Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Israel, the Red Cross and East Jerusalem

Steven Erlanger:

The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a confidential report about East Jerusalem and its surrounding areas, accuses Israel of a “general disregard” for “its obligations under international humanitarian law — and the law of occupation in particular.”

The committee, which does not accept Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, says Israel is using its rights as an occupying power under international law “in order to further its own interests or those of its own population to the detriment of the population of the occupied territory.”

With the construction of the separation barrier, the establishment of an outer ring of Jewish settlements beyond the expanded municipal boundaries and the creation of a dense road network linking the different Israeli neighborhoods and settlements in and outside Jerusalem, the report says, Israel is “reshaping the development of the Jerusalem metropolitan area” with “far-reaching humanitarian consequences.” Those include the increasing isolation of Palestinians living in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and the increasing difficulty for some Palestinians to easily reach Jerusalem’s schools and hospitals.

The Red Cross committee, which is recognized as a guardian of humanitarian law under the Geneva Conventions of 1949, does not publish its reports but provides them in confidence to the parties involved and to a small number of countries. This report was provided to The New York Times by someone outside the organization who wanted the report’s conclusions publicized. The leak came just days before Israel’s celebration of Jerusalem Day this Wednesday, observing the 40th anniversary of the unification of the city.

Apparently, things are not going well for Palestinians in East Jerusalem:

Security restrictions and the barrier that runs around and through parts of East Jerusalem were Israel’s response to suicide bombings after 2000, but they made it much more difficult for Palestinians to move into and out of Jerusalem.

It is virtually impossible for Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza to move to Jerusalem if they were not born in the city; even visiting requires a permit that can be hard to get. Natural population growth and building restrictions in Arab parts of the city means that large families often share very small apartments.

Palestinians argue that the building restrictions are meant to suppress the growth of the their community; the Israelis counter that zoning restrictions are imposed throughout the city.

The Red Cross report notes that the separation barrier “was undertaken with an undeniable security aim,” but adds, “The route of the West Bank barrier is also following a demographic logic, enclosing the settlement blocs around the city while excluding built-up Palestinian areas (thus creating isolated Palestinian enclaves).”

Mustafa Barghouti, spokesman for the Palestinian unity government, welcomed the report, calling it consistent with the rulings of the International Court of Justice, which said in a nonbinding opinion in 2004 that Israel’s security barrier was illegal where it crossed the 1967 lines into occupied territory. “Israel violates international law with impunity, and couldn’t continue this blunt violation for 40 years if it did not feel impunity toward the international community,” Mr. Barghouti said.

Israel Jerusalem policy condemned

The divided city

City of Everlasting Strife


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