2 August 2009
Israeli security forces have forcibily evicted two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem after a court rejected an appeal against their eviction.
The al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun families who were evicted on Sunday have been living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood since 1956.
Israel has reportedly set aside the land their houses were built on for a planned hotel project.
The eviction comes amid international calls for Israel to halt settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land.
A large police force was involved in the operation in Sheikh Jarrah, one of the most sensitive and upmarket Arab neighbourhoods closest to the so-called Green Line which separates east and west Jerusalem.
Sherine Tadros, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in East Jerusalem, said: “According to the Hanoun family, the members that I have spoken to, at about 6am as they were sleeping inside the house, Israeli police officers broke in and we can see the shattered glass all over the floor outside.
“They say that the police were armed and they forcibly evicted both the international activists that were staying at the house and members of the family themselves.
“Members of the family say the police officers beat them with batons and children as young as six were man-handled … scuffles were seen and heard between the police and the two families trying to get back into their houses,” she said.
Tadros said the international activists were arrested and personal items belonging to the families such as cameras, laptops and computers have all been confiscated.
‘Blatant violation of law’
Residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, composed of 28 Palestinian families, held a press conference on May 6 in order to raise awareness regarding the Israeli District Court decision to issue an ultimatum to the al-Ghawi and al-Hanoun families giving them 10 days to evacuate their homes or face punitive measures, including forcible expulsion.
Maher Hanoun, one of 53 family members of the two families affected by the court decision said in a statement: “The al Ghawi and al Hanoun cases are part of an ongoing attempt by the two Jewish settler organisations to take over 28 housing units built in 1956 to house refugees and to turn it into a Jewish colony.
“Israel’s measures against the two families constitute blatant violations of international law including the 4th Geneva Convention that obligates the occupying authorities, Israel, to maintain the geographic and demographic characteristics of occupied East Jerusalem,” he said.
Hanoun appealed to the “international community, human rights organisations, and the EU to exert pressure on Israel to stop it from pursuing its plan to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem of its Palestinian population”.
In 1982, Israeli settler organisations began demanding rent from the Palestinian families of Sheikh Jarrah, who at that point had been living in the neighbourhood for almost 30 years – and when many of the families refused to pay this rent, the first eviction orders were issued.
The legal proceedings continued over the years, and in 2006 it was ruled by court that the settler organisations did not have rights to the land, and the Israeli land registration department agreed to revoke the settler associations’ ownership.
Despite pending appeals and the lack of legal ownership of land in the neighbourhood, the settler organisations sold their property claim in 2008 to an investment company that plans to demolish the 28 Palestinian homes and build 200 settlement units for new Jewish immigrants.
Settlements have emerged as a sticking point in relations between Israel and US [File: EPA] Further reports state that two additional construction plans being currently reviewed by the Jerusalem municipality would create an additional 150 housing units, for a total of 350 new housing units for Israelis, as well as a synagogue in Sheikh Jarrah.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian negotiator, said: “If the Israeli prime minister continues with settlement activities, he will undermine the efforts to revive the peace process.”
Although Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, recently yielded to US pressure to conditionally endorse the establishment of a Palestinian state, he has consistently resisted US demands for a total freeze on settlement expansion.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem and declared the whole city its capital after the 1967 Six Day War, a move not recognised by the international community.