Eighty-one members of the British parliament have called on their foreign secretary to put pressure on Israel to stop the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem by settler organizations.
This comes ahead of a planned February 9 court hearing in ongoing cases regarding the eviction of four families in the city's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
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“Diplomatic words of concern are insufficient” given the huge scale of planned disposession, the parliamentarians wrote in a letter to Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
In the letter, they ask the British government to make it clear to the Israeli government that the move would have consequences for the countries’ bilateral relations and that all options must be considered in the event the evictions take place. Among the letter’s signatories are lawmakers from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.
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In recent months, Israeli courts have forced Palestinian families to leave their homes in favor of settler organizations, among others Ateret Cohanim. Most of the evictions are based on claims that the Palestinians are living in buildings or on land that was owned by Jews before the state was founded in 1948. Many of the families are refugees or descendants refugees who were removed from their homes in 1948 and prevented from recovering their property by Israel’s Absentees’ Property Law.
The Jerusalem District Court is scheduled to hear an appeal Tuesday by four families from Sheikh Jarrah, filed after a magistrate’s court ruled that they must leave their home. The family consists of 27 people, nine of them children. If the court upholds the verdict, it could affect dozens more Palestinians who face eviction in similar circumstances.
In their letter, the MPs wrote that the eviction is a grave violation of international law and that Britain has a duty to take action to prevent it. The district court’s ruling, they wrote, could have catastrophic consequences for the lives of many people. But this is a political, rather than legal issue at heart, they wrote. “Israeli settlers as well as government and municipality officials speak openly about wishing to control the demographics of the city [Jerusalem]. Any actions by the occupying power to alter Jerusalem’s character, status or demographic composition are illegal under international law.”
The letter ends by calling on the British government to make it clear to Israel that relations between the countries would be severely affected if the evictions go ahead, suggesting consequences that include “reducing diplomatic engagement and banning trade in settlement products.”