
“From the first days of the Is­raeli occupation of East Jerusalem, every effort was made to achieve this demographic dominance,” wrote Efrat Cohen-Bar in the pro- Palestinian website “Since then, for the past 50 years, urban planning in Jerusalem has been used as a tool in the service of maintaining demographic levels.”
Accusations levelled against Is­rael of changing the demographic profile of areas extend to Israel proper as well.
In an editorial on August 9, the Is­raeli daily Haaretz blasted the gov­ernment for evacuating and demol­ishing the homes of the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran to “make way for a new Jewish town called Hiran,” where only Orthodox Jews would be welcome.
“Israel has never ceased to dem­onstrate creativity when it comes to discriminating against Arab citizens of the state,” the editorial stated.
Separately, an Israeli court stripped an Israeli national of Pal­estinian origin of his citizenship — the first ruling of its kind — after he was convicted on four counts of attempted murder. Alla Zayud was sentenced to 25 years in jail for driv­ing a car into a group of Israeli sol­diers and stabbing civilians in 2015.
The decision to revoke Zayud’s nationality “would render him stateless, in violation of Israel’s obligations under international human rights law,” Omar Shakir, HRW’s director for Israel and the Palestinian territories, told Agence France-Presse.
The revoking of citizenship was made possible by a 2008 Israeli law that grants courts such powers against people accused of “breach of loyalty.”
In his ruling, the judge cited “the significant and important commit­ment to maintain loyalty to the state, which is given expression also in the commitment to not carry out terror acts to harm its residents and their security.”
Palestinian and Israeli civil rights campaigners said they intended to appeal the court’s decision, arguing that it was against international law and was intended to be used only against the country’s Arab citizens.