Mary Robinson | The Elders
2 September 2009
As our visit to the Middle East was ending, one of the most poignant encounters we had was with Maher Hanoun and his family in East Jerusalem. For several nights three generations of Hanouns have been sleeping in the street – the women and children in cars and the men encamped on the pavement. They were evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem on 2 August 2009 following an Israeli court ruling.
We brought the family food and drink for Iftar, a special time for Muslims during the month of Ramadan as it is the evening meal at which their daily fast is broken. The moment was rendered even more moving as we heard of the difficulties that the Hanouns have experienced since their eviction.
The family are refugees who have lived in their home in Sheik Jarrah since 1948. Now they have not only been evicted, but have watched Jewish families being shown the property and encouraged to move into a home that for generations they called their own.
These houses are situated in occupied East Jerusalem. The Palestinian families that lived in these buildings did so legally, and their presence is supported by international law. This is encapsulated in UN Security Council resolutions 446 and 478 which call upon Israel not to transfer members of its civilian population into occupied Arab territories or to change the character and status of Jerusalem.
To its discredit, the Israeli legal system – to which Palestinians have limited and unequal access – has been used by some settler groups to claim ownership of property purportedly belonging to Jews prior to 1948. The decisions taken by the Israeli courts have sustained the claims of settlers and offer Palestinians no recourse to reclaim their rights to lost land or property.
My fellow Elder Jimmy Carter was unambiguous in his statement that the eviction of Palestinians such as the Hanouns from East Jerusalem “is a political issue… It’s an attempt by Israel to take over East Jerusalem, which is part of Palestine”. I wholeheartedly agree, and was encouraged to know that several Israeli human rights groups and advocates also agree.
Such enforced evictions are utterly unacceptable; it is no exaggeration to state that this kind of action could be a serious obstacle to a successful negotiation of a two-state solution. The Hanoun family do not have fair and equal access to the Israeli legal system – nor are they the only ones to have been treated this way. The international community and all those in Israel and Palestine who believe in the importance of the rule of law should support their cause and speak out against this infringement of Palestinians’ fundamental human rights.