Palestinians in East Jerusalem: between fear of a deadly virus and a violent occupation

Among the measures Israel has implemented are those which oblige a Palestinian to prove that the city is “the centre of life” for them to retain their residency. Lawyers have described this policy as a violation of international law, causing “the institutionalisation of statelessness and forced displacement of Palestinians from East Jerusalem.” Another law provides that any “breach of loyalty” by an individual or a family member can see residency withdrawn, and there is also a ban on family reunification. Thousands of Palestinian families where one spouse is an Israeli citizen and the other is a resident of the Occupied Territories have been affected by the law, forced to split apart, move abroad, or live in Israel in fear of constant deportation.

Any casual visitor over the last two decades will have remarked the huge transformation of the historic narrow streets of the Old City where Israeli flags, armed settlers, and a military presence have escalated. It is the same in formerly Palestinian districts outside the Old City, such as Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, where Palestinian homes have been demolished, or Israeli settlers have simply moved in and taken over all or part of a house owned by a Palestinian family for generations.

Since the US announcement in December 2017 to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Palestinians living in the city have faced escalating threats to their future. New laws passed in 2018 threaten further ethnic cleansing. The first expanded the reach of the “breach of loyalty” grounds for the Minister of Interior to revoke the residency rights of any Palestinian in Jerusalem. A second saw the ban on family unification – introduced as an emergency regulation in 2003 following the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 – renewed for the 15th year and made a permanent law.

Hanan Ashrawi, a leading PLO official, commented, “By unethically stripping the residency of Palestinians from Jerusalem and depriving the rights of those Palestinians to remain in their own city, the Israeli government is acting in defiance of international law and is violating international human rights and humanitarian laws.” Her views were echoed in a chorus of outrage by numerous lawyers and international human rights groups. Human Rights Watch noted, “entrenched discrimination against Palestinians in Jerusalem, including residency policies that imperil their legal status, feeds the alienation of the city’s residents.”

Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, spoke too of the acute anxiety among many of her neighbouring families of the Coronavirus threat for their relatives in Israeli prisons. Rumours of infections in various prisons race through social media, no visits are allowed, no reliable information is released: “One hundred prisoners at Al-Moscobiyeh Prison in Jerusalem and 19 others at Ashkelon Prison have already been forced into isolation after coming into contact with someone suspected of having the illness. Prisoners in Ashkelon are reported to be in isolation after one was in contact with an Israeli physician who had tested positive for the virus five days earlier. Worryingly, reports have also noted that prison guards have searched cells routinely without wearing protective gloves and face masks.” How many Coronavirus deaths will be counted in these prisons full of men, women and children?

A group of Israeli, Palestinian and International NGOs, including Oxfam and the London-based Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights, released a strong statement on Israel’s legal responsibilities to Palestinians in the current Coronavirus crisis over the weekend: “Article 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically provides that an occupier has the duty of ensuring and maintaining the ‘adoption and application of the prophylactic and preventive measures necessary to combat the spread of contagious diseases and epidemics’. We already know that that there is an alarming lack of equipment, including personal protective equipment, consistent with local shortages and compounded by the long-term restrictions imposed by the blockade, as well as insufficient numbers of trained healthcare workers in both Gaza and the West Bank. In addition to its own citizens and residents, Israel must also fulfil its duty to all protected persons living under its effective control, including in Gaza, and take active steps to ensure that they have adequate access to medical care.”

Which governments will now respond to this challenge by publicly putting pressure on Israel to abide by international law and fullfil their responsibilities to Palestinians on this dramatic health issue? The US actions over the last two and a half years have encouraged the Israeli government policy of sweeping measures towards the destruction of Palestinian society in Jerusalem. As with the inhumane measures relentlessly squeezing Gaza, the international community has chosen impotence, although around the world civil society has become ever more vocal in support of Palestinian voices revealing ugly and complex realities of injustice which can no longer be ignored.

The Israeli media had two stories over the weekend which serve to highlight the value system in the grotesque power imbalance in the world: Israeli news channel 13 reported that bodies of Jews from around the world are being flown to Israel to be buried, while Palestinians live under unbearable fears; while Haaretz Hebrew edition reported that Hamas in Gaza will be “allowed” to receive much needed respiratory machines, only if they reveal information about disappeared Israelis.

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» Palestinians in East Jerusalem: between fear of a deadly virus and a violent occupation | Victoria Brittain | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/04/16/palestinians-in-east-jerusalem-between-fear-of-a-deadly-virus-and-a-violent-occupation/ | 2022-05-29T11:04:05+00:00
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