NGO: Israel Forcing Arabs Out of East J'lem

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions presents UN with findings, demands inquiry; says Israel targets Palestinians by demolishing homes, revoking residency, eroding quality of life.

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Israel was forcing Palestinians out of East Jerusalem as part of a deliberate policy that might constitute a war crime, a prominent Israeli non-governmental organization said yesterday.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has presented the United Nations with its findings and demanded an inquiry, saying Israel has targeted Palestinians by demolishing homes, revoking residency and eroding quality of life.

"We are witnessing a process of ethnic displacement," said attorney Michael Sfard, who helped draw up the 73-page report on the issue. "Israel is manifestly and seriously violating international law... and the motivation is demographic."

There was no immediate comment from Israeli authorities on the report other than a statement from the Jerusalem mayor's office that said that while East Jerusalem had suffered from a lack of investment in the past, that had now changed.

"Jerusalem, under the leadership of Mayor Nir Barkat, has invested an unprecedented amount of resources and efforts to improve the quality of life of Muslim residents of Jerusalem after decades of neglect by previous administrations," the statement said.

There are some 300,000 Palestinians residents in East Jerusalem, representing about 35 percent of the city's total population, but ICAHD said that since Israel took control of largely Arab areas, it had systematically prevented their development.

ICAHD said it was virtually impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits to house their growing families. "They have no other option than to leave East Jerusalem, build illegally or live in appalling, cramped conditions," said Emily Schaeffer, who authored the report.

Those who leave lose residency rights if they are gone for seven or more years, and cannot return. Some 14,000 Palestinians lost their residency between 1967 and 2010, with half of those revocations taking place after 2006, ICAHD said.

Israel has demolished more than 2,000 homes in East Jerusalem since 1967, with 771 being pulled down between 2000-2011. A further 1,500 demolition orders are pending execution.

"Palestinians will de facto be deported from East Jerusalem, not by using guns or trucks, but by not allowing them to live a decent, normal life," Sfard said.

Because the annexation of East Jerusalem was not recognized, Palestinians living there should be considered as a people under occupation, ICAHD said. As such, Israel had no right to strip them of residency or demolish their homes.

"There is a suspicion that a war crime is taking place and that is why an investigation should take place," Sfard said.



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