6 June 2011
Sami Erschied is Palestinian and Daniel Seidemann Israeli. Both are lawyers defending the rights of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah – an area in East Jerusalem – and forcibly evicted from their homes by the Israeli authorities. Present at the seminar organised by ASF in Brussels for the launch of a Report on housing rights: the case of Sheikh Jarrah (pdf), Erschied and Seidemann are calling upon the European Union and the international community to intensify their pressure to end these illegal evictions and restore the respect of international law over East Jerusalem.
For the last three years, more than 60 Palestinians have been forcibly evicted in Sheikh Jarrah and, according to the United Nations, at least another 500 are at risk of dispossession and displacement. “These families are so-called city refugees. They were already expelled from their homes in 1948 from areas that are now in Israel and were resettled by the United Nations with the help of the Jordanian Government in Sheikh Jarrah in 1956”, explains Sami Erschied who has a law firm in Jerusalem and is representing the families before the Israeli courts. “However, legal title to these homes was never formally transferred to the families. And now, Committees of Jewish settlers are claiming ownership pre-dating 1948”.
The evictions generally occur without reasonable notice, very quickly – often within minutes -, and in presence of Israeli police forces in massive numbers to avoid any resistance from the people being evicted. As a result, Palestinian families are left homeless and without assistance from the authorities.
“Technically, we can bring the cases of these evicted families in front of the Israeli Courts but in fact, the core legal principles are being denied to my clients”, says Erschied (picture left). Daniel Seidemann (picture right), human rights lawyer and founder of an Israeli non-governmental organization promoting an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status Peace agreement, agrees: “In this situation, the Israeli legal system is dysfunctional. Since 1967, East Jerusalem is territory occupied by Israel. This means that referring to the Israeli rule there is based on a fiction: from a legal point of view, East Jerusalem can simply not be considered as another part of Israel. It is not downtown Tel-Aviv”.
The fact that East Jerusalem is occupied territory also implies that, according to international law, Israel can neither deport nor transfer parts of population from/to East Jerusalem. “The ongoing evictions are thus violating international humanitarian law”, insists Erschied. “If the European Union could put pressure on Israel to respect its international legal obligations in East Jerusalem, this would greatly contribute to the improvement of the situation there”. “The ASF report is like a warning signal to the international community. It shows that the status quo over East Jerusalem is neither equitable nor sustainable”, considers Daniel Seidemann. While the ASF report brings a legal perspective, ultimately, “stopping the demolition of Palestinian houses and resolving the conflict is a political act”, he concludes.