ON JULY 9th, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued an Advisory Opinion on the wall Israel had started building in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem that deemed the wall as illegal and called on Israel to dismantle it and pay reparations to Palestinians affected by it.
Yet, exactly 15 years since then, dozens of Palestinians families are set to soon pay a very heavy price as a result of the construction of a section of that wall in their neighbourhood and on their land.
These Palestinians are residents of Sur Baher, a Palestinian neighbourhood southeast of occupied East Jerusalem with a population of around 24,000.
On 11th June, the Israeli High Court dismissed a petition that had been filed by some residents of Sur Baher in 2017 against a demolition order of their homes located near the wall Israel had built on their land and that has divided their neighbourhood into sections that fall under the jurisdiction of the city of Jerusalem and others outside it and classified as Area A, B and C, as defined by the Oslo Accords in which the Palestinian Authority has administrative rights over Area A and B, while C is under full Israeli rule.
A week later on 18th June, Israeli forces sent residents a ‘Notice of Intent to Demolish’ with a 30-day notice, which will expire on 18th July. The ruling affects 10 inhabited or under-construction buildings, comprising some 70 apartments, all but one of which are located on the ‘Jerusalem’ side of the barrier. If executed, the demolitions would displace three households, comprising 17 people, including nine children, and would otherwise affect an estimated 350 people. Two of the three households at risk of displacement, comprising nine people, are Palestine refugees.
Residents have reported that Israeli forces have visited the area on at least four occasions since the ruling, signalling that the demolition of one or more of the targeted buildings is imminent. Additionally, residents fear a heightened risk of demolition of some 100 buildings that were built after a 2011 Israeli military order which designated a buffer zone of 100-300 metres on both sides of the Barrier in Sur Baher where construction is prohibited.
According to a report by The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, most of Sur Baher is located within the unilaterally-annexed East Jerusalem municipal area. However, some 4,000 dunums of land were located in Area A, B and C, as designated under the Oslo Accords. Uniquely, the barrier has been routed around Sur Baher so that parts of Area A, B and C fall on the ‘Jerusalem’ side where some 6,000 people, or a quarter of the population, currently live.
Despite this, these areas have not been incorporated within the municipal boundary, although they are now physically separated from the remainder of the West Bank. In practice, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is unable to access or deliver services to Area A and B in Sur Baher, although they still issue building permits in these areas, as they have been authorised to do under the Oslo Accords.
There has been significant construction in Area A, B and C in Sur Baher since the construction of the barrier in 2005. This is as a result of population growth, planning and zoning restrictions applied in the municipal area of Sur Baher, and the difficulties which Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem experience in obtaining building permits from the Jerusalem municipality.
Over the past 14 years, dozens of these structures have been issued with demolition orders by the Israeli authorities, mainly on the grounds of lacking building permits in Area C. However, these have also included structures in Area A and B that were granted the requisite construction permits by the Palestinian Authority.
Since 2009, the Israeli authorities have demolished, or forced owners to demolish, 69 structures in Sur Baher, on the grounds of the lack of building permits, of which 46 were inhabited or under-construction homes, said OCHA. This has resulted in the displacement of 30 households; in total, some 400 people have been displaced or otherwise affected by demolitions, half of whom were children under 18 years of age. The structures were generally located within the Israeli-defined East Jerusalem boundary, with the exception of three structures in Area A and two in Area C.
The difficulty of constructing homes for Palestinian residents has been compounded since 2011 by the issuing of a military buffer zone of 100-300 metres on both sides of the barrier in Sur Baher where construction is prohibited.
This includes Area A and B, even if the requisite permits have been issued by the PA. The reason given was security: The barrier in the Sur Baher area consists of fences, an electronic monitoring system, and a patrol road, rather than the 8-metre-high concrete slab wall which characterises the barrier around most of East Jerusalem.
The buffer zone includes more than 200 buildings, of which about 100 were built after the 2011 military order, according to local sources.
In its 2004 Advisory Opinion, the International Court of Justice established that the sections of the barrier which run inside the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, together with the associated gate and permit regime, cannot be justified by military exigencies and thus violates Israel’s obligations under international law.
It called on Israel to: Cease construction of the barrier ‘including in and around East Jerusalem’; dismantle the sections already completed; ‘make reparations’ for the ‘requisition and destruction of homes, businesses and agricultural holdings’ and ‘to return the land, orchards, olive groves, and other immovable property seized’.
The ICJ also called on member states ‘not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem’.
UN General Assembly Resolution ES-10/15, of 20th July 2004, demanded that Israel comply with its legal obligations as stated in the ICJ advisory opinion.
- In the wake of the Israeli occupation forces’ illegal eviction of the Siyam family from its home in occupied Jerusalem’s Silwan neighbourhood following a court ruling in favour of the extreme settler organisation ‘Elad’, Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi accused Israel’s judiciary of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
‘The forced eviction of the Siyam family from their home this Wednesday in Silwan is an unconscionable crime. It is part of a comprehensive and systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in occupied Jerusalem that includes the illegal confiscation and demolition of homes, terrorising Jerusalemites, including the ongoing campaign of harassment against residents of Esawiyeh, as well as policies of economic strangulation,’ said Ashrawi in a statement.
‘Adding insult to injury, Israel is now ordering the demolition of homes built with permits in Sur Baher in order to clear the land next to the Wall it is illegally building in the neighbourhood. All these criminal acts aim to engineer a new demographic and ethnic reality that serves the Israeli colonial project,’ she charged.
The PLO official said that ‘the undeniable complicity of Israel’s judicial system in the illegal confiscation and demolition of Palestinian homes is equally reprehensible. Israel’s judicial system is part of the system of oppression and dispossession, designed to provide the façade of legal cover for crimes and violations against the Palestinian people’.
Ashrawi stated: ‘These escalating egregious and racist practices are flagrant violations of international law, including international humanitarian law.
‘They persist due to the lack of accountability Israel has enjoyed thus far due to international inaction. In this regard, we call on international actors, especially responsible United Nations Security Council members, to uphold their responsibilities under the UN Charter and protect the relevance and integrity of the system they have been trusted to lead.
‘For its part, the Palestinian leadership will continue to pursue all available legal and diplomatic courses of action to protect the rights and lives of the Palestinian people as well as ensure that Israel is held accountable for its crimes,’ Ashrawi