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Israeli forces disrupt UNRWA chief’s farewell

Ma’an News

10 December 2009

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd with Refka al-Kurd

UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd with Refka al-Kurd

Israeli police ordered outgoing UNRWA Commissioner-General Karen AbuZayd to leave an East Jerusalem home on Thursday during her last official visit as the head of the relief agency.

Ma’an’s reporter on the scene said AbuZayd left after police gave her five minutes to evacuate the premises of the house of the Al-Kurd family, as a Palestinian woman yelled “We want our homes and our lands. We have no alternative.”

Amidst Israeli police and soldiers, AbuZayd visited Palestinians recently evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem on International Human Rights Day. She spoke of Jerusalem as a “City of Dispossession,”

“On this day, and in this place, I wish to remind the international community of the unfinished business in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere in the West Bank,” she said.

“The dispossessed, the displaced must see their losses acknowledged, their injustices addressed,” she added. “Peace is possible, but only if we insist on our universal humanity.”

Members of the Al-Kurd family, who are fighting a court battle to keep their home from being taken over by Israeli settlers, told her, “What are we to do? International Law should have helped us.” As she spoke, settler watched nearby.

During a news conference before entering the Al-Kurd house, AbuZayd said, “As a colleague of mine said, we have ‘failed with distinction’ … I am leaving reluctantly, at a time of greater political uncertainty than at any time I’ve been here in nine years and at a greater time of economic and financial difficulties.”

“While the international community is committed to the goal of establishing two states, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, it is difficult to imagine how that outcome can be achieved in light of the systematic settlement activity and violations of basic human rights currently afflicting the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem.

“The impact of this urban settlement activity being conducted with seeming impunity is manifold and acute,” AbuZayd continued. “The intimate juxtaposition of two cultures, such as exists in the building behind me, with its accompanying violence and tension, destroyed the communal atmosphere that has evolved over decades.”

UN condemnation of forced evictions

AbuZayd reaffirmed the UN’s condemnation of the ongoing Israeli policy of forced evictions of Palestinians and house demolitions. “The UN rejects Israel’s claims that these cases are a matter for municipal authorities and domestic courts. Such acts are in violation of Israel’s obligations under international law.”

“To date, four of the 28 families have lost their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, affecting over 55 people including 20 children. At present, a further eight families are under direct threat of forced eviction, having been served with orders to vacate their homes, potentialy affected another 120 people. In all incidents to date, settlers have taken over with the active protection and assistance of the Israeli authorities. But the numbers don’t speak to the human suffering and trauma that has been the unfortunate hallmark of these forced evictions.”

Plight of the Bedouin

During her final speech in Sheikh Jarrah, AbuZayd took the opportunity to speak of the ongoing displacement of the Bedouin across the West Bank. “On International Human Right day, I would also like to highlight the plight of one of the most disadvantaged groups in this region, the bedouins of the West Bank.”

“As the occupying power, Israel remains responsible for ensuring that the basic needs of the occupied population are met. But many refugee Bedouin and herding communities, originally displaced from their traditional lands in 1948, are now experiencing multiple counts of displacement from area C as they are forcibly moved 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. Administrative demolition, forced evictions, collapsing livelihoods, poverty and settler harassment represent the key triggers to displacement for area C herding communities today and they’re already stretched coping mechanism are now reaching their limits. They’re full rights must be respected as a matter of utmost urgency.”

Human Rights Day

“It is … fitting that on my last official visit to Jerusalem as UNRWA Commissioner General, and on International Human Rights Day, I should come to the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of the city, where the failure of the international community to fulfill the promises of the Universal Declaration is so acutely felt and where the pain and ugliness of dispossession and occupation are so tragically in evidence.”

Israeli army soldiers were also on the scene, the reporter added. The forces also dispersed journalists from the area. AbuZayd had the brief opportunity to speak with Maher Ghawi, another Jerusalemite affected by Israel’s forced eviction policy.

Full text of Karen AbuZayd’s speech can be found here.